Tag: evolution

  • Gargoyles, gender and Gedanken experiments

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    The last week of my holiday included a first visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where we enjoyed a wide variety of gigs, including the well-received Oxford Gargoyles, performances of A Clockwork Orange and Sunday in the Park with George, and a series of street shows, shorts, comedy turns and sketch shows of which the best was probably that by The Three Englishmen.

    While searching for something in a previous blog, I discovered that there is quite an industry in cyberspace devoted to analysing blogs! Some examples are here, here, here and here. I also followed a tweet to an interesting (if necessarily subjective) list of ’21 scientific research projects that could change the world’. [...]

  • Institutes, systems and evolution

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    We usually think of evolution in terms of biological organisms, but systems and organisations are also subject to evolutionary change, based at least in part on natural selection. This is not a novel thought (albeit one could debate extensively the ‘unit of selection’ – in biology it is not the gene, and the concept is probably redundant) and one I mentioned in last week’s blog with regard to financial systems. Indeed, this week included an interesting half hour on Radio 4 based around the Haldane and May paper referenced therein.

    Last week we had a very valuable meeting with the Chairs of our Institute Governing Bodies. The Chairs have an enormously important (formal and real) role in developing the performance of our Institutes, and this meeting provided an excellent opportunity to explore important general issues for which collective concerns and best practice solutions could be shared. Not least in the modern world, the complex and nonlinear dynamics can move very quickly (any inspection of the national and international news tells one that), and we have purposely arranged a follow-up meeting in the near future. [...]

  • Beauty, truth and computation – Scifoo 2010

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Last week I attended the annual Science Foo camp (twitter hashtag #scifoo) ‘unconference’, held at the Googleplex outside San Francisco. Just as last year, topics were determined by attendees offering sessions in one of 14 rooms they considered appropriate to the anticipated audience size.

    The first session I attended was on the evolution of beauty, and topics discussed ranged from the natural world (e.g. bird feathers) via language and the co-evolution of art and its appreciation. We also saw a demo of some linguistic analyses of various writers, that allows one to discover whether one’s style if more like that of Shakespeare or of Beatrix Potter (for instance). I then attended one by Hod Lipson on the automation of science, including various strategies for automated reasoning and scientific discovery, similar in essence to the Robot Scientist project, and including a useful site for generating equations or rules from data, based on what is usually referred to as genetic programming. [...]

  • Technology development as an evolutionary process

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    In my blogs of last week and the week before, I discussed the use of evolutionary methods for improving biotechnological processes. I have also blogged, more than once, about the concept of the economy as an evolutionary ecosystem. The question then arises as to whether the development of technology in general might be seen in this way. While it is clear that minor improvements in existing products or technologies can be seen as ‘evolutionary’ advances derived from their ‘parents’ or precursors, it is not so clear how this metaphor might be applied to the arrival of novel and disruptive technologies that have no obvious precursors. That the evolutionary metaphor does work is the theme of a new book by Brian Arthur. The chief recognition is that all kinds of complex products (and these can include ‘products’ like musical symphonies!) arise largely by the combination or recombination of existing modules. These existing components may also provide novelty by processes akin to horizontal gene transfer, something that genome sequencing methods have shown us is far more common than was previously anticipated. [...]

  • Large-scale directed evolution of microbial pathways for biotechnology

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Most genes individually contribute little to complex phenotypes (although small subsets often can when mutated in the right combinations), which is why the traditional methods of strain improvement – largely random mutation and selection for higher yields – are still effecting improvements after 50 years in the penicillin process. (A couple of recent examples from maize – with commentary – show the similarly complex genetic architecture of maize flowering time.) In last week’s blog, I discussed some new methods for laboratory evolution, that speeded up the fluxes (to mevalonic acid) severalfold, in this case in well-understood pathways. Clearly if we have a network model, as is the case in E. coli and is emerging in e.g. baker’s yeast, we might hope to understand the system and thereby direct evolution along favourable paths. (Similar approaches will, most desirably, assist our understanding of humans, e.g. by bringing together the UCSD and Edinburgh models.) [...]