EPSRC Network on Evolvability in Biology & Software Systems

Evolvability, Genetics & Development in Natural and Constructed Systems: Abstracts of the EPSRC Evolvability Network Symposium

Tewin Bury Farm Hotel, Hertfordshire, England, UK
26-28 August 2003

University of Hertfordshire Computer Science Technical Report 389
C. L. Nehaniv, P. J. Bentley & S. Kumar (Editors)

The Art of Nature: Evolving Developmental Programs for the Construction of Morphology

The Art of Nature: Evolving Developmental Programs for the Construction of Morphology


Department of Computer Science,
University College London
Gower Street London, WC1E 6BT. U.K.


Developmental biology is a fascinating subject. It has a long history - stemming as far back as the times of Hippocrates and Aristotle - rich with its fair share of failures, successes, and controversies. From preformationism and epigenesis to Mendel's laws, to Haeckel's idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, to the discovery of the structure of DNA and the discovery of the cell, all have been either great successes or failures. Nevertheless, developmental biology has influenced much thought and lines of inquiry in many disciplines.

What, however, does developmental biology have to offer computer science? The answer is construction. Construction provides the unifying theme between the two subjects. Developmental biology seeks to understand how organisms are so robustly constructed. Computer science (and especially artificial life and evolutionary computation) seeks to learn how to construct robust, complex technology capable of self-organisation, regeneration and adaptation.

This talk provides an overview of a series of experiments performed using a novel biologically plausible model of development for the construction of morphology. The experiments explore how a cell `knows' in which direction to divide, how different methods of placing daughter cells after division (oriented cell division) impacts on developing morphologies, and how genetic states are translated into spatial instructions. A further overview of recent results using cell signalling, receptor-mediated signal transductions and asymmetric divisions for the development of multicellular morphologies is provided.