Evolution of Associative Learning in Chemical Networks

Simon McGregor, Vera Vasas, Phil Husbands, Chrisantha Fernando

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    Organisms that can learn about their environment and modify their behaviour appropriately during their lifetime are more likely to survive and reproduce than organisms that do not. While associative learning - the ability to detect correlated features of the environment - has been studied extensively in nervous systems, where the underlying mechanisms are reasonably well understood, mechanisms within single cells that could allow associative learning have received little attention. Here, using in silico evolution of chemical networks, we show that there exists a diversity of remarkably simple and plausible chemical solutions to the associative learning problem, the simplest of which uses only one core chemical reaction. We then asked to what extent a linear combination of chemical concentrations in the network could approximate the ideal Bayesian posterior of an environment given the stimulus history so far? This Bayesian analysis revealed the 'memory traces' of the chemical network. The implication of this paper is that there is little reason to believe that a lack of suitable phenotypic variation would prevent associative learning from evolving in cell signalling, metabolic, gene regulatory, or a mixture of these networks in cells. © 2012 McGregor et al.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere1002739
    JournalPLoS Computational Biology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012


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