Evolution in biological and nonbiological systems under different mechanisms of generation and inheritance

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The majority of definitions of life and evolution include the notion that part of an organism has to be copied to its offspring and that this includes some form of coded information. This article presents the thesis that this conception is too restrictive and that evolution can occur in systems in which there is no copy of information between generations. For that purpose, this article introduces a new set of concepts and a theoretical framework that is designed to be equally applicable to the study of the evolution of biological and nonbiological systems. In contrast to some theoretical approaches in evolution, like neo-Darwinism, the approach presented here is not focused on the transmission and change of hereditary information that can be copied (like in the case of DNA). Instead, multiple mechanisms by which a system can generate offspring (with and without copying) and by which information in it affects the structure and evolution of its offspring are considered. The first part of this article describes in detail these new concepts. The second part of this article discusses how these concepts are directly applicable to the diversity of systems that can evolve. The third part introduces hypotheses concerning (1) how different mechanisms of generation and inheritance can arise from each other during evolution, and (2) how the existence of several inheritance mechanisms in an organism can affect its evolution. © 2008 Springer-Verlag.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-358
JournalTheory in Biosciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2008


  • Cultural evolution
  • Development
  • Generative system
  • Inheritance mechanisms
  • Origins of life


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