When Replicators Unite

Major Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality ... characterized by individuals that could previously replicate independently, cooperating to form a new, more complex life form. Stuart A. West, et. al. pdf

The key steps in the evolution of life on earth had been driven by a small number of “major evolutionary transitions.” In each transition, a group of individuals that could previously replicate independently cooperate to form a new, more complex life form.

For example, genes cooperated to form genomes, archaea and eubacteria formed eukaryotic cells, and cells cooperated to form multicellular organisms.

How are the potentially selfish interests of individuals overcome to form mutually dependent cooperative groups? We ask whether there are any similarities across transitions in the answers to this problem.

We identify a few key factors that have been important again and again at driving increases in organismal complexity. This approach would both unify and simplify our understanding of the evolution of life on earth.

Major evolutionary transitions start with the formation of a cooperative group and then the transformation of the cooperative group into a more cohesive and integrated entity that can be considered a new level of individual organism.

The second step typically involves a number of common features: the individuals in a group evolving to perform different tasks; division of labor becoming so specialized that the members become dependent upon each other; and communication emerging to coordinate cooperation at the group level.


Adam Smith argued that free markets provide the necessary coordination among nations. But ownership as we know it, and especially unowned extraction, shows nations and markets insufficient to solve all problems.

Federated wiki thinks in these terms and draws different boundaries. See Thought Soup