Genetic algorithms are natural or Darwinian selection. And yes, the implications for every field of science are enormous. The reason is that natural selection is much smarter than we are. Therefore people are using it for design problems that are too tough for us. Some examples where this is routinely being used -- and where it impacts your life:
1. MJ Plunkett and JA Ellman, Combinatorial chemistry and new drugs. Scientific American, 276: 68-73, April 1997. Summary of article: "By harnessing the creative power of Darwinian selection inside a test tube, chemists can now discover compounds they would not have known how to make. The key is combinatorial chemistry, a process that allows them to produce and screen millions of candidate molecules quickly and systematically."
2. GF Joyce, Directed molecular evolution. Scientific American 267: 90-97,July 1994.
4. G Taubes, Evolving a conscious machine. Discover 19: 72-79. June1998. Uses a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip that can reprogram its architecture. Adrian Thompson of Univ. of Suxxex used Darwinianselection to have chip write its own architecture to solve problems. First problem was to distiguish between 1 kiloHz and 10 kHz sound. Allocated only 100 logic elements out of 4,096. Chip did the job withonly 32. Thompson can't figure out how. A chip designed by a human would require 10 to 100 times as many logic elements -- or at least access to aclock -- to perform the same task. "There are properties that humans have great trouble designing into a system, like being very efficient, using small amounts of power, or being fault tolerant. Evolution can cope withthem all."-- Thompson.
6. CW Petit, Touched by nature: putting evolution to work on the assembly line. US News and World Report, 125: 43-45, July 27, 1998. Use "genetic algorithms" (cumulative selection) to get design in industry. Boeing engineers had cumulative selection design a wing forthem for a jet to carry 600 passengers but have a wing the same size as a 747.
9. FS Santiago, HC Lowe, MM Kavurma, CN Chesterman, A Baker, DG Atkins,LM Khachigian, New DNA enzyme targeting Egr-1 mRNA inhibits vascular smooth muscle proliferation and regrowth after injury. Nature Medicine 5:1264-1269, 1999. Used Darwinian selection to design a DNA enzyme (not found in nature) that degrades mRNA for use in treating hyperplasia after balloon arthroplasty. Humans have no idea what the nucleotide sequence of the DNA enzyme because they didn't make it --Darwinian selection did.
10. Breaker RR, Joyce GF.A DNA enzyme that cleaves RNA. Chem Biol 1994 Dec;1(4):223-9
14. Jr Koza, MA Keane, MJ Streeter, Evolving inventions. Scientific American, 52-59, Feb 2003 check out www.genetic-programming.com