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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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V. Life's Corporeal Evolution Develops, Encodes and Organizes Itself: An Earthtwinian Genesis Synthesis

A. A Major Emergent Evolutionary Transitions Scale

Maynard Smith, John and Eors Szathmary. The Major Transitions in Evolution. Oxford, UK: Freeman, 1995. A significant statement by the late (1920-2004) University of Sussex and the Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, theoretical biologist, and which proposes and outlines a sequential series of emergent levels generally cited as atomic, molecular, cellular, organismic, neuronal, primate, and human. Each stage is then distinguished by a new template or vehicle to transmit hereditary information from DNA to language. Originally posted in 2004, this perception has become by 2010 widely accepted and cited in the literature as articulating a real evolutionary advance, whose revolutionary implications are just beginning to be appreciated.

Muller, Viktor, et al. An Evolutionary Perspective on the Systems of Adaptive Immunity. Biological Reviews. Online July, 2017. As the quotes convey, Muller and Eors Szathmary, Eotvos University, Hungary, Rob de Boer, Utrecht University, and Sebastian Bonhoeffer, ETH Zurich offer an extended thesis about systemic ways that creaturely organisms attain a distinct individual identity by such protections against outside agents. By this analysis, a better sense of what may constitute a sequential major evolutionary transition is said to be possible.

We propose an evolutionary perspective to classify and characterize the diverse systems of adaptive immunity that have been discovered across all major domains of life. We put forward a new function-based classification according to the way information is acquired by the immune systems: Darwinian immunity (currently known from, but not necessarily limited to, vertebrates) relies on the Darwinian process of clonal selection to ‘learn’ by cumulative trial-and-error feedback; Lamarckian immunity uses templated targeting (guided adaptation) to internalize heritable information on potential threats; finally, shotgun immunity operates through somatic mechanisms of variable targeting without feedback.

We argue that the origin of Darwinian immunity represents a radical innovation in the evolution of individuality and complexity, and propose to add it to the list of major evolutionary transitions. While transitions to higher-level units entail the suppression of selection at lower levels, Darwinian immunity re-opens cell-level selection within the multicellular organism, under the control of mechanisms that direct, rather than suppress, cell-level evolution for the benefit of the individual. From a conceptual point of view, the origin of Darwinian immunity can be regarded as the most radical transition in the history of life, in which evolution by natural selection has literally re-invented itself. The origin of Darwinian immunity therefore comprises both a transition in individuality and the emergence of a new information system – the two hallmarks of major evolutionary transitions. (Abstract)

The paradigm of major evolutionary transitions (METs) posits that the evolution of complexity in the history of life depended on a small number of fundamental changes in the way information is stored and transmitted between generations. Recurring themes associated with the transitions involve the emergence of new levels of selection and potential conflicts between the levels, novel informational (inheritance) systems, possible
mechanisms to acquire increasing complexity, increasing division of labour between the components of the system, and, in some cases, contingent irreversibility. While not every transition possesses all of these features, each of the major transitions created either a new level of selection (transition in individuality) and/or a novel informational system capable of unlimited heredity (in which the number of possible types vastly exceeds the number of individual entities, and stored information is open-ended). (6)

Nonacs, Peter, et al. Social Evolution and the Major Evolutionary Transition in the History of Life. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. December, 2021. The editors for this special section are Peter Nonacs UCLA (Center for Behavior, Evolution & Culture,) Karen Kapheim, Utah State University (comparative genomics) and Heikki Helantera, University of Helsinki, (evolutionary ecology) are deeply engaged in field and conceptual studies which could be well served by an endemic structural arrangement and emergent orientation (Brief capsules in their own words below.) As an observation, just as a teleologic course could no longer be ignored (section herein), so this nested scale from 1995 is now similarly gaining a full, revelant acceptance. Its inclusion then describes a revolutionary (EarthWin) appreciation of life’s true developmental gestation. A further merit is a strongest case to date for an ascendant personsphere sapience learning on her/his own.

