William Paley likened organisms to watches and inferred that both must have been purposefully designed. Darwin showed how natural selection could produce the apparent purpose of life. Ever since the emphasis has been on the creative but cruel crush of selection. But, like the watch, organisms consist of cooperative parts, and this organismal cooperation had to evolve. Our project focuses on cooperation and on the organism as the locus of biological cooperation and purpose. What are organisms? How do they evolve from uncooperative parts into cooperative wholes? The research will include synthetic theory and a book on organismality. It will also include three innovative empirical projects, one on each of the two major forms of cooperation and one on potential conflicts within the organism. First, we will develop a novel approach to study the evolution of kin cooperation in large organisms that cannot be evolved, utilizing microbes to simulate any desired genetic system or life cycle. Second, we will develop a unique new microbial model system for egalitarian or mutualistic cooperation, bacterial farming in social amoebas, exploiting the same advantages that have already allowed us to make these amoebas a model system for kin cooperation. Finally, we will test a startling theory about genomic imprinting and the limits of organismality, exploiting theory and numerous predictions that apply in social insects, as well as newly inexpensive DNA sequencing. We will also conduct two main efforts to broaden understanding of organismality. We will organize a workshop on organismality, including biologists, philosophers, and social scientists. We will also write high-profile research articles, Wikipedia articles, and a book aimed at a popular audience with the goal of transforming the world’s view of organisms, purpose, and cooperation.
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