Our joint project ended in october 2012.

Many of the project staff continue their research on networks and evolution. For further scientific exchange the contact details have been updated.

For further inquiries please contact the former project coordinator.

"Classification and Evolution in Biology, Linguistics and the History of Science"

Genome evolution, language evolution and the evolution of knowledge have much in common. They entail evolving elements - genes, words, ideas - that are mostly inherited in a vertical manner from ancestors to descendents, but sometimes are inherited laterally. The present transdisciplinary project aims to study the evolutionary dynamics of science, languages and genomes using methods from the field of molecular evolution and incorporating network methods. Current applications for phylogenetic reconstruction operate mostly in the realm of bifurcating phylogenetic trees, which are used to model acquisition by inheritance only. However, genes in microbial genomes can also be acquired laterally, while words can be borrowed between different languages and knowledge can be transferred across disciplinary or cultural boundaries. Phylogenetic trees cannot easily be used to model such lateral transfers, but network approaches can.

The project includes 1) the clarification of evolutionary concepts in the history of science, biology and linguistics, 2) the development of methods for coding and modelling lateral transfer in science, linguistics and biology, and 3) the analysis and characterization of evolution by lateral acquisition in general. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration at the intersection of history of medicine, linguistics, and biology.

The three workgroups are located at the Heinrich-Heine-University Duesseldorf and the University of Ulm.

funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the focus Interaction between natural sciences and the humanities 

Final publication

With the participation of international scientists a final anthology was published in November 2013, which also includes the key findings of the research project.


The volume is in Opens external link in new windowprint and as an Opens external link in new windowe-book (free to download) available.