While one system is animate and the other inanimate, both plants and cars are powered by a highly successful process which has evolved in a changing environment. Each process (the photosynthetic pathway and the car engine, respectively) originated from a basic scheme and evolved greater efficiency by adding components to the existing structure, which has remained largely unchanged. Here we present a comparative analysis of two variants on the original C3 photosynthetic pathway (C4 and CAM) and two variants on the internal combustion engine (the turbocharger and the hybrid electric vehicle). We compare the timeline of evolution, the interaction between system components, and the effects of environmental conditions on both systems. This analysis reveals striking similarities in the development of these processes, providing insight as to how complex systems—both natural and built—evolve and adapt to changing environmental conditions in a modular fashion.
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