The time is ripe for developing evolutionary biology into a more predictive science. Progress has been made in predicting short-term evolution under carefully controlled circumstances in prokaryotes. However, societal challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation and pesticide resistance require prediction of short-term evolutionary responses in complex multicellular eukaryotes. This project will bring together theoretical, empirical scientists as well as those working on digital and robotic evolution to explore avenues for predicting evolution from first principles
In 2016, the Dutch government consulted the general public on what they saw as the most pressing issues in science (the so-called 'National Science Agenda'). The resulting questions were grouped into 25 routes, one of which was on the origin and evolution of life. The latter sparked the foundation of the Origins center, a broad center harboring five main tracks, one of which is focused on predicting evolution.
The aim of the predicting evolution track is to bring together researchers from distinct fields with links to evolution, including biology, medical research, earth sciences and physics. A roadmap has been laid out, listing priorities for research, which consists of, among others, a better understanding of the genotype-phenotype relationship and on identifying drivers of selection, using modeling, genomic analyses and experimental evolution.
Most scientific progress on the prediction of evolution has been made under carefully controlled conditions in prokaryotes. However, many of the organisms for which we need to predict short-term evolution are complex, multicellular eukaryotes. Therefore, we use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism in experimental evolution. The advantage of these relatively simple multicellular eukaryotes is that many generations can be reared within a short timeframe and experiments can be replicated in different labs.
The project is a joint effort of a large number of research groups in the Netherlands and Belgium, contributing experimental work as well as theoretical expertise to the project. Principal investigators are Meike Wortel and Ken Kraaijveld from the IBED reserach department Evolutionary Population Biology.