Tag Archives: phenotypes

Interdisciplinary Workshop on Robustness

Goal of the workshop is to rise relevant questions as well as to encourage interdisciplinary discussions surrounding the topic of Robustness.

2014, October 14 (09.30) – 16 (17.30)

Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Via Álvaro del Portillo, 21
00128 Roma


October 14th
09:30 – 10.30  Plenary Session – Gerald H. Pollack
11.00 – 13:30  Session 1: The methodological and conceptual foundations of robustness
S. Caianiello – Prolegomena to a history of the notion of robustness
G. Caniglia – Robustness, Integration and What We Can Do When We Cannot Observe Something
S. Mitchell – Challenges of Robustness for Causal Explanation
P. Huneman – Robustness as an explanandum and explanans in evolutionary biology and ecology
14:30 – 17:30  Session 2: Talking about robustness
G. Vitiello – Dynamical rearrangement of Symmetry, minimum stimulus and robustness
L. Di Paola, A. Giuliani – Ecological Process Design and Robustness: the Case of Biofuels
S. Filippi – Robustness and Emergent Dynamics in Noisy Biological Systems
F. Keller – Robustness and Embodiment of Higher Cognitive Functions
M. Trombetta – Tissue Engineering and Cell Driving

October 15th
09:30 – 11:00  Session 2: Talking about robustness
A. Marcos – Difference
A. Moreno – Robustness and Autonomy
14:00 – 17:45  Working Groups

October 16th
09:30 – 12:30  Results presentation
13:45 – 17:00  Roundtable
17:00 – 17.30  Conclusions

Philosophical and Scientific Steering Committee
Marta Bertolaso – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria
Sandra D. Mitchell – University of Pittsburgh
Jane Maienschein – Arizona State University
Simonetta Filippi – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Ingegneria
Flavio Keller – Università Campus  Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Medicina

Marta Bertolaso – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria

Local Organizing Committee
Luca Valera – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST
Anna Maria Dieli – Università Tor Vergata, Roma; IHPST, Paris

Organizzato da:
Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Con il contributo di Fondazione Cattolica Assicurazioni

Referente organizzativo:
Silvia Caianiello

Ufficio stampa:
Luca Valera
Campus Bio-Medico


More pictures on Flickr.

Interviews at the Lisbon Summer School on Evolution

These interviews were conducted at the 2013 International Summer School on Evolution which was organized by the Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab in collaboration with Ciência Viva, and held at Ciência Viva’s Pavilion of Knowledge in Lisbon, Portugal.

In the following first video I was interviewed on Philosophy of Biology, the Extended Synthesis, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Niche Construction, Macroevolution, Symbiogenesis and the Gaia Hypothesis and Niche Construction.

In the second video the School teachers were asked to give their definition of evolution: these were Bruce Lieberman, Folmer Bokma, Michael Arnold, Luis Villarreal, Frietson Galis, Ilya Tëmkin, Mónica Tamariz, Marion Blute, Fiona Jordan, Michael Ruse, Derek Turner, Frédéric Bouchard, Emanuele Serrelli and Nathalie Gontier. The AppEEL You Tube channel features full interviews with these and other scholars.

See the post on my and Nathalie’s course: Modeling sociocultural evolution.

More info can be found at:

Produced and Powered by: AppEEL

Sponsored by:

  • John Templeton Foundation
  • Ciência Viva Ciência Viva Knowledge Pavilion
  • Centre for Philosophy of Science of the University of Lisbon
  • Faculty of Science of the University of Lisbon
  • University of Lisbon

