The term redundancy is often used to describe two or more processes in biological systems that appear to do the same job. The term has been borrowed from Information Theory. The definition in Wikipedia is as useful as any:
Redundancy in information theory is the number of bits used to transmit a message minus the number of bits of actual information in the message. Informally, it is the amount of wasted "space" used to transmit certain data.
Bacteria often possess multiple siderophore-based iron uptake systems for scavenging this vital resource from their environment. However, some siderophores seem redundant, because they have limited iron-binding efficiency and are seldom expressed under iron limitation. Here, we investigate the conundrum of why selection does not eliminate this apparent redundancy. We focus on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that can produce two siderophores—the highly efficient but metabolically expensive pyoverdine, and the inefficient but metabolically cheap pyochelin. We found that the bacteria possess molecular mechanisms to phenotypically switch from mainly producing pyoverdine under severe iron limitation to mainly producing pyochelin when iron is only moderately limited. We further show that strains exclusively producing pyochelin grew significantly better than strains exclusively producing pyoverdine under moderate iron limitation, whereas the inverse was seen under severe iron limitation. This suggests that pyochelin is not redundant, but that switching between siderophore strategies might be beneficial to trade off efficiencies versus costs of siderophores…
* Proceedings of the Royal Society B 7 August 2013 vol. 280 no. 1764 20131055
† Sir Barry Cross’s loudly whispered description in the early 1980s of the personnel department of the old Agricultural Research Council (later AFRC, now BBSRC)