Join us for Dr. Ricard Solé's WICI Talk: "Synthetic evolutionary transitions: from cells to brains and ecosystems"
Dr. Ricard Solé is a Professor, at the Complex Systems Lab, in Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, Universitat Pompeu Fabra. He will present on April 24th, 2018, in DC 1302 at 2:00 p.m.
Abstract: Evolution is marked by well-defined events involving profound innovations that are known as ‘major evolutionary transitions’. They involve the integration of autonomous elements into a new, higher-level organization whereby the former isolated units interact in novel ways, losing their original autonomy.
All major transitions, which include the origin of life, cells, multicellular systems, societies or language (among other examples), took place millions of years ago. Are these transitions unique, rare events? Have they instead universal traits that make them almost inevitable when the right pieces are in place?
Are there general laws of evolutionary innovation? In order to approach this problem under a novel perspective, we argue that a parallel class of evolutionary transitions can be explored involving the use of artificial evolutionary experiments where alternative paths to innovation can be explored. These ‘synthetic’ transitions include, for example, the artificial evolution of multicellular systems or the emergence of language in evolved communicating robots. Moreover, we can also consider the creation of synthetic ecosystems and how to use them to engineer our biosphere. These alternative scenarios could help us to understand the underlying laws that predate the rise of major innovations and the possibility for general laws of evolved complexity.
From Dr. Solè - I am ICREA research professor (the Catalan Institute for research and Advanced Studies) currently working at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, where I'm the head of the Complex Systems Lab. I completed degrees in both Physics and Biology at the University of Barcelona and received my PhD in Physics at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. I am also External Professor of the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico, USA), Fellow of the European centre for Living Technology (Venice, Italy) and external faculty of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at UCSF. My current research focuses in understanding the evolutionary origins of complex systems, using both mathematical models and experimental approaches based on synthetic biology. I have proposed the concept of Synthetic Major Transitions as a unifying framework to explore the origins of innovation in evolution using a parallel approach, namely our potential for building or simulating synthetic systems that can recreate past evolutionary events. This includes the origin of protocells, multicellular systems, symbiosis, cognition and language. Another research area deals with Unstable Evolutionary dynamics, namely the dynamics of biological systems (particularly RNA viruses and cancer) that exhibit a tendency towards high genetic instability as part of their adaptation potential. Moreover, I also introduced the concept of "Terraforming" endangered or human-made ecosystems to avoid catastrophic shifts. The success of this proposal will require the development of a new synthesis involving multiple scales and conceptual frameworks, from synthetic biology and cellular circuits to ecological communities.