Two hundred years after Darwin's birth, the theory of evolution is still evolving — and finding relevance in realms far outside the biological.
Evolution is being scaled up to the level of populations, even whole ecosystems. Moreover, scientists say evolution is intertwined with other dynamics in ways science is just starting to understand.
"The process of evolution is fundamental to the universe,” said Carl Woese, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign microbiologist and one of the first proponents of this newly revised evolutionary framework. “Biology is the most obvious manifestation of it.”
Darwin described how changes in an organism are passed from generation to generation depending on their contribution to survival. Biologists later combined this with genetics, which hadn’t been discovered in Darwin's time.
The fusion — called neo-Darwinian evolution — describes evolution as we know it today: Genetic mutations produce changes that can become part of a species' heritage and, when enough changes accumulate, produce new species.
It’s one of the most powerful descriptions of the world dreamed up by humans, central to understanding the natural world and applicable to engineering, economics and even software design. ...