Collective properties of evolving molecular quasispecies

Michael Stich, Carlos Briones, Susanna C. Manrubia*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background. RNA molecules, through their dual appearance as sequence and structure, represent a suitable model to study evolutionary properties of quasispecies. The essential ingredient in this model is the differentiation between genotype (molecular sequences which are affected by mutation) and phenotype (molecular structure, affected by selection). This framework allows a quantitative analysis of organizational properties of quasispecies as they adapt to different environments, such as their robustness, the effect of the degeneration of the sequence space, or the adaptation under different mutation rates and the error threshold associated. Results. We describe and analyze the structural properties of molecular quasispecies adapting to different environments both during the transient time before adaptation takes place and in the asymptotic state, once optimization has occurred. We observe a minimum in the adaptation time at values of the mutation rate relatively far from the phenotypic error threshold. Through the definition of a consensus structure, it is shown that the quasispecies retains relevant structural information in a distributed fashion even above the error threshold. This structural robustness depends on the precise shape of the secondary structure used as target of selection. Experimental results available for natural RNA populations are in qualitative agreement with our observations. Conclusion. Adaptation time of molecular quasispecies to a given environment is optimized at values of the mutation rate well below the phenotypic error threshold. The optimal value results from a trade-off between diversity generation and fixation of advantageous mutants. The critical value of the mutation rate is a function not only of the sequence length, but also of the specific properties of the environment, in this case the selection pressure and the shape of the secondary structure used as target phenotype. Certain functional motifs of RNA secondary structure that withstand high mutation rates (as the ubiquitous hairpin motif) might appear early in evolution and be actually frozen evolutionary accidents.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number110
    Number of pages13
    JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2007

    Bibliographical note

    © Stich et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2007. This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


    Dive into the research topics of 'Collective properties of evolving molecular quasispecies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this