Evolution of RNA-Based Networks

  • Peter F. StadlerEmail author
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 392)


RNA molecules have served for decades as a paradigmatic example of molecular evolution that is tractable both in in vitro experiments and in detailed computer simulation. The adaptation of RNA sequences to external selection pressures is well studied and well understood. The de novo innovation or optimization of RNA aptamers and riboswitches in SELEX experiments serves as a case in point. Likewise, fitness landscapes building upon the efficiently computable RNA secondary structures have been a key toward understanding realistic fitness landscapes. Much less is known, however, on models in which multiple RNAs interact with each other, thus actively influencing the selection pressures acting on them. From a computational perspective, RNA–RNA interactions can be dealt with by same basic methods as the folding of a single RNA molecule, although many details become more complicated. RNA–RNA interactions are frequently employed in cellular regulation networks, e.g., as miRNA bases mRNA silencing or in the modulation of bacterial mRNAs by small, often highly structured sRNAs. In this chapter, we summarize the key features of networks of replicators. We highlight the differences between quasispecies-like models describing templates copied by an external replicase and hypercycle similar to autocatalytic replicators. Two aspects are of importance: the dynamics of selection within a population, usually described by conventional dynamical systems, and the evolution of replicating species in the space of chemical types. Product inhibition plays a key role in modulating selection dynamics from survival of the fittest to extinction of unfittest. The sequence evolution of replicators is rather well understood as approximate optimization in a fitness landscape for templates that is shaped by the sequence-structure map of RNA. Some of the properties of this map, in particular shape space covering and extensive neutral networks, give rise to evolutionary patterns such as drift-like motion in sequence space, akin to the behavior of RNA quasispecies. In contrast, very little is known about the influence of sequence-structure maps on autocatalytic replication systems.


Autocatalysis Replicator Fitness landscape Catalytic networks Chemical kinetics 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute Für Informatik der Universität LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the SciencesLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.The Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA

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