The evolution of replicators

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62 Citations (Scopus)


Replicators of interest in chemistry, biology and culture are briefly surveyed from a conceptual point of view, Systems with limited heredity have only a limited evolutionary potential because the number of available types is too low. Chemical cycles, such as the formose reaction, are holistic replicators since replication is not based on the successive addition of modules. Replicator networks consisting of catalytic molecules (such as reflexively autocatalytic sets of proteins, or reproducing lipid vesicles) are hypothetical ensemble replicators, and their functioning rests on attractors of their dynamics. Ensemble replicators suffer from the paradox of specificity: while their abstract feasibility seems to require a high number of molecular types, the harmful effect of side reactions calls for a small system size. No satisfactory solution to this problem is known. Phenotypic replicators do not pass on their genotypes, only some aspects of the phenotype are transmitted. Phenotyplc replicators with limited heredity include genetic membranes, prions and simple memetic systems. Memes in human culture are unlimited hereditary, phenotypic replicators, based on language. The typical path of evolution goes from limited to unlimited heredity, and from attractor-based to modular (digital) replicators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1669-1676
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1403
Publication statusPublished - nov. 29 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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