Pattern Generation in Molecular Evolution: Exploitation of the Variation in RNA Landscapes

J Mol Evol. 1994 Jul;39(1):71-9. doi: 10.1007/BF00178251.


Evolution of RNA secondary structure is studied using simulation techniques and statistical analysis of fitness landscapes. The transition from RNA sequence to RNA secondary structure leads to fitness landscapes that have local variations in their "ruggedness." Evolution exploits these variations. In stable environments it moves the quasispecies toward relatively "flat" peaks, where not only the master sequence but also its mutants have a high fitness. In a rapidly changing environment, the situation is reversed; evolution moves the quasispecies to a region where the correlation between secondary structures of "neighboring" RNA sequences is relatively low. In selection for simple secondary structures the movement toward flat peaks leads to pattern generation in the RNA sequences. Patterns are generated at the level of polynucleotide frequencies and the distribution of purines and pyrimidines. The patterns increase the modularity of the sequence. They thereby prevent the formation of alternative secondary structures after mutations. The movement of the quasispecies toward relatively rugged parts of the landscape results in pattern generation at the level of the RNA secondary structure. The base-pairing frequency of the sequences increases. The patterns that are generated in the RNA sequences and the RNA secondary structures are not directly selected for and can be regarded as a side effect of the evolutionary dynamics of the system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Composition
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA / genetics*


  • RNA