Phenotypic variation in ecological setting

phenotypic-ecological.035Organisms are niche constructors: they impact the environment and modify selective pressures that direct their own evolution as well as that of their non-conspecific fellows in ecological systems at various scales. The theoretical acknowledgement of niche construction has inspired many reflections about the active role of organisms in evolution, often proclaiming a revolutionary theoretical change. But if we look at formal models the claim is not yet justified. Ecologists have specified population-scale models of niche construction, but these cannot be adopted as evolutionary models: they don’t incorporate heritable variation nor allow for directional selection and cumulative change. As evolutionists point out, these models are mere phenotype dynamics or population fluctuations with different possible outcomes – extinction or sustainability. Evolutionary models of niche construction, on the other hand, are not so revolutionary in their foundations, often being just classical population genetics provided with feedback loops between loci and selective pressures acting on them. The idea that variation among organisms boils down to genetic differences captured by gene frequencies dates back to the heart of the Modern Synthesis. But niche construction points directly to the world of physical and chemical interactions. This is the world where resource-impacting phenotypes are built through developmental processes, in turn subject and sensitive to the surrounding environment and the resources left over by previous generations. The produced phenotypes and their effects are hardly summarized by gene frequencies, yet evolutionary models need some kind of heritable variation and selection. The future challenge of evolutionary modeling beyond the Modern Synthesis is thus ecological, plastic variation that allows for inheritance with varying degrees and not-always-allelic mechanisms.

Session: Understanding variation beyond the Modern Synthesis

Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (2013). Phenotypic variation in ecological setting: a challenge for evolutionary modeling beyond the Modern Synthesis. Meeting of the International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB), Montpellier, France, July 7-11. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/46365]


Understanding variation beyond the Modern Synthesis

In 2013 Emanuele Serrelli organized the session “Understanding variation beyond the Modern Synthesis” at the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology Sunday, 7-11 July, Montpellier, France. The session, supported by AppEEL, includes Pablo Razeto-Barry and Davide Vecchi (Instituto de Filosofía y Ciencias de la Complejidad, Santiago, Chile) and Nathalie Gontier (University of Lisbon).

Emanuele’s paper:

Serrelli E (2013). Phenotypic variation in ecological setting: a challenge for evolutionary modeling beyond the Modern Synthesis. Meeting of the International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB), Montpellier, France, July 7-11. [BOA] [Ac]

Other talks in the session:

Variation in a world with multiple levels, mechanisms, and units of evolution: The Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Approach
Nathalie Gontier

Scholars working within the units and levels of selection debate have been developing more and more refined heuristics of how evolution by means of natural selection works. A motivation of such endeavor has been the question whether individual organisms are the only, or the most appropriate, units of natural selection, or whether groups, traits, a (set of) genes or behaviors, developmental systems, population, species can also be considered as units of selection. Heuristics based on natural selection have also been applied in order to assess whether evolution by natural selection can occur within phenomena that are traditionally understood to be extra-biological, such as cultural units, artifacts, neural maps, cognitive traits, altruistic rules etc. This abstraction and extension of natural selection to the sociocultural domain, provides a unified scientific methodology that enables scholars to study the evolution of life as well as the evolution of cognition, science, culture and any other phenomenon displayed by living organisms by means of natural selection theory. Today, with the several pleas there exist to extend the Modern Synthesis, evolutionary biologists are acknowledging the importance of mechanisms such as lateral gene transfer, symbiogenesis, drift, etc. Applied Evolutionary epistemology is a methodology that provides more open heuristics to assess how these mechanisms associated with an extended synthesis work, what their units and levels, and where they are active. Associated with this endavour is not only the recognition of multiple units, levels and mechanisms of evolution, but also to acknowledgement that there are different kinds of evolution (the evolution of the brain, of languages, of culture, of niches, etc). This talk takes the debate a step further, asking how important inter-unit, inter-level and inter-mechanism variation is for a general understanding of evolution.

