Evolution is innovative, says the New Scientist's Dan Jones. But can evolution itself evolve? "The capacity for evolutionary innovation — or, in buzzword form, 'evolvability' — is built into the fabric of life," he writes. There are many studies lately that shed light on the factors needed to enhance or restrict an organism's evolvability, but the key is to clearly define the word. When researchers talk about evolvability, Jones says, they don't just mean any genetic variation, but variation that means something to an organism's ability to adapt to its environment and that can be passed down to subsequent generations. How robust an organism is — and how well it develops despite genetic mutations — and how well evolving traits are integrated with each other determine an organism's capacity for evolvability, Jones says. The study of evolvability has only just begun, he adds. "A complete theory of integration, modularity and the developmental basis of evolvability will require connecting genetics and developmental biology with morphological studies in both experimental and natural settings," Jones writes.
The Evolution of Evolution
Jul 02, 2010