Genetic robustness is defined as the constancy of a phenotype in the face of deleterious mutations. Overexpression of chaperones, to assist the folding of proteins carrying deleterious mutations, is so far one of the most accepted molecular mechanisms enhancing genetic robustness. Most theories on the evolution of robustness have focused on the implications of high mutation rate. Here we show that genetic drift, which is modulated by population size, organism complexity, and epistasis, can be a sufficient force to select for chaperone-mediated genetic robustness. Using an exact analytical solution, we also show that selection for costly genetic robustness leads to a paradox: the decrease of population fitness on long timescales and the long-term dependency on robustness mechanisms. We suggest that selection for genetic robustness could be universal and not restricted to high mutation rate organisms such as RNA viruses. The evolution of the endosymbiont Buchnera illustrates this selection mechanism and its paradox: the increased dependency on chaperones mediating genetic robustness. Our model explains why most chaperones might have become essential even in optimal growth conditions
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