Among the ten entries are an overview survey: Major Evolutionary Transitions and the Roles of Facilitation and Information in Ecosystem Transformations by Amanda Robin, et al, What Do We Mean by Multicellularity? The Evolutionary Transitions Framework Provides Answers by Caroline Rose and Katrin Hammerschmidt, The Evolution of Microbial Facilitation: Sociogenesis, Symbiogenesis, and Transition in Individuality by Istvan Zachar, Gergely Boza The Major Transitions in Evolution: A Philosophy of Science Perspective by Samir Okasha and notably Design for an Individual: Connectionist Approaches to the Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality by Richard, Watson, et al (search)

In their classic 1995 book, John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmáry sketched the evident presence of eight major evolutionary transitions (METs) in the long history of life on earth. But 27 years since, optional views, and detail debates about defining features and qualities still persist. Attempts to find deep, constant patterns and processes also go on, but have not yet integrated this entire sweep of evolution and ecology from replicating molecules to loquacious humans. It seemed appropriate to post a topical issue which could gather, assimilate and enjoin these many aspects, air specific issues and consider a common, nested sequence. To wit, METs are seen to occur as fusions of independent individuals into a higher order entity, along with a novel way that information is stored and transmitted. In addition, the ecological context where this ascendant course goes on is rarely considered. Into these 2020s, new findings and novel ideas about life’s developmental stirrings, genetic bases and consequent course to our consummate global retrospective could provide a salutary synthesis. (Nonacs, et al, Introduction excerpt)

I view my research program as the intersection of Evolutionary and Behavioral Ecology explores why questions and how issues. My students and I use several approaches from mathematical theories to empirical methods and field work in Panama. Although most of my work is with social insects, we are open to any system or species depending on how well suited they are to learn about vital evolutionary phenomena. (P. Nonacs)

I began my scientific life in Kay Holekamp's lab as at Michigan State University. After a stint as a zookeeper, I went to grad school at UCLA where my PhD was co-advised by Peter Nonacs and Bob Wayne as a shift from carnivores to bees. A post-doc followed in Gene Robinson's lab at UIUC, where I got into genomic aspects. I started my own lab at Utah State University in 2014. (K. Kapheim)

I see sociality, cooperation, conflict and communication everywhere. I work on genomics and transcriptomics, behaviour, chemical ecology and conceptual approaches to evolution. Beyond social insects, another necessary topic I study is the major transitions in evolution. In regard, I carry out theoretical and empirical analyses on similarities and differences between in complex multicellularity and superorganisms. (H. Helantera)

O’Malley, Maureen and Russell Powell. Major Problems in Evolutionary Transitions: How a Metabolic Perspective can Enrich Our Understanding of Macroevolution. Biology & Philosophy. 31/2, 2016. University of Sydney and Boston University philosophers of science argue that while this sequential scale from life’s molecular and genetic origins to human linguistic society has gained wide acceptance and usage, it can be improved and filled out by interactive aspects such as Earth’s biological oxygenation, along with acquisitions of mitochondria and plastid organelles. Although reservations are noted, this recurrent, nested emergence is seen as a valid, substantial work in process. While the original 1990s version by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary had seven levels, it is now up to eight (search ES), and herein a ninth is added as the “origin of electronic cultural transmission.” But further concern is its appearance of an oriented ascent toward humankind, for the current paradigm denies any teleological ladder or scala naturae. This is a serious quandary, largely unnoticed or addressed, which blocks our efforts to fully reconstruct and interpret. An aim of this website is to document how human beings have more significance, worth, purpose, empowerment, and destiny than ever allowed or imagined.

Powers, Simon, et al. How Institutions Shaped the Last Major Evolutionary Transition to Large-Scale Human Societies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol.371/Iss.1687, 2016. As the four quotes describe, anthropologists Powers, and Carel Van Schaik, University of Lausanne, and Laurent Lehmann, University of Zurich, perceive further stages for this sequential, iterative scale of convergent synthesis due to novel information processing as human civilizations become at once more diversified while being integrated and organized.

