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J Theor Biol. 2006 Mar 21;239(2):236-46. Epub 2005 Oct 19.

The evolution of information in the major transitions.

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  • 1The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel-Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


Maynard Smith and Szathm√°ry's analysis of the major transitions in evolution was based on changes in the way information is stored, transmitted and interpreted. With the exception of the transition to human linguistic societies, their discussion centred on changes in DNA and the genetic system. We argue that information transmitted by non-genetic means has played a key role in the major transitions, and that new and modified ways of transmitting non-DNA information resulted from them. We compare and attempt to categorise the major transitions, and suggest that the transition from RNA as both gene and enzyme to DNA as genetic material and proteins as enzymes may have been a double one. Unlike Maynard Smith and Szathm√°ry, we regard the emergence of the nervous system as a major transition. The evolution of a nervous system not only changed the way that information was transmitted between cells and profoundly altered the nature of the individuals in which it was present, it also led to a new type of heredity-social and cultural heredity-based on the transmission of behaviourally acquired information.

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