A defining characteristic of all life is its ability to evolve. However, the fact that biologically engineered systems will evolve when used has, to date, been largely ignored. This has resulted in biotechnologies with limited functional lifetimes that fail to utilize the powerful evolutionary capacities inherent in all biology.
Sim Castle, first author of the research, published in Nature Communication, and a doctoral student at the School of Biological Sciences in Bristol, explained the motivation for this work: “What has always fascinated me about biology is that it changes, it’s chaotic, it adapts, she evolves. just design static artifacts – they design living populations that continue to mutate, grow and undergo natural selection. “
Realizing that describing this change was the key to mastering evolution, the team developed the concept of the evotype to capture the evolutionary potential of a biosystem. Basically, the evotype can be broken down into three key parts: variation, function, and selection, each of which offers a tuning knob that allows bioengineers to control possible evolutionary paths.
Professor Claire Grierson, co-author and director of the Bristol School of Biological Sciences, added: “Learning how to effectively master evolution is one of the challenges, if not the biggest, facing bioengineers. today. Our work provides a desperately needed framework to help describe the evolutionary potential of a biosystem and reimagine biological engineering to work in harmony with life’s ability to evolve.
Sim Castle added, “What was surprising was that many of the tools already available to bioengineers fit well into our framework when viewed from an evolutionary perspective. We are therefore perhaps not too far from making evolution an essential feature of future modified biological systems. “
Dr Thomas Gorochowski, senior author and academic researcher at the Royal Society in Bristol, concluded by stating: “Our concept of evotype not only provides a way to develop biotechnologies capable of exploiting evolution in new ways, but also opens also exciting new avenues for thinking about and implementing evolution in completely new contexts. Potentially, it could even lead us to design new self-adapting technologies that evolve from scratch, rather than tinkering with biological ones that already do. “
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