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Thomas S. Ray
ATR Human Information Processing Research Laboratories
2-2 Hikaridai, Seika-cho, Soraku-gun, Kyoto, 619-02, Japan
October 21, 1993
Ray, T. S. 1994. An evolutionary approach to synthetic biology: Zen and the art of creating life. Artificial Life 1(1/2): 195-226. MIT Press.
An evolutionary approach to synthetic biology consists of inoculating the process of evolution by natural selection into an artificial medium. Evolution is then allowed to find the natural forms of living organisms in the artificial medium. These are not models of life, but independent instances of life. This essay is intended to communicate a way of thinking about synthetic biology that leads to a particular approach: to understand and respect the natural form of the artificial medium, to facilitate the process of evolution in generating forms that are adapted to the medium, and to let evolution find forms and processes that naturally exploit the possibilities inherent in the medium. Examples are cited of synthetic biology embedded in the computational medium, where in addition to being an exercise in experimental comparative evolutionary biology, it is also a possible means of harnessing the evolutionary process for the production of complex computer software.