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Bristol paper wins Best Paper award at 2016 International Conference on Artificial Life

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11 July 2016

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Artificial Life is the discipline concerned with exploring the simulation and synthesis of life-like systems - dealing with fundamental questions concerning the origin and evolution of life, biological modelling and engineering complex systems. 

The International Conference on Artificial Life has run since 1988 and has featured research on self-reproducing systems, collective behaviour, and evolutionary robotics --- and also included early research by Richard Dawkins on evolvability.

At this year's conference, the Best Paper award was won by Stuart Bartlett and Seth Bullock for their work exploring a a simple simulated system that could shed light on the origins of life.

In their paper, "A Precarious Existence: Thermal Homeostasis of Simple Dissipative Structures", the authors show that coupling together two very fragile chemical systems can allow both of them to collaborate in order to invade parts of the world that neither could tolerate on their own.

The simulation features two simple chemical reaction-diffusion systems (examples of the Gray Scott system) that each generate persistent self-organising spot patterns, but only when the conditions are favourable. Although each species of spot is quite fragile, tending to require exactly the right temperature in order to persist, if one species is exothermic (producing heat locally) while the other is endothermic (reducing heat locally), they tend to spontaneously self-regulate the local temperature, keeping it within the limits that allow spot viability and allowing the spots to invade areas that were initially much too hot or cold to support either species of spot on its own

This is an example of a kind of spontaneous homeostasis, and a process like this could play a role in the early stages of the origin of life, allowing proto-life that is only able to emerge under very special conditions to then spread to colonise areas that were initially unfavourable.

The full paper and every other paper from the conference are freely available from the open access MIT Press proceedings: Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2016.