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Modelling the evolution of novelty: a review.

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Colizzi, Enrico Sandro  ORCID logo
Hogeweg, Paulien 
Vroomans, Renske MA 


Evolution has been an inventive process since its inception, about 4 billion years ago. It has generated an astounding diversity of novel mechanisms and structures for adaptation to the environment, for competition and cooperation, and for organisation of the internal and external dynamics of the organism. How does this novelty come about? Evolution builds with the tools available, and on top of what it has already built - therefore, much novelty consists in repurposing old functions in a different context. In the process, the tools themselves evolve, allowing yet more novelty to arise. Despite evolutionary novelty being the most striking observable of evolution, it is not accounted for in classical evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, mathematical and computational models that illustrate mechanisms of evolutionary innovation have been developed. In the present review, we present and compare several examples of computational evo-devo models that capture two aspects of novelty: 'between-level novelty' and 'constructive novelty.' Novelty can evolve between predefined levels of organisation to dynamically transcode biological information across these levels - as occurs during development. Constructive novelty instead generates a level of biological organisation by exploiting the lower level as an informational scaffold to open a new space of possibilities - an example being the evolution of multicellularity. We propose that the field of computational evo-devo is well-poised to reveal many more exciting mechanisms for the evolution of novelty. A broader theory of evolutionary novelty may well be attainable in the near future.



evo-devo, evolution of novelty, multi-level evolution, multi-scale modelling

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Essays Biochem

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Portland Press Ltd.