Adaptive Landscapes in the Age of Synthetic Biology

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17 Scopus citations


For nearly a century adaptive landscapes have provided overviews of the evolutionary process and yet they remain metaphors. We redefine adaptive landscapes in terms of biological processes rather than descriptive phenomenology. We focus on the underlying mechanisms that generate emergent properties such as epistasis, dominance, trade-offs and adaptive peaks. We illustrate the utility of landscapes in predicting the course of adaptation and the distribution of fitness effects. We abandon aged arguments concerning landscape ruggedness in favor of empirically determining landscape architecture. In so doing, we transform the landscape metaphor into a scientific framework within which causal hypotheses can be tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-907
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Adaptive landscape
  • Distribution of fitness effects
  • Epistasis
  • Genotype by environment interaction
  • Genotype-phenotype gap
  • Pleiotropy


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