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Low and high dimensional landscapes


Finding a ridge in sequence space
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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How far do you have to go in sequence space? In other words, if you start at any point in the space, are you far away from the good one, from the roads which lead you up to the hill? I mentioned a mountain trip. If you want to climb on a mountain, how are you going to do it? Well, you go to a pass, and then follow a ridge. You don't go the walls up and down, you try to follow a ridge. The same must be true in the fitness landscape... the high-dimensional fitness landscape in sequence space. And the question is: how far are you from a ridge? Well, the answer is: the whole sequence space is caused by many ridges, and you don't have to go very far, then you get one where you can climb up. How did we know? Well, this a problem which had been studied by Peter Schuster in more detail, and I might perhaps tell a little bit about those explorations.

[Q] So you are now talking about how evolution found its almost direct way to the highest peak?

Right. Yes. Not getting stuck on a minor hill, yes.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: fitness landscape, sequence space, Peter K Schuster

Duration: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008