Preprint Concept Paper Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

An Engineering Theory of Evolution

Version 1 : Received: 24 August 2020 / Approved: 26 August 2020 / Online: 26 August 2020 (09:23:44 CEST)
Version 2 : Received: 9 December 2020 / Approved: 9 December 2020 / Online: 9 December 2020 (10:51:51 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Castle, S.D., Grierson, C.S. & Gorochowski, T.E. Towards an engineering theory of evolution. Nat Commun 12, 3326 (2021). Castle, S.D., Grierson, C.S. & Gorochowski, T.E. Towards an engineering theory of evolution. Nat Commun 12, 3326 (2021).


Biological technologies are fundamentally unlike any other because biology evolves. Bioengineering therefore requires novel design methodologies with evolution at their core. Knowledge about evolution is currently applied to the design of biosystems ad hoc. Unless we have a unified engineering theory of evolution, we will neither be able to meet evolution’s potential as a design tool, nor understand or limit its unintended consequences on our designs. Our concept of the evotype offers a conceptual framework for engineering the evolutionary potential of biosystems. We show how a biosystem’s evolutionary properties might be rationally designed by engineering aspects of genetic variation, designed function, and natural selection. This idea could apply to all biosystems – from individual proteins to communities of whole-cells or even entire ecosystems – whether the goal is to direct evolution in the design process, or to limit its impacts during application. These principles could even be used beyond the realm of bioengineering to design entirely synthetic evolving auto-adaptive technologies.


evolution; evotype; engineering theory; genotype-phenotype maps; directed evolution; selection; synthetic biology; bioengineering; evolvability; self-adaptive systems


Biology and Life Sciences, Biology and Biotechnology

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