We propose a previously unrecognized kind of informational entity in the brain that is capable of acting as the basis for unlimited hereditary variation in neuronal networks. This unit is a path of activity through a network of neurons, analogous to a path taken through a hidden Markov model. To prove in principle the capabilities of this new kind of informational substrate, we show how a population of paths can be used as the hereditary material for a neuronally implemented genetic algorithm, (the swiss-army knife of black-box optimization techniques) which we have proposed elsewhere could operate at somatic timescales in the brain. We compare this to the same genetic algorithm that uses a standard 'genetic' informational substrate, i.e. non-overlapping discrete genotypes, on a range of optimization problems. A path evolution algorithm (PEA) is defined as any algorithm that implements natural selection of paths in a network substrate. A PEA is a previously unrecognized type of natural selection that is well suited for implementation by biological neuronal networks with structural plasticity. The important similarities and differences between a standard genetic algorithm and a PEA are considered. Whilst most experiments are conducted on an abstract network model, at the conclusion of the paper a slightly more realistic neuronal implementation of a PEA is outlined based on Izhikevich spiking neurons. Finally, experimental predictions are made for the identification of such informational paths in the brain. © 2011 Fernando et al.