Mutational Lamarckism and the Modern Synthesis view of mutational randomness as conditional independence
Pablo Razeto-Barry and Davide Vecchi
Current evolutionary biology is based on the legacy of the modern evolutionary synthesis (Huxley 1942). Nevertheless, the Modern Synthesis enshrined natural selection as the director of adaptive evolution not by providing evidence that it did, or could, account for observed adaptations (Leigh 1999), but rather by eliminating competing explanations (Mayr 1993). One of the eliminated competitors was Lamarckism, particularly “mutational Lamarckism”, a hypothesis according to which mutations may be directed towards producing phenotypes that improve the performance of the organism in a particular environment. Contrary to this hypothesis, the Modern Synthesis’ view claims that mutations are “random” (Lenski and Mittler 1993, Merlin 2010). Possibly because Lamarckism had largely felt into disrepute several decades before the eventual success of the Modern Synthesis, the precise meaning of the term “random mutation” was never deeply analyzed. However, current evidence of possibly legitimate cases of Lamarckism (Jablonka and Lamb 2005, Koonin and Wolf 2009) has revitalized the interest for clarifying the meaning of the term “random” in this context (Sarkar 2007, Jablonka and Lamb 2005, Millstein 1997, Merlin 2010). In this contribution we aim to analyze previous definitions of random mutations based on the concepts of statistical independence and correlation (e.g., Millstein 1997, Sarkar 2005, Jablonka and Lamb, Merlin 2010) and to show that they are deficient. We argue that the term “random mutation” refers to a triadic rather than dyadic relationship, that neither correlation nor independence are good concepts to formalize the neo-Darwinian concept of genetic randomness, and that as a consequence neither of them is suitable to define mutational Lamarckism. In this contribution we will illustrate our alternative proposal, show a way to formalize the concept of mutational randomness and provide some examples of its application.

Voglia di Evoluzione Series

In academic year 2011-2012 Emanuele Serrelli is advisor and chair of the conference series “Voglia di evoluzione” organized by student representatives in the Department of Biology, University of Milan. The series aims to deepen some “hot” topics in contemporary evolutionary biology (EvoDevo, phenotypic plasticity, epigenetics) that are nonetheless rarely explained in normal biology curricula. Authoritative researchers are invited to present their researches and discuss with students. An original aspect is the coupling of animal and plant models, usually confined to being examples of either one or the other phenomenon.


  • Evo-Devo, or evolutionary developmental biology, has been presented by Dott. Giuseppe Fusco and Prof. Alessandro Minelli (Università degli Studi di Padova) and Dott. Fabio Fornara dell’Università degli Studi di Milano (November 23, 2011). Video available on Youtube.
  • Phenotypic plasticity, or the property of a genotype to give rise to different phenotypes in varying environmental conditions, has been exposed by Dott. Walter Salzburger (University of Basilea) and Dott. Marco Caccianiga (Università degli Studi di Milano) (January 26, 2012). Video available on Youtube.
  • Epigenetics or “weak inheritance” (or, the heritability of phenotypic modifications) has been presented by Prof. Marcello Buiatti (Università degli Studi di Firenze) (April 17, 2012).

The series ended with a roundtable with Prof. Marco Ferraguti (Università degli Studi di Milano), Prof.ssa Eva Jablonka (University of Tel Aviv) and Prof. Telmo Pievani (Università degli Studi Milano-Bicocca) (May 17, 2012) on “Evolution in 4 dimensions” and the extension of the Modern Synthesis. Article and video on Pikaia.

View on Academia.

A conceptual taxonomy of adaptation in evolutionary biology

The concept of adaptation is employed in many fields such as biology, psychology, cognitive sciences, robotics, social sciences, even literacy and art,1 and its meaning varies quite evidently according to the particular research context in which it is applied. We expect to find a particularly rich catalogue of meanings within evolutionary biology, where adaptation has held a particularly central role since Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) throughout important epistemological shifts and scientific findings that enriched and diversified the concept. Accordingly, a conceptual taxonomy of adaptation in evolutionary biology may help to disambiguate it. Interdisciplinary researches focused on adaptation would benefit from such a result. In the present work we recognize and define seven different meanings of adaptation: (1) individual fitness; (2) adaptation of a population; (3) adaptation as the process of natural selection; (4) adaptive traits; (5) molecular adaptation; (6) adaptation as structural tinkering; (7) plasticity. For convenience here, we refer to them as W-, P-, NS-, T-, M-, S- and PL-ADAPTATION. We present the seven meanings in some detail, hinting at their respective origins and conceptual developments in the history of evolutionary thought (references are offered for further deepening). However, it is important to point out that evolution researchers seldom if ever refer to a single meaning purified from the others. This applies also to the authors we cite as representatives of one of the seven meanings. In Discussion and Conclusion draw from our work some future perspectives for adaptation within evolutionary biology.

Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E, Rossi FM (2009). A conceptual taxonomy of adaptation in evolutionary biology. doi 10.13140/2.1.4366.7209