I describe the Utrecht Machine (UM), a discrete artificial regulatory network designed for studying how evolution discovers biochemical computation mechanisms. The corresponding binary genome format is compatible with gene deletion, duplication, and recombination. In the simulation presented here, an agent consisting of two UMs, a sender and a receiver, must encode, transmit, and decode a binary word over time using the narrow communication channel between them. This communication problem has chicken-and-egg structure in that a sending mechanism is useless without a corresponding receiving mechanism. An in-depth case study reveals that a coincidence creates a minimal partial solution, from which a sequence of partial sending and receiving mechanisms evolve. Gene duplications contribute by enlarging the regulatory network. Analysis of 60,000 sample runs under a variety of parameter settings confirms that crossover accelerates evolution, that stronger selection tends to find clumsier solutions and finds them more slowly, and that there is implicit selection for robust mechanisms and genomes at the codon level. Typical solutions associate each input bit with an activation speed and combine them almost additively. The parents of breakthrough organisms sometimes have lower fitness scores than others in the population, indicating that populations can cross valleys in the fitness landscape via outlying members. The simulation exhibits back mutations and population-level memory effects not accounted for in traditional population genetics models. All together, these phenomena suggest that new evolutionary models are needed that incorporate regulatory network structure.

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