Evolutionary Trade-Offs, Pareto Optimality, and the Geometry of Phenotype Space

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Science  01 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6085, pp. 1157-1160
DOI: 10.1126/science.1217405

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Biological systems that perform multiple tasks face a fundamental trade-off: A given phenotype cannot be optimal at all tasks. Here we ask how trade-offs affect the range of phenotypes found in nature. Using the Pareto front concept from economics and engineering, we find that best–trade-off phenotypes are weighted averages of archetypes—phenotypes specialized for single tasks. For two tasks, phenotypes fall on the line connecting the two archetypes, which could explain linear trait correlations, allometric relationships, as well as bacterial gene-expression patterns. For three tasks, phenotypes fall within a triangle in phenotype space, whose vertices are the archetypes, as evident in morphological studies, including on Darwin’s finches. Tasks can be inferred from measured phenotypes based on the behavior of organisms nearest the archetypes.

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