Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Teleological Coping Strategy

It is not unusual for me to come across written articles that strike me as important or impacting current modes of thought while others yawn when seeing the same. This may be one of those times. Stochastic switching as a survival strategy in fluctuating environments by Murat Acar, Jerome T Mettetal and Alexander van Oudenaarden (Nature Genetics 40, 471 - 475 (2008) might be a diamond in the rough. How is population fitness maximized in environments that are fluctuating? The answer might entail stochastic transitions among multiple phenotypes according to the cited paper. This could have the effect of enhancing fitness with a strategy that makes it possible for there to always be some cells ready for the vissicitudes of unanticipated environmental flux. This looks like a teleological approach to biological 911s or a means of lending guidance to the famed blind watchmaker.

The related study focused on Saccharomyces cerevisiae. What struck me was the suggestion that rates at which phenotypic switching occurs are tied to the frequency of environmental changes. Fast switching populations were found to outgrow slow switchers in rapidly fluctuating environments whereas slow switchers have the growth edge in environments where changes are rare.



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