Self-Extending Symbiosis: A Mechanism for Increasing Robustness Through Evolution

Biological Theory 1 (1):61-66 (2006)
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Robustness is a fundamental property of biological systems, observed ubiquitously across species and at different levels of organization from gene regulation to ecosystem. The theory of biological robustness argues that robustness fosters evolv-ability and that together they entail various tradeoffs as well as characteristic architectures and mechanisms. We argue that classes of biological systems have evolved to enhance their robustness by extending their system boundary through a series of symbioses with foreign biological entities . A series of major biological innovations has been achieved by events consistent with this framework: horizontal gene transfer, serial endosymbiosis, oocytes-mediated vertical infection, and host-symbiont mutualism for bacterial flora. Self-extending symbiosis contributes to robustness because symbiotic foreign biological entities can enhance the adaptative capacity of the system against environmental perturbations as well as contribute novel functions. In addition, evolutionary history indicates that the degree of symbiosis achieved has substantially changed from tight integration into the genome to loose integration as bacterial flora . The most dramatic example can be seen in the symbiosis of host immune system and bacterial flora in which substantial function of host defense depends on the proper maintenance of bacterial flora and its adaptive capability. Biological systems following this type of evolutionary path might have attained high levels of functionality, robustness, and evolvability. Thus, robustness, evolution, and self-extending symbiosis may form essential system principles for biology



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