Towards the Evolution of Multicellularity: A Computational Artificial Life Approach
Technology, nowadays, has given us huge computational potential, but computer sciences have major problems tapping into this pool of resources. One of the main issues is how to program and design distributed systems. Biology has solved this issue about half a billion years ago, during the Cambrian explosion: the evolution of multicellularity. The evolution of multicellularity allowed cells to differentiate and so divide different tasks to different groups of cells; this combined with evolution gives us a very good example of how massively parallel distributed computational system can function and be “programmed”. However, the evolution of multicellularity is not very well understood, and most traditional methodologies used in evolutionary theory are not apt to address and model the whole transition to multicellularity. In this thesis I develop and argue for new computational artificial life methodologies for the study of the evolution of multicellularity that are able to address the whole transition, give new insights, and complement existing methods. I argue that these methodologies should have three main characteristics: accessible across scientific disciplines, have potentiality for complex behaviour, and be easy to analyse. To design models, which possess those characteristics, I developed a model of genetic regulatory networks (GRNs) that control artificial cells, which I have used in multiple evolutionary experiments. The first experiment was designed to present some of the engineering problems of evolving multicelled systems (applied to graph-colouring), and to perfect my artificial cell model. The two subsequent experiments demonstrate the characteristics listed above: one model based on a genetic algorithm with an explicit two-level fitness function to evolve multicelled cooperative patterning, and one with freely evolving artificial cells that have evolved some multicelled cooperation as evidenced by novel measures, and has the potential to evolve multicellularity. These experiments show how artificial life models of evolution can discover and investigate new hypotheses and behaviours that traditional methods cannot.