Sometimes science news feeds are great. They can let one know about papers well outside one’s discipline that are of interest but that would not have be encountered under a normal literature search.
Case in point. There is a story on EurekAlert! about researchers from the University of Illinois using a computer simulation based on evolution to design a more productive photosynthetic leaf. It’s a good illustration of how real-life organisms represent the products of evolutionary trade-offs rather than of optimal design, and of how evolutionary algorithms can result in solutions to complex problems of practical importance. In short, evolution can produce good adaptations, but these are not optimal.
The news release is here:
And the the original paper, which is open access, can be read here:
Zhu, X.-G., de Sturler, E., and Long, S.P. 2007. Optimizing the distribution of resources between enzymes of carbon metabolism can dramatically increase photosynthetic rate: a numerical simulation using an evolutionary algorithm. Plant Physiology 145: 513-526.