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Interface Focus. 2015 Dec 6;5(6):20150057. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2015.0057.

Replaying the tape of life in the twenty-first century.

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CNRS, UMR7592, Institut Jacques Monod , Univ Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité , 15 rue Hélène Brion, 75013 Paris , France.


Should the tape of life be replayed, would it produce similar living beings? A classical answer has long been 'no', but accumulating data are now challenging this view. Repeatability in experimental evolution, in phenotypic evolution of diverse species and in the genes underlying phenotypic evolution indicates that despite unpredictability at the level of basic evolutionary processes (such as apparition of mutations), a certain kind of predictability can emerge at higher levels over long time periods. For instance, a survey of the alleles described in the literature that cause non-deleterious phenotypic differences among animals, plants and yeasts indicates that similar phenotypes have often evolved in distinct taxa through independent mutations in the same genes. Does this mean that the range of possibilities for evolution is limited? Does this mean that we can predict the outcomes of a replayed tape of life? Imagining other possible paths for evolution runs into four important issues: (i) resolving the influence of contingency, (ii) imagining living organisms that are different from the ones we know, (iii) finding the relevant concepts for predicting evolution, and (iv) estimating the probability of occurrence for complex evolutionary events that occurred only once during the evolution of life on earth.


contingency; convergence; evolution; hotspot gene; tape of life

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