The evolutionary origins of modularity

07/11/2012
by   Jeff Clune, et al.
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A central biological question is how natural organisms are so evolvable (capable of quickly adapting to new environments). A key driver of evolvability is the widespread modularity of biological networks--their organization as functional, sparsely connected subunits--but there is no consensus regarding why modularity itself evolved. While most hypotheses assume indirect selection for evolvability, here we demonstrate that the ubiquitous, direct selection pressure to reduce the cost of connections between network nodes causes the emergence of modular networks. Experiments with selection pressures to maximize network performance and minimize connection costs yield networks that are significantly more modular and more evolvable than control experiments that only select for performance. These results will catalyze research in numerous disciplines, including neuroscience, genetics and harnessing evolution for engineering purposes.

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