The evolution of life in our biosphere has been marked by several major innovations. Such major complexity shifts include the origin of cells, genetic codes or multicellularity to the emergence of non-genetic information, language or even consciousness. Understanding the nature and conditions for their rise and success is a major challenge for evolutionary biology. Along with data analysis, phylogenetic studies and dedicated experimental work, theoretical and computational studies are an essential part of this exploration. With the rise of synthetic biology, evolutionary robotics, artificial life and advanced simulations, novel perspectives to these problems have led to a rather interesting scenario, where not only the major transitions can be studied or even reproduced, but even new ones might be potentially identified. In both cases, transitions can be understood in terms of phase transitions, as defined in physics. Such mapping (if correct) would help in defining a general framework to establish a theory of major transitions, both natural and artificial. Here, we review some advances made at the crossroads between statistical physics, artificial life, synthetic biology and evolutionary robotics.This article is part of the themed issue 'The major synthetic evolutionary transitions'.
Keywords: artificial life; evolutionary robotics; major transitions; phase transitions; synthetic biology.
© 2016 The Author(s).