SC1: Evolution, Development and Transitions in Individuality


We will introduce and explain the principles of evolution by natural selection and how biological and artificial systems fulfil these principles. Further we will discuss the logic of the genetic representation of evolution and alternative representations that emphasize the role of developmental processes in evolution. The focus is on the implications for the structure of evolutionary theory and the concept of causation in evolving systems, with examples of different modelling approaches and their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, insights from this conceptual analysis will be applied to evolutionary transitions in individuality (e.g., from single to multi-cellular organisms, or from multicellular organisms to social insect societies). This will illustrate how the processes that instantiate the principles of evolution by natural selection themselves are evolving, resulting in a biological reality of both paradigm and marginal cases of individuality.


To understand the conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory and its implications for ongoing debates in evolutionary biology, in particular with respect to the role of development.

To understand concepts of biological individuality and its implications for the extent to which populations undergo evolution by natural selection.

Familiarity with the outstanding problems in contemporary research on evolutionary transitions in individuality.


Godfrey-Smith, P.G. 2013. Darwinian individuals. In F. Bouchard & P. Huneman (eds), From groups to individuals. Evolution and emerging individuality, Pp. 17-36. MT Press.

Laland, K.L., Uller, T., Feldman, M., Sterelny, K., Müller, G.B., Moczek, A., Jablonka, E. & Odling-Smee, J. 2015. The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, core assumptions, and predictions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 282: 20151019

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Instructor information.

Tobias Uller


Tobias Uller is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Lund University. Following postdoctoral research in Australia, he spent seven years as Lecturer and Royal Society Research Fellow at the University of Oxford before returning to Sweden in 2014 on a Wallenberg Academy Fellowship. His research combines genetics, developmental biology and ecology to study the relationship between the capacity of individuals to adapt and the capacity of populations to evolve. He has a strong interest in the use of philosophy of science to advance teaching and research in evolutionary biology.