• In biology, mass extinctions are known for being highly destructive, erasing a lot of genetic material from the tree of life. But some evolutionary biologists hypothesize that extinction events actually accelerate evolution by promoting those lineages that are the most evolvable, meaning ones that can quickly create useful new features and abilities.

  • The team found that this is the case, at least in robots. In computer simulations, they connected neural networks to simulated robotic legs with the goal of evolving a robot that could walk smoothly and stably. After hundreds of generations, a wide range of robotic behaviors had evolved, many of which were not directly useful for walking. 
  • Then the researchers randomly killed off the robots in 90 percent of the niches, mimicking a mass extinction.After several such cycles of evolution and extinction, they discovered that the lineages that survived were the most evolvable and, therefore, had the greatest potential to produce new behaviors. Not only that, but overall, better solutions to the task of walking were evolved in simulations with mass extinctions, compared with simulations without them.

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