This is a joint lecture with INET Oxford.
From biology to technology, a powerful mechanism to create innovation is recombination – the formation of new systems by combining old parts in new ways. However, we poorly understand the causes of this power. Part of the reason is that most success stories of innovation by recombination – especially in the history of technology – are historical narratives that do not allow a quantitative analysis.
Professor Andreas Wagner, Professor and Chair in the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, will discuss a biological system that can provide a systematic and principled understanding of recombination’s power to innovate. The system is metabolism, a complex network of chemical reactions that has been the source of countless innovations in life’s evolution. It is responsible for the ability of organisms to survive on a bewildering diversity of energy sources, for the adaptation of life to chemically hostile environments, and for the ability of organisms – especially plants – to manufacture a myriad of useful molecules. He will discuss both experiments and computational analyses from his laboratory that has helped us understand the power of recombination to bring forth such innovations.