Biological systems show unbounded capacity for complex behaviors and responses to their environments. This principally arises from their genetic networks. The processes governing transcription, translation, and gene regulation are well understood, as are the mechanisms of network evolution, such as gene duplication and horizontal gene transfer. However, the evolved networks arising from these simple processes are much more difficult to understand, and it is difficult to perform experiments on the evolution of these networks in living organisms because of the timescales involved. We propose a new framework for modeling and investigating the evolution of transcription networks in realistic, varied environments. The model we introduce contains novel, important, and lifelike features that allow the evolution of arbitrarily complex transcription networks. Molecular interactions are not specified; instead they are determined dynamically based on shape, allowing protein function to freely evolve. Transcriptional logic provides a flexible mechanism for defining genetic regulatory activity. Simulations demonstrate a realistic life cycle as an emergent property, and that even in simple environments lifelike and complex regulation mechanisms are evolved, including stable proteins, unstable mRNA, and repressor activity. This study also highlights the importance of using in silico genetics techniques to investigate evolved model robustness.

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