We describe the evolution of macromolecules as an information transmission process and apply tools from Shannon information theory to it. This allows us to isolate three independent, competing selective pressures that we term compression, transmission, and neutrality selection. The first two affect genome length: the pressure to conserve resources by compressing the code, and the pressure to acquire additional information that improves the channel, increasing the rate of information transmission into each offspring. Noisy transmission channels (replication with mutations) gives rise to a third pressure that acts on the actual encoding of information; it maximizes the fraction of mutations that are neutral with respect to the phenotype. This neutrality selection has important implications for the evolution of evolvability. We demonstrate each selective pressure in experiments with digital organisms.
To be published in J. theor. Biology 222 (2003) 477-483