Frank, S. A. 2019. Evolutionary design of regulatory control. II. Robust error-correcting feedback increases genetic and phenotypic variability. Journal of Theoretical Biology 468:72-81.
As systems become more robust against perturbations, they can compensate for greater sloppiness in the performance of their components. That robust compensation reduces the force of natural selection on the system's components, leading to component decay. The paradoxical coupling of robustness and decay predicts that robust systems evolve cheaper, lower performing components, which accumulate greater mutational genetic variability and which have greater phenotypic stochasticity in trait expression. Previous work noted the paradox of robustness. However, no general theory for the evolutionary dynamics of system robustness and component decay has been developed. This article takes a first step by linking engineering control theory with the genetic theory of evolutionary dynamics. Control theory emphasizes error-correcting feedback as the single greatest principle in robust system design. Linking control theory to evolution leads to a theory for the evolutionary dynamics of error-correcting feedback, a unifying approach for the evolutionary analysis of robust systems. This article shows how increasingly robust systems accumulate more genetic variability and greater stochasticity of expression in their components. The theory predicts different levels of variability between different regulatory control architectures and different levels of variability between different components within a particular regulatory control system. The theory also shows that increasing robustness reduces the frequency of system failures associated with disease and, simultaneously, causes a strong increase in the heritability of disease. Thus, robust error correction in biological regulatory control may partly explain the puzzlingly high heritability of disease and, more generally, the surprisingly high heritability of fitness.