What drove the transition from small-scale human societies centered on kinship and personal exchange, to large-scale societies comprising cooperation and division of labour among untold numbers of unrelated individuals? We propose that the unique human capacity to negotiate institutional rules that coordinate social actions was a key driver of this transition. By creating institutions, humans have been able to move from the default ‘Hobbesian’ rules of the ‘game of life’, determined by physical/environmental constraints, into self-created rules of social organization where cooperation can be individually advantageous even in large groups of unrelated individuals. Successful institutions create rules of interaction that are self-enforcing, providing direct benefits both to individuals that follow them, and to individuals that sanction rule breakers. Forming institutions requires shared intentionality, language and other cognitive abilities largely absent in other primates. This allowed anatomically modern humans to create institutions that transformed the self-reliance of our primate ancestors into the division of labour of large-scale human social organization. (Abstract excerpts)

Life on the Earth has undergone a series of major evolutionary transitions in which individuals at a lower level of biological organization came together to form higher level units. Examples include replicating molecules coming together to form protocells, single-celled individuals evolving into multicellular organisms and solitary insects transitioning into eusocial colonies. The final transition proposed by Maynard Smith & Szathmáry is the origin of human societies. Yet, while the other major evolutionary transitions are starting to become well understood, there is a lack of a cohesive theory that can explain the transition from primate social organization based on kinship and personal exchange to human societies with large-scale impersonal exchange and division of labour between unrelated individuals.

Human societies do indeed largely meet the criteria for a major evolutionary transition. For example, just as epigenetic inheritance (a novel inheritance mechanism) allows the cells in a multicellular organism to differentiate and profit from a division of labour, so language (a novel cultural inheritance mechanism) allows human individuals to coordinate and specialize in different tasks, and so also to profit from a division of labour. Similarly, while by most measures, a multicellular organism is more complex than a single cell, so human chiefdoms are more complex than hunter–gatherer bands in terms of the number of hierarchical levels of organization. And just as multicellular organisms with division of labour and sterile somatic cells gradually evolved from single-celled ancestors, so cultural phylogenies (based on language trees) point to states evolving gradually from chiefdoms, which in turn evolved gradually from hunter–gatherer macro-bands and tribes.

We propose to subdivide the major transition to large-scale human societies into four distinct, smaller transitions. (i) The origin of the human hunter–gatherer niche, characterized by large but hard to acquire food packages, allomaternal care and egalitarian social structure. (ii) The origin of language, a novel unlimited inheritance system that strongly facilitates cumulative cultural evolution and negotiation between individuals. (iii) The Neolithic revolution, which involved the shift to agricultural and sedentary populations with hierarchical social organization. (iv)

Rafiqi, Matteen, et al. Origin and Elaboration of a Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality. Nature. 585/239, 2020. As the abstract cites, McGill University, Montreal and Bezmialem Vakif University, Istanbul biologists discuss how the latest detailed studies of morphogenetic forms and processes are revealing the innate, persistent ways that a natural genesis proceeds toward further scalar levels of organismic complexities. An elaborate graphic display depicts a course for bacterial symbiotic integration.

Obligate endosymbiosis, in which distantly related species integrate to form a single replicating individual, represents a major evolutionary transition in individuality. Although such transitions are thought to increase biological complexity, the evolutionary and developmental steps that lead to integration remain poorly understood. Here, we show that obligate endosymbiosis between the bacteria Blochmannia and the hyperdiverse ant tribe Camponotini originated and elaborated through radical alterations in embryonic development, as compared to other insects. By this example and others, we find that the convergence of pre-existing molecular capacities and ecological interactions—as well as the rewiring of highly conserved gene networks—may be a general feature that facilitates the origin and elaboration of major transitions in individuality. (Abstract excerpts)

We therefore propose that other major transitions in individuality may originate and also elaborate through the rewiring of highly conserved gene regulatory networks, as well as by exploiting pre-existing molecular or developmental capacities and ecological interactions. (243)

Rinkevich, Baruch. The Apex Set-up for the Major Transitions in Individuality. Evolutionary Biology. Online June, 2019. A senior Israeli marine biologist and educator agrees that life’s emergent development is well represented by this nested, sequential scale. Its repetition of mutual units within bounded wholes from unicellularity to organisms, colonies, and superorganic groupings is now affirmed as nature’s formative method, (as also present in neural architecture.) Into the 2010s, each regnant stage can be seen to relatively constitute a (semi)autonomous personal entity. As a contribution novel clarifications, instances, and expansions are suggested so to gain better sight of life’s ascendant zenith.

