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Tyler Brunet (University of Exeter, UK), Constructive Neutral Evolution and its Close Relatives 

1 March 2023 | 14 h 00 min - 15 h 30 min

Tyler Brunet (University of Exeter, UK) is a Leverhulme Postdoctoral fellow working with John Dupré at Egenis. He is a reformed biologist who turned to philosophy of biology. Among several other topics, he works on constructive neutral evolution (CNE).



Constructive Neutral Evolution (CNE) is a theory for explaining the origin and maintenance of complexity in biological systems without the necessary input of adaptive Evolution by Natural Selection (ENS). CNE was originally developed to explain a few comparatively obscure cases of complexity in molecular biology, including spliceosomal splicing, trypansomal  gene editing, scrambled genes in ciliates, and duplicate gene retention. However, since its conception, CNE has been extended and applied to a number of other cases – both novel molecular cases, and cases at cellular, organismal and ecological levels of organization. At the same time, CNE is not the only theory for explaining biological complexity that differs from ENS. For example, prior to the coinage of CNE the theory of Generative Entrenchment (GE) was also used to explain complexity without reliance on ENS alone; many authors in molecular evolution have since deployed a related, similar theory, here called Contingency and Entrenchment (CE). This talk will define and examine cases of CNE, using examples from molecular, cell and organismal biology, then compare it to other theories of complexity. I present CNE as a more general theory of the evolution of complexity which, alongside traditional adaptive explanations employing ENS, can account for a wide range of complex structures and relationships in biology.


Tyler’s publications:

Brunet TDP (2022). Higher level constructive neutral evolution. Biology & Philosophy, 37(4). Abstract. DOI.
Erasmus A, Brunet TDP (2022). Interpretability and Unification. Philosophy & Technology, 35(2). DOI.
Brunet TDP (2021). Local causation. Synthese, 199(3-4), 10885-10908. Abstract. DOI.
Brunet TDP, Doolittle WF, Bielawski JP (2021). The role of purifying selection in the origin and maintenance of complex function. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 87, 125-135. DOI.
Brunet TDP, Fisher E (2020). Reasoning Continuously: a Formal Construction of Continuous Proofs. Studia Logica, 108(6), 1145-1160. Abstract. DOI.
Erasmus A, Brunet TDP, Fisher E (2020). What is Interpretability?. Philosophy & Technology, 34(4), 833-862. Abstract. DOI.
Brunet TDP (2019). On Purpose. ISIS, 110(3), 580-581. Author URL. DOI.
Brunet TDP, Doolittle WF (2018). The generality of Constructive Neutral Evolution. Biology & Philosophy, 33(1-2). DOI.
Doolittle WF, Brunet TDP (2017). On causal roles and selected effects: our genome is mostly junk. BMC BIOLOGY, 15 Author URL. DOI.
Inkpen SA, Douglas GM, Brunet TDP, Leuschen K, Doolittle WF, Langille MGI (2017). The coupling of taxonomy and function in microbiomes. BIOLOGY & PHILOSOPHY, 32(6), 1225-1243. Author URL. DOI.
Brunet TDP (2016). Aims and methods of biosteganography. JOURNAL OF BIOTECHNOLOGY, 226, 56-64. Author URL. DOI.
Doolittle WF, Brunet TDP (2016). What is the Tree of Life?. PLOS GENETICS, 12(4). Author URL. DOI.
Brunet TDP, Doolittle WF (2015). Multilevel Selection Theory and the Evolutionary Functions of Transposable Elements. GENOME BIOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, 7(8), 2445-2457. Author URL. DOI.
Doolittle WF, Brunet TDP, Linquist S, Gregory TR (2014). Distinguishing between “Function” and “Effect” in Genome Biology. GENOME BIOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, 6(5), 1234-1237. Author URL. DOI.
Brunet TDP, Doolittle WF (2014). Getting “function” right. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 111(33), E3365-E3365. Author URL. DOI.


1 March 2023
14 h 00 min - 15 h 30 min
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