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Computer Viruses Could Take a Lesson From Showy Peacocks

By Michigan State ­niversity

August 31, 2012

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To test theories in mate attraction in nature, Michigan State University (MSU) researchers developed Avida, a virtual world in which promiscuous computer programs compete and reproduce. The researchers programmed the different pieces of software, known as Avidians, to mutate when they copy themselves, which leads to differences in reproductive rates. The researchers programmed the Avidians with the ability to grow sexual displays, similar to peacock tails. The researchers also allowed the Avidians to choose their mates at random.

As the MSU team predicted, the Avidians targeted the showiest mates for reproduction. The researchers then altered the Avidians' genetic code to allow them to grow exaggerated displays practically for free. The researchers expected this alteration to diminish the evolutionary benefits of preferring showy mates, but "even when we eliminated the costs of these displays, they still evolved to be an indicator of a male's genetic quality," says MSU researcher Chris Chandler.

From Michigan State University
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