05 February 2011

Mapping fitness: protein display, fitness, and Seattle

ResearchBlogging.orgA couple of months ago we started looking at the concept of fitness landscapes and at some new papers that have significantly expanded our knowledge of the maps of these hypothetical spaces. Recall that a fitness landscape, basically speaking, is a representation of the relative fitness of a biological entity, mapped with respect to some measure of genetic change or diversity. The entity in question could be a protein or an organism or a population, mapped onto specific genetic sequences (a DNA or protein sequence) or onto genetic makeup of whole organisms. The purpose of the map is to depict the effects of genetic variation on fitness.

Suppose we want to examine the fitness landscape represented by the structure of a single protein. Our map would show the fitness of the protein (its function, measured somehow) and how fitness is affected by variations in the structure of the protein (its sequence, varied somehow). It's hard enough to explain or read such a map. Even more daunting is the task of creating a detailed map of such a widely-varying space. Two particular sets of challenges come to mind.