Wagner Lab Research

University of Zurich

Institute of
Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies




Robustness and Evolvability of Living Systems

Living things are unimaginably complex, yet they have withstood a withering assault of harmful influences over several billion years. These influences include cataclysmic changes in the environment, as well as a constant barrage of internal changes, mutations. And not only has life survived, it has thrived and radiated into millions of diverse species. Such resilience may be surprising, because complexity suggests fragility. If you have ever built a house of cards, you will know what I mean: The house eventually comes tumbling down. Why is an organism not a molecular house of cards? Why do not slight disturbances (especially mutations) cause key organismal functions to fail catastrophically? And is the robustness of organisms to change itself a consequence of past evolution? How does it affect innovability, the potential for future innovation in evolution? These are some of the questions we ask in our research.


Selected Publications

Wagner, A. (2005) Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ [PUP]

Payne, J.L., Wagner, A. (2014) The robustness and evolvability of transcription factor binding sites. Science 343, 875-877.[link]

Barve, A., Rodrigues, J.F.M., Wagner, A. (2012) Superessential reactions in metabolic networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 109 (18), E1121-E1130. [reprint request]

Wagner, A. (2012) The role of robustness in phenotypic adaptation and innovation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, 1249-1258.[reprint request]

Wagner, A. (2008) Robustness and evolvability: A paradox resolved. Proc. Roy. Soc. London Series. B 275, 91-100. [reprint request]

Hafner, M., Koeppl, H., Hasler, M., Wagner, A. (2009) “Glocal” robustness analysis and model discrimination for circadian oscillators. PloS Computational Biology 5(10): e1000534. [reprint request]

Ciliberti, S, Martin, OC, Wagner, A. (2007) Robustness can evolve gradually in complex regulatory networks with varying topology. PLoS Computational Biology 3(2): e15. [reprint request]

Wagner, A . (2005) Robustness, Neutrality, and Evolvability. FEBS Letters579: 1772–1778. [reprint request]

Wagner, A. (2005) Distributed robustness versus redundancy as causes of mutational robustness. Bioessays 27 ,176–188. [reprint request]

Wagner, A.   (1999) Redundant gene functions and natural selection.  Journal of Evolutionary Biology 12, 1-16