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Evolution of evolvable systems

Final Report Summary - EVOEVO (Evolution of evolvable systems)

The focus of this project has been to understand how evolvable systems came into existence and established themselves in three different domains of the dynamics of life: (1) origins of life and early evolution, (2) the origin of the adaptive immune system, and (3) evolutionary search in neurocognitive function. All these topics closely relate to the “major transitions” paradigm in the theory of evolution. Significant advance has been made in all three pillars. For (1) and (3) theoretical insights have been complemented by dedicated experimental work. Key results include: understanding of the build-up of early genomes depending on the details of biochemistry and multilevel selection, notably providing an explanation for how early genomes could have resisted parasitic replicators before the emergence of the first replicating protocells, a scenario for the origin of the adaptive immune system (now seen as a major filial evolutionary transition) and solidification of the foundations of Darwinian neurodynamics (also known as the neuronal replicator hypothesis, to show that true Darwinian dynamics might unfold despite the facts that neurons do not reproduce). Work in the three pillars has been complemented by general foundational enquiries into the role of learning in evolution (and vice versa), the question of the conditions of open-ended evolution, and a draft re-synthesis of work done in the last twenty years concerning the major transitions in evolution. Journals where we published include (among several others): Science, PNAS, PRL and Trends in Ecology and Evolution.