Cooperation not competition underpins evolution

A significant body of research into evolution now indicates that survival of the fittest is only a part of the story. Life did not take over the globe by combat but by networking!


That is according to Prof. Lynn Margulis, distinguished biologist and Presidential Medal of Science Winner 1999

Recent scientific discoveries [1] are showing that evolution is more about collaboration between organisms and species than it ever was about competition. For example, the New Scientist (April 2005 issue) has published its Top Ten of "Evolutions Greatest Inventions":

  1. Multicellularity

  2. The Eye

  3. The Brain

  4. Language

  5. Photosynthesis

  6. Sex

  7. Death

  8. Parasitism

  9. Superorganisms

  10. Symbiosis

Included at Number Ten is Symbiosis (defined as two species engaging in physically intimate, mutually beneficial dependency) which the New Scientist declares, "has popped up so frequently during evolution that it is safe to say it's the rule, not the exception".

Also making the top ten is the "Superorganism" covering those social species like ants and bees which operate collectively. The article describes a lesser-known superorganism - the Portuguese man-of-war Jellyfish. Although it looks like a one- tentacled individual is in fact a colony of single-celled organisms. According to New Scientist these superorganisms are probably "the closest thing on earth to utopia"

Its also enlightening to notice that three of the other top ten (Multicellurity, Parasitsm, Symbiosis) specifically involve co-operation (sometimes unwitting) between species.

Also the remaining six inventions all validate nicely the simple model of a living system adapted from Maturana (A Design Framework for Bioteams)[2].

Sex, Death (that is programmed cell death!) and Photosynthesis (capturing energy from sunlight) are all Processes within a living system, the Eye and the Brain are key aspects of the Nervous System and finally Language is that ability generated by the nervous system for a living system to recurrently communicate with other living systems.

To read the article


1. Margulis, L., 1998 The Symbiotic Planet - A New Look at Evolution, Weidenfield & Nicholson, pp. 33-49

2. Maturana, H., Varela F., 1992. The Tree of Knowledge - The Biological Basis of Human Understanding, Shambhala, pp. 43-52, 180-201

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