All living organisms consist of cells. In each cell there is the same set of chromosomes. Chromosomes are strings of DNA and serve as a model for the whole organism. A chromosome consists of genes, blocks of DNA. Each gene encodes a particular protein. Basically, it can be said that each gene encodes a trait, for example color of eyes. Possible settings for a trait (e.g. blue, brown) are called alleles. Each gene has its own position in the chromosome. This position is called locus.Complete set of genetic material (all chromosomes) is called genome. Particular set of genes in genome is called genotype. The genotype is with later development after birth base for the organism's phenotype, its physical and mental characteristics, such as eye color, intelligence etc. During reproduction, recombination (or crossover) first occurs. Genes from parents combine to form a whole new chromosome. The newly created offspring can then be mutated. Mutation means that the elements of DNA are a bit changed. This changes are mainly caused by errors in copying genes from parents.
The fitness of an organism is measured by success of the organism in its life (survival). If we are solving a problem, we are usually looking for some solution which will be the best among others. The space of all feasible solutions (the set of solutions among which the desired solution resides) is called search space (also state space). Each point in the search space represents one possible solution. Each possible solution can be "marked" by its value (or fitness) for the problem. With GA we look for the best solution among a number of possible solutions - represented by one point in the search space. Looking for a solution is then equal to looking for some extreme value (minimum or maximum) in the search space. At times the search space may be well defined, but usually we know only a few points in the search space. In the process of using GA, the process of finding solutions generates other points (possible solutions) as evolution proceeds.
Example of a search space
The problem is that the search can be very complicated. One may not know where to look for a solution or where to start. There are many methods one can use for finding a suitable solution, but these methods do not necessarily provide the best solution. Some of these methods are hill climbing, taboo search, simulated annealing and the genetic algorithm. The solutions found by these methods are often considered as good solutions, because it is not