Stephen Andrew Inkpen
Harvard University
W. Doolittle
Dalhousie University
Diverse living systems possess the capacity for regeneration; that is, they can under some circumstances repair, re-produce, and maintain themselves in the face of disturbance or damage. Think of systems as diverse as forests, microbial biofilms, corals, salamanders, hydra, and human skin cells. This capacity is fundamental to life—without it, many biological systems would be too fragile to cope with stress and would frequently collapse—but because it is multiply realized in wildly different living systems at many scales, finding a common understanding may seem futile, and in fact research has proceeded along independent lines. For example, the sciences of organismal regeneration and ecological regeneration appear to have little more than a nominal relationship. Progress towards unification can be made, we think, by turning to evolutionary theory, specifically by synthesizing recent discussions of the evolution of individuals versus collectives with older literature about replicators versus interactors. This allows us to provide a partial answer in response to MacCord and Maienschein’s call for “basic units and mechanisms” of regeneration, relevant when that process is “adaptive.” We argue that the basics of adaptive regeneration can be understood and generalized through a modification of David Hull’s replicator-interactor framework.
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