Hayden, E. J.,Weikert, C.,Wagner, A.
A canalized genotype is robust to environmental or genetic perturbations. Canalization is expected to result from stabilizing selection on a well-adapted phenotype. Decanalization, the loss of robustness, might follow periods of directional selection toward a new optimum. The evolutionary forces causing decanalization are still unknown, in part because it is difficult to determine the fitness effects of mutations in populations of organisms with complex genotypes and phenotypes. Here, we report direct experimental measurements of robustness in a system with a simple genotype and phenotype, the catalytic activity of an RNA enzyme. We find that the robustness of a population of RNA enzymes decreases during a period of directional selection in the laboratory. The decrease in robustness is primarily caused by the selective sweep of a genotype that is decanalized relative to the wild-type, both in terms of mutational robustness and environmental robustness (thermodynamic stabilit! y). Our results experimentally demonstrate that directional selection can cause decanalization on short time scales, and demonstrate co-evolution of mutational and environmental robustness.