Evolutionary design on a budget: robustness and optimality of bacteriophage T7.
Exploring how biological systems have been 'designed' by evolution to achieve robust behaviours is now a subject of increasing research effort. Yet, it still remains unclear how environmental factors may contribute to this process. This issue is addressed by employing a detailed computer model for the intracellular growth of phage T7. More than 150 000 in silico T7 mutants were generated and the rates and efficiencies of their growth in two host environments, namely, a realistic environment that offered finite host resources for the synthesis of phage functions and a hypothetical environment where the phage was supplied infinite host resources, were evaluated. Results revealed two key properties of phage T7. First, T7 growth was overall robust with respect to perturbations in its parameters, but fragile with respect to changes in the ordering of its genetic elements. Secondly, the wild-type T7 had close to optimal fitness in the finite environment. Furthermore, a strong correlation was found between fitness and growth efficiency in the finite environment. The results underscore the potential importance of the environment in shaping robust design of a biological system. In particular, the strong correlation between fitness and growth efficiency suggests that T7 may have evolved to maximise its growth rate by minimising waste of finite resources.
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