E. Coli and Open-Source Software

(…) It’s a bizarre coincidence that just as scientists were discovering the evolutionary importance of viruses, computer engineers were creating a good metaphor for their effect. In the late 1990s, group of American engineers became frustrated by the slow pace of software development. Corporations would develop new programs to make it impossible for anyone on the outside to look at the code. Improvements could come only from within – and they came slowly, if at all. In 1998, these breakaway engineers issued a manifesto for a different way of developing programs, which they called open-source software. They began to write programs with fully acessible code. Other programmers could tinker with the program, or merge parts of different programs to create new ones. The open-source software movement predicted that this uncontrolled code swapping would make better programs faster. Studies have also shown that software can be debugged faster if it is opwn source than if it is private. Open-source software has now gone from manifesto to reality. Even big corporations such as Microsoft are beginning to open some of their programs to the world’s inspection.

In 2005, Anne O. Summers, a microbiologist at the University of Georgia, and her colleagues coined a new term for evolution driven by horizontal gene transfer: open-source evolution. Vertical gene transfer and natural selection act like an in-house team of software developers, hiding the details of their innovations from the community. Horizontal gene transfer allows E. Coli. to grab chunks opf software and test them in its own operating system. In some cases, the combination is a disaster. Its software crashes, and it dies. But in other cases, the fin-tuning of natural selection allows the combination to work well. The improved patch may later end up in the genome of other organism, where it can be improved even more. If E. Coli is any guide, the open-source movement has a bright future.


Carl Zimmer, in Microcosm – E. Coli and the New Science of Life

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Carlos M. Fernandes was born in Luanda in 1973 and lives in between Lisbon, Portugal, and Granada, Spain. He graduated (Technical University of Lisbon, 1998) in Electrotechnics Engineering and owns a master degree in the same field since 2002 (Technical University of Lisbon). He is currently pursuing a Ph.d. on Bio-inspired Computing. From 2001 to 2005 he was an assistant at Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal. (He is also a photographer and photography teacher.) Bio-inspired Computing is his major field of research: Genetic Algorithms, Estimation of Distribution Algorithms, Ant Colony Optimization, Particle Swarm Optimization and other metaheuristics. He is particularly interested in the hybridization of Bio-inspired Computing techniques with Self-Organization, Self-Organized Criticality Models and diversity maintenance strategies. In the present, Dynamic Optimization Problems are his mains target for applying such techniques. website: www.carlosmfernandes.com email: c.m.fernandes.photo@gmail.com

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