Morphological and functional hierarchies occurring in contemporary biological entities are amalgamated via a small number of progressive key-steps termed as Major Transition in Evolution (MTE) that encompass steps of Major Transition in Individuality (MTI). Literature views MTE/MTI in nature as a sequential increase in complexity, and has contributed insights into the emergence of genuine MTI candidates that actually build higher order individuals from simpler entities. By considering a novel MTI trajectory termed the ‘MTI continuum’, I found no literature consensus for this continuum’s apex. Next, I consider the properties of biological entities termed as ‘superorganism’ (eusocial insects, humans), also considered as highly-developed MTIs. Then I assign the emergence of three new MTI diachronic-classes, the colonial-organisms, chimerism and multi-chimerism, suggesting that they represent highly complex MTIs. These novel MTIs yet still generate genuine and distinct libertarian entities. (Abstract excerpt)

Chimera means an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of genetic DNA, often originating from the fusion of as many different zygotes (fertilized eggs). (WikiPedia) (We here note that the same term is used for complex dynamic systems poised at a critical state, such a neural activity.)

Robin, Amanda, et al.. Major Evolutionary Transitions and the Roles of Facilitation and Information in Ecosystem Transformations. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. December, 2021. A contribution by UCLA and Stanford University biologists to a special Social Evolution and the Major Evolutionary Transition in the History of Life issue (see Peter Nonacs for review) which provides a rare, latest extension of this emergent scale onto its global fulfillment. Such a obvious but unfamiliar perception likely had to hold off until a 2020s retrospect to admit and appreciate this evident domain which has long been the basis for our EarthWise attribution. In regard, we offer an array of quotes.

Into the 21st century, the presence of “Major Evolutionary Transitions” (METs) with novel forms of organismal complexity, information and individuality have gained increasing notice among biologists. Into these 2020s, we introduce this special collection meant to gather many findings into an overdue full scale, explanatory recognition of life’s main ascendant course. We also seek to provide this evolutionary sequence within an ecological basis, aka Major System Transitions (MSTs). In regard, important morphological adaptations are noted that spread through populations because of direct-fitness advantages for individuals. We elucidate the role of information across five levels: (I) Encoded; (II) Epigenomic; (III) Learned; (IV) Inscribed; and (V) Dark, newly due to abiotic entities rather than organisms. Level IV is then seen to engender a worldwide human phase emergence. (Abstract excerpt)

The Levels of Information: Instructional: Information is transformed into physical, symbolic formats that have vast storage capacity. An instructional corpus can far exceed the combined encoded, epigenetic, learned and iconic content previously available to any single individual. Across the tree of life, only humans are known to have ever extensively created and used instructional information. Dark: Information produced by abiotic computer programs which are so complicated that biological organisms cannot replicate or derive. Examples are: internet search engines; global climate models; bioinformatic analyses of genetic data sets; neural network simulations and genetic algorithm models. The potential reach of this information may exceed that of the species that creates it, to the extent that it may become a new ‘living species’ in and of itself. (4)

The capacity for symbolic representation of language is critical for the emergence of technological innovations that expanded the realized niche for humans exponentially and paved the path to a global MST. We proliferated across every continent and environment on Earth while substantially impacting these ecosystems. One example of inscribed language producing global-altering information and technology is the very existence of the discipline of evolutionary science and the systematic study of life itself. Humans are uniquely able
to understand how evolution works. (15)

Rosslenbroich, Bernd. On the Origin of Autonomy: A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution. Heidelberg: Springer, 2014. In this book, I develop the proposal that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase individual organismal autonomy in the sense of emancipation from the environment with changes in the capacity for flexibility, self-regulation, and self-control of behavior. (3) The University of Witten/Herdecke physiologist provides a book-length treatment of his hypothesis that a progressive manifestation of personal liberties, within reciprocal symbiotic groupings, is a main axial trend and vector of life’s episodic emergence. The text opens with an historic and current survey, noting the companion 2015 work of Alvaro Moreno and Matteo Mossio (search). Chapters proceed from major transitions in the early Cambrian to complex dynamic functions across bodies to brains, and onto increasing freedoms in supportive communities.

