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Genetic parsimony: a factor in the evolution of complexity, order and emergence

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Two conjectures, drawn from Gregory Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory, are examined with respect to the relationship between an algorithm and its product; in particular his finding that, where an algorithm is minimal, its length provides a measure of the complexity of the product. Algorithmic complexity is considered from the perspective of the relationship between genotype and phenotype, which Chaitin suggests is analogous to other algorithm-product systems. The first conjecture is that the genome is a minimal set of algorithms for the phenotype. Evidence is presented for a factor, here termed ‘genetic parsimony’, which is thought to have helped minimize the growth of genome size during evolution. Species that depend on rapid replication, such as prokaryotes which are generally r-selected are more likely to have small genomes, while the K-strategists accumulate introns and have large genomes. The second conjecture is that genome size could provide a measure of organism complexity. A surrogate index for coding DNA is in agreement with an established phenotypic index (number of cell types), in exhibiting an evolutionary trend of increasing organism complexity over time. Evidence for genetic parsimony indicates that simplicity in coding has been selected, and is responsible for phenotypic order. It is proposed that order evolved because order in the phenotype can be encoded more economically than disorder. Thus order arises due to selection for genetic parsimony, as does the evolution of other ‘emergent’ properties. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 88, 295–308.
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