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Artificial Life

Fall 1994, Vol. 2, No. 1, Pages 117-128
(doi: 10.1162/artl.1994.2.1.117)
© 1995 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Radical Epistasis and the Genotype-Phenotype Relationship
Article PDF (2.68 MB)

Models of evolution often assume that the offspring of two genotypes, which are genetically intermediate by definition, are also phenotypically intermediate. The continuity between genotype and phenotype interferes with the process of evolution on multipeaked adaptive landscapes because the progeny of genotypes that lie on separate adaptive peaks fall into valleys of low fitness. This problem can be solved by epistasis, which disrupts the continuity between genotype and phenotype. In a five-locus sexual haploid model with maximum epistasis, natural selection in multipeak landscapes evolves a set of genotypes that a) occupy the adaptive peaks and b) give rise to each other by recombination. The epistatic genetic system therefore “molds” the phenotypic distribution to the adaptive landscape, without assortative mating or linkage disequilibrium. If the adaptive landscape is changed, a new set of genotypes quickly evolves that satisfies conditions a and b, above, for the new peaks.

Our model may be relevant to a number of recalcitrant problems in biology and also stands in contrast to Kauffman's [3] NK model of evolution on rugged fitness surfaces, in which epistasis and recombination tend to constrain the evolutionary process.