In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior. The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities. Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed.

Sandora, McCullen and Joseph Silk. Biosignature Surveys to Exoplanet Yields and Beyond. arXiv:2005.04005. University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University cosmologists propose a more comprehensive guide for future search phases as they proceed to quantify the presence and stage of evolutionary life. As per the second quote, the major transitions scale finds service since each level from microbes to a metropolis will have a characteristic atmospheric signature, along with other indicators. In regard we want to record the wide acceptance and application of this episodic emergence, which is a major structural feature of a genesis synthesis.University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University cosmologists propose a more comprehensive guide for future search phases as they proceed to quantify the presence and stage of evolutionary life. As per the second quote, the major transitions scale finds service since each level from microbes to a metropolis will have a characteristic atmospheric signature, along with other indicators. In regard we want to record the wide acceptance and application of this episodic emergence, which is a major structural feature of a genesis synthesis.

Upcoming biosignature searches focus on indirect indicators to infer the presence of life on other worlds. Aside from just signaling the presence of life, however, some biosignatures can contain information about the state that a planet's biosphere has achieved. This additional information can be used to measure what fractions of planets achieve certain key stages of the advent of life, photosynthesis, multicellularity and technological civilization. Our approach is probabilistic and relies on large numbers of candidates rather than detailed examination of individual exoplanet spectra. The dependence on survey size, likeliness of the transition, and degrees of confidence are discussed. (Abstract excerpt)

The life history of our own planet can be seen as a sequence of transitions wrought by evolutionary innovations, from biogenesis to the evolution of photosynthesis, multicellularity, and technological civilization. As far as these transitions can be expected to be generic, they can each be sought for independently through their characteristic atmospheric imprints. The question we address here is, what fraction of planets undergoes each transition, and more importantly, which can be measured with upcoming surveys? By quantifying the uncertainty in measurements of each of these quantities, we provide a framework for understanding how they depend on proposed mission designs as well as on atmospheric modeling. (1)

Schuster, Peter. Major Transitions in Evolution and in Technology. Complexity. Online March, 2016. The University of Wien biochemist is president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and editor-in-chief of this journal. Since being conceived by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary in the 1990s, this perception of a recurrent, nested emergent scale from biomolecules to human cultures has become increasingly accepted, verified, and expanded. This contribution goes on to find these common principles to be repeated in some manner in the creation of technological artifacts.

Sela, Itamar, et al. Selection and Genome Plasticity as the Key Factors in the Evolution of Bacteria. Physical Review X. 9/031018, 2018. In this physics journal, aided by current affirmations of a common repetition in kind everywhere, National Center for Biotechnology Information theorists I. Sela, Yuri Wolf and Eugene Koonin report that genomic phenomena takes on the form of a nested scale across many domains or classes. As their Summary below notes, the present re-unification and re-rooting of life in an increasingly fertile cosmos is well served by such evidential findings. See also a reference Family Specific Scaling Laws in Bacterial Genomes by Eleonora De Lazzari, et al in Nucleic Acids Research (45/13, 2017, second quote).

In microbes, different functional classes of genes, such as those involved in information processing, metabolism, and regulation, show scaling exponents with the genome size. However, there is no general theory to explain these “universal laws” of microbial genome evolution. Here, we describe a mathematical model that recovers the differential scaling of functional gene classes in bacterial genomes, includes only two parameters to characterize genomes, selection coefficient and plasticity. After testing the model against genomic data, we conclude that genome plasticity is a key evolutionary factor. Our findings suggest that at least some key aspects of genome evolution can be captured by general theoretical models akin to those widely used in physics. (Sela Summary)

Among several quantitative invariants found in evolutionary genomics, one of the most striking is the scaling of the overall abundance of proteins, or protein domains, which share a specific functional annotation across genomes of given size. The size of these functional categories change, on average, as power-laws in the total number of protein-coding genes. Here, we show that such regularities are not restricted to the behavior of high-level functional categories, but exist at the level of single evolutionary families of protein domains. Under the common assumption that selection is driven solely or mainly by biological function, these findings point to fine-tuned and interdependent roles of specific protein domains. (De Lazzari Abstract)

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