The Evolution of Robustness

In Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the key phrase is “survival of the fittest”: those organisms that are best fit to carry out the tasks of living in their world are the ones that survive. But they won’t live forever — they must have offspring that inherit the traits that made them fit in order for evolution to proceed.

This conceptual framework is fine for understanding the evolution of traits that affect survival and numbers of offspring. But what about the rules of inheritance themselves? These rules are also organismal traits, although they need not have any effect on how well the parents survive or how many offspring they have. In fact, the rules of inheritance say what the offspring are, rather than how many there are. Classical mathematical models of evolution have little to say about the evolution of these rules. How, then, can “survival of the fittest” shape the rules of inheritance?

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