Towards evolutionary predictions: Current promises and challenges

Meike T. Wortel*, Deepa Agashe, Susan F. Bailey, Claudia Bank, Karen Bisschop, Thomas Blankers, Johannes Cairns, Enrico Sandro Colizzi, Davide Cusseddu, Michael M. Desai, Bram van Dijk, Martijn Egas, Jacintha Ellers, Astrid T. Groot, David G. Heckel, Marcelle L. Johnson, Ken Kraaijeveld, Joachim Krug, Liedewij Laan, Michael LässigPeter A. Lind, Jeroen Meijer, Luke M. Noble, Samir Okasha, Paul B. Rainey, Daniel E. Rozen, Shraddha Shitut, Sander J. Tans, Olivier Tenaillon, Henrique Teotónio, J. Arjan G.M. de Visser, Marcel E. Visser, Renske M.A. Vroomans, Gijsbert D.A. Werner, Bregje Wertheim, Pleuni S. Pennings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalBook/Film/Article reviewScientific

8 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Evolution has traditionally been a historical and descriptive science, and predicting future evolutionary processes has long been considered impossible. However, evolutionary predictions are increasingly being developed and used in medicine, agriculture, biotechnology and conservation biology. Evolutionary predictions may be used for different purposes, such as to prepare for the future, to try and change the course of evolution or to determine how well we understand evolutionary processes. Similarly, the exact aspect of the evolved population that we want to predict may also differ. For example, we could try to predict which genotype will dominate, the fitness of the population or the extinction probability of a population. In addition, there are many uses of evolutionary predictions that may not always be recognized as such. The main goal of this review is to increase awareness of methods and data in different research fields by showing the breadth of situations in which evolutionary predictions are made. We describe how diverse evolutionary predictions share a common structure described by the predictive scope, time scale and precision. Then, by using examples ranging from SARS-CoV2 and influenza to CRISPR-based gene drives and sustainable product formation in biotechnology, we discuss the methods for predicting evolution, the factors that affect predictability and how predictions can be used to prevent evolution in undesirable directions or to promote beneficial evolution (i.e. evolutionary control). We hope that this review will stimulate collaboration between fields by establishing a common language for evolutionary predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • disease modelling
  • evolution
  • evolutionary control
  • models
  • population genetics
  • predictability
  • prediction

Research theme

  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change


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