Call For Papers

Special Journal Issue of


Journal of Biological and Information Processing Sciences

published by

Elsevier Science



guest edited by

Chrystopher L. Nehaniv

* * * Submissions due: 31st March 2001 * * *

High quality submissions reporting original work in the area of evolvability studies are invited for a special issue of the journal Biosystems on the topic of Evolvability.


The little understood capacity, observed in the history of evolution of life on earth, to be able to reach "good" solutions via evolution is called `Evolvability', and we seek to characterize, understand and apply it. Evolvability has been variously defined as the capacity of a population to produce variants fitter than any yet existing (Altenberg, 1994), the "genome's ability to produce adaptive variants when acted on by the genetic system" (Wagner & Altenberg, 1996), as the "capacity to generate heritable phenotypic variation" (Kirschner & Gerhart, 1998); and as characterized by "evolutionary watersheds" opening the "floodgates to future evolution", such as segmentation and body plans (Dawkins, 1989). Until the 1990's biologists had generally been concerned about the fate of variation rather than its origin, tacitly assuming that the origin and maintenance of variability was an automatic by-product of Darwinian evolution. Experiments with computational or simple organic evolutionary systems show emphatically that this need not be the case, and the resulting explanatory gap now poses a serious challenge for evolutionary theory. Currently evolutionary biology can say little more than that these properties arose somehow in the course of organic evolution on earth, therefore interest in this topic is now very high.

Darwinian evolution, characterized by heritable variation and selection, is not by itself sufficient to account for the capacity to vary, the specific type of variability present, nor for heritability of phenotypic fitness. Rigidity of genotype-phenotype mappings, as often used in evolutionary computation or population genetics, constrains the dynamics of evolution to a small space of possible biological or artificial systems. Open-ended evolution is not possible under such constraints. Yet evolution, by itself, cannot fully explain the advent of genetic systems, flexible genotype-phenotype mappings, and heritable fitness. This presents a challenge both to biologists seeking to understand the capacity of life to evolve and to computer scientists who seek to harness biological-like robustness and openness in the evolution of artificial systems. The sources of variability and its transmission between generations have been identified as key to biological evolvability. Properties such as the facilitation of extradimensional bypass and robustness to genetic variability (Conrad, 1990), heritability of fitness (Michod & Roze, 1999), modularity, as well as robustness to developmental variation (Kirschner & Gerhart, 1998) play important roles in evolvability.


Altenberg, L. 1994, The evolution of evolvability in genetic programming. In: K. Kinnear, editor, Advances in Genetic Programming, 47-74, MIT Press.
Conrad, M. 1990, The geometry of evolution. Biosystems 24:61-81.
Dawkins, R. 1989, The evolution of evolvability. In: Artificial Life, C. Langton (ed.), Addison Wesley.
Kirschner, M. and Gerhart, J. 1998. Evolvability, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 95:8420-8427.
Michod, R. E. and Roze, D. 1999, Cooperation and conflict in the evolution of individuality. III. Transitions in the unit of fitness. In: C. L. Nehaniv, editor, Lectures on Mathematics in the Life Sciences, American Mathematical Society, Vol. 26: 47-91.
Wagner, G. P. & Altenberg, L. 1996, Complex adaptations and the evolution of evolvability. Evolution 50:967-976.

Target Research Communities:

The motivation for this special issue follows upon the growing excitement from academia, industry, and research communities about the importance of a capacity to vary robustly over time or over generations in digital and natural systems. This is exemplified by the Santa Fe Institute's formation of a working group on evolvability in April 2000, symposia on Evolvability at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference in 1999 and at the International Conference on Artificial Life in August 2000. Moreover, the British Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has just funded a 3-year network for the the study of evolvability in biological and software systems to integrate research links between disciplines (Evolutionary Biology, Developmental Biology, Genetics, Evolutionary Computation, Computer Science, Robotics, Telecommunications, Software Engineering) where evolvability phenomena play an increasingly important role. This proposed special issue is primarily aimed to bring together research work from these various disciplines to better understand the nature of evolvability and the mechanisms that do or could support it in biology (organic and constructive), evolutionary computation, and software systems and applications.

The main target disciplines for this issue are thus:

Evolutionary Computation: As workers in evolutionary computation know well, the capacity to evolve "good" solutions is not an automatic by-product of the use of evolutionary methods. They have however gained much experience in the areas of genotype-phenotype mappings and variability operators since these are aspects that must be designed in their systems. With the increasing sophisicated of this field, researchers have begun to examine what they could learn from (or perhaps teach) evolutionary biologists.

Evolutionary and Developmental Biology: As described above in more detail, evolutionary biologists have in recent years come to see that evolvability is not sufficiently well understood, and this is now, in fact, regarded as major problem for the theory of evolution that may require substantial extensions and refinement of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Workers in developmental and evolutionary biology, and genetic systems have begun to attack the problem of biological evolvability using newer theoretical tools as well as evidence from growing knowledge of genetic regulatory control and its evolutionary history. Properties such as the facilitation of extradimensional bypass and robustness to phenotypic and genetic variability have been identified as playing special, if not well-understand, roles.

Software Engineering: Variational properties of software systems as they change and are maintained over time have been the key issue in finding principles and methodologies for developing adaptable software. Analogues of biological evolvability are needed for large software systems such as telecommunications networking software in order to manage the complexity of system requirements change over time. The relationship between biosystems and software systems is strengthening with the recent growing awareness of deep parallels and with new research into the evolvability principles that seem to be common to both.

However, submissions that do not focus on evolvablility will be rejected.

Topics that focus on Evolvability might relate to such issues as :


Authors are requested to contact the guest editor as soon as possible regarding the appropriateness, formatting and length of their planned submissions.

Authors are invited to submit 3 hardcopies of full papers of high scientific quality reporting original research in the area of evolvability to the guest editor at the address below.

Format and Length of Submissions:
Formating of submissions must be strictly according to Biosystems rules as specified at in the Guide for Authors at:, except that submissions should be sent directly to the guest editor at the address below.

Submissions are limited to approximately 10,000 words (or about 20 journal pages); however, many submissions might be of much shorter length. One page of figures counts as 600 words, twenty references as 300 words, sections headings correspond to 20 words (3 lines); as a guideline: 8 double-spaced pages (1 inch margins) in Times 12pt corresponds to 4 journal pages.

All papers considered for the special issue will be judged first for appropriateness to the topic, and if this is satisfactory, will then, without exception, be strictly and anonymously refereed by at least two peer reviewers. All submissions will be acknowledge and reviewed. Decisions on acceptance, rejection, or provisional acceptance subject to revisions will be given in the notification to authors according to the schedule below and are subject to final approval by the editor-in-chief.

Important Dates:
31 March 2001 - Submitted Manuscripts Due (3 hardcopies and electronic form)
June 2001 - Notification to Authors (Delayed to end of July 2001)
1 Sept 2001 - Final Manuscripts Due (3 hardcopies and electronic form on disk)

Please mail all submissions to the guest editor at the address below.

Biosystems On-Line:
For a limited time (until 1st December 2000), the Biosystems journal is freely accessible on-line at:

Guest editor:

Dr. Chrystopher L. Nehaniv - BIOSYSTEMS
Director, U.K. EPSRC Network for Evolvability in Biological & Software Systems
Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences
University of Hertfordshire
College Lane
Hatfield Herts AL10 9AB
United Kingdom

phone: +44-1707-284-470
fax: +44-1707-284-303

Special Issue URL: