(1990). "Biological automata models and evolution II: The evolution of macromolecular machinery," in <i>Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution</i>. Manchester University Press.

(1990). "Biological automata models and evolution II: The evolution of macromolecular machinery," in Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution.

Publication Info: 

Thompson, Richard L. and Narendra S. Goel. "Biological Automata Models and Evolution II: The evolution of macromolecular machinery," in Organizational Constraints on the Dynamics of Evolution, edited by G. Vida and J. Maynard-Smith, 33-48. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.


Biological evolution is thought to have occurred over a span of billions of years but has hardly left any footprints prior to the last few hundred million years. Because of the lack of historical data, it has been difficult to decide on plausible mechanisms for evolution on the cellular level. Many theories and hypotheses, involving the occurrence of various events and phenomena, have been proposed, but these tend to involve vague and obscure statements. For a model to run on a computer, the computer program must be complete, and thus the construction of a working computer model of a theory or hypothesis guarantees that the theory or hypothesis is complete. We suggest that such computer models could play a vital role in understanding biological evolution.

In this paper we illustrate how MFA models can be used in formulating and testing theories of biological evolution. For this purpose we have chosen as our topic the evolution of macromolecular machinery, we discuss some of its key features using an MFA model of bacteriophage evolution as an example. (MFA models are introduced in the preceding chapter).


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From the Preface: "This volume consists of selected papers" presented at "an international symposium on some current problems in evolution in order to meet leading scientists of the topics and also to present and discuss our relvant ideas." It was held at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, 29 June through 3 July 1987.

The celebrated British theoretical evolutionary biologist and co-editor of the conference proceedings, John Maynard Smith, wrote in the his “Concluding Remarks”:

"For me, one of the high spots of the conference was the account by Thompson and Goel of their biological automata models. It was not only that I was envious of their skill at programming. More important was their demonstration of the process of “self-organization”. If you can program something, then you can be confident that the mechanisms you propose can actually generate the results you claim, and that is what they have done. Some thirty years ago, I drew a distinction between two kinds of developmental process, which I called 'jigsaws' and 'penny whistles'. By a molecular jigsaw I had in mind a structure whose final shape depended on the shapes of the molecules that composed it, and which would, in a sense, assemble itself, given that the right molecules were provided (perhaps in the right relative amounts, and in the right order). It is this kind of process that Thompson and Goel have simulated, with triumphant success." (pages 434–35).

In a personal recollection, Thompson commented that Smith “neglects to mention the anti-evolutionary content of one of these papers, but he commented favorably on this in private conversation. Of course, he continued to champion evolution.”

Thompson's professional affiliation listed at:
La Jolla Institute, P.O. Box 1434, La Jolla, CA 92038, U.S.A.