Natural selection for specific functions places limits upon the amino acid substitutions a protein can accept. Mechanisms that expand the range of tolerable amino acid substitutions include chaperones that can rescue destabilized proteins and additional stability-enhancing substitutions. Here, we present an alternative mechanism that is simple and uses a frequently encountered network motif. Computational and experimental evidence shows that the self-correcting, negative-feedback gene regulation motif increases repressor expression in response to deleterious mutations and thereby precisely restores repression of a target gene. Furthermore, this ability to rescue repressor function is observable across the Eubacteria kingdom through the greater accumulation of amino acid substitutions in negative-feedback transcription factors compared to genes they control. We propose that negative feedback represents a self-contained genetic canalization mechanism that preserves phenotype while permitting access to a wider range of functional genotypes.
Copyright © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.