c1 ( b4e4 => b9 + e2 )

It may not look like much but this string of characters has made me quite happy.

I have been running some artificial chemistry experiments. The idea is to create a system that exhibits the same sort of evolution seen on Earth.

My little organisms are naked strings of DNA-like material, e.g. ebbbbbbbbf where each b is a gene, and e and f are the end markers. Each gene (as in nature) acts as an enzyme - it catalyzes a specific reaction. The genes carried by the 8 b's (not shown) allow the string to make a copy of itself when immersed in a soup of free letters.

When you run the simulation for a while, different sequences appear. For example, the organisms acquire an extra b that allows them to utilize a different type of food. This 'species' outcompetes the ancestor species and soon eradicates them. Now the world is full of ebbbbbbbbbf strings (with 9 b's).

In one experimental run recently, the string ecbbbbbbbbbf appeared. The new gene is carried by the c and is shown at the top - it catalyzes the reaction b4e4 => b9 + e2. Nevermind what the numbers mean, the important point is that it acts on b-e pairs, breaking them apart. And notice that this species doesn't have any b-e pairs - only members of different species do. This gene effectively attacks members of different species - the organism has invented a way of improving their survival chances by crippling their competitors. And even though this species is more complex, needing more 'food' to reproduce, this cost is outweighed by the benefit gained by annexing the competition, so they are successful.

And this is exactly the sort of thing we've been looking for - innovation, complexity growth, and the surprise of seeing your experiment doing something you hadn't thought of.

This post was originally on LiveJournal.