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Pages 41-42
First published 30 July 2014

Summary of 'The Evolutionary Origins of Modularity'

Jeff Clune, Jean-Baptiste Mouret, and Hod Lipson

Abstract (Excerpt)

A long-standing, open question in biology is how populations are capable of rapidly adapting to novel environments, a trait called evolvability. A major contributor to evolvability is the fact that many biological entities are modular, especially the many biological processes and structures that can be modeled as networks, such as metabolic pathways, gene regulation, protein interactions, and animal brains. Networks are modular if they contain highly connected clusters of nodes that are sparsely connected to nodes in other clusters (Wagner et al., 2001; Leicht and Newman, 2008). Despite its importance and decades of research, there is no agreement on why modularity evolves (Wagner et al., 2001). Intuitively, modular systems seem more adaptable, a lesson well-known to human engineers, because it is easier to rewire a modular network with functional subunits than an entangled, monolithic network (Kashtan and Alon, 2005). However, because this evolvability only provides a selective advantage over the long-term, such selection is at best indirect and may not be strong enough to explain the level of modularity in the natural world (Wagner et al., 2001).