Irun R. Cohen, Assaf Marron
The evolution of multicellular eukaryotes expresses two sorts of adaptations: local adaptations like fur or feathers, which characterize species in particular environments, and universal adaptations like microbiomes or sexual reproduction, which characterize most multicellulars in any environment. We reason that the mechanisms driving the universal adaptations of multicellulars should themselves be universal, and propose a mechanism based on properties of matter and systems: energy, entropy, and interaction. Energy from the sun, earth and beyond creates new arrangements and interactions. Metabolic networks channel some of this energy to form cooperating, interactive arrangements. Entropy, used here as a term for all forces that dismantle ordered structures (rather than as a physical quantity), acts as a selective force. Entropy selects for arrangements that resist it long enough to replicate, and dismantles those that do not. Interactions, energy-charged and dynamic, restrain entropy and enable survival and propagation of integrated living systems. This fosters survival-of-the-fitted – those entities that resist entropic destruction – and not only of the fittest – the entities with the greatest reproductive success. The “unit” of evolution is not a discrete entity, such as a gene, individual, or species; what evolves are collections of related interactions at multiple scales. Survival-of-the-fitted explains universal adaptations, including resident microbiomes, sexual reproduction, continuous diversification, programmed turnover, seemingly wasteful phenotypes, altruism, co-evolving environmental niches, and advancing complexity. Indeed survival-of-the-fittest may be a particular case of the survival-of-the-fitted mechanism, promoting local adaptations that express reproductive advantages in addition to resisting entropy. Survival-of-the-fitted accounts for phenomena that have been attributed to neutral evolution: in the face of entropy, there is no neutrality; all variations are challenged by ubiquitous energy and entropy, retaining those that are “fit enough”. We propose experiments to test predictions of the survival-of-the-fitted theory, and discuss implications for the wellbeing of humans and the biosphere.