Today we feature two recent papers by group members Sergi Valverde and Ricard Solé. In “Before the Endless Forms: Embodied Model of Transition from Single Cells to Aggregates to Ecosystem Engineering”, a 2013 PLoS ONE article, our colleagues begin a journey to research the role of physical embodiment in evolution and development. They implemented a huge tool, CHIMERA, to simulate evolution constrained by actual physical laws, yet following very simple and intuitive principles. These constrains are the inception of realistic competition and selection, and they introduce a sense of genotype-phenotype mapping in the simulating environment. This (rather simplistic) mapping intends to play a more important role in future versions of the software. Because there will be further versions: this journey of physically embodied evolution will be long and is full of thrilling scientific questions ranging from morphogenesis to the origins of multicellularity and a seek for universals in large scale evolution.
This last point is made clear in the related review paper: “Macroevolution in silico: scales, constraints and universals” published in Paleontology this year. In this paper CHIMERA is confronted with some sources from where it draws inspiration such as Tierra or Avida, good old classics in the field of artificial life. The relevance of a more realistic embodiment is once more highlighted when CHIMERA is put in a historic perspective.
We leave you with a taste of what is possible in CHIMERA. Evolution is remarkable in finding tricky ways to goals that we would not expect. In the following video we see how it proceeds from the predesigned cell-level evolution to an unexpected ecology engineering stage with an emerging trophic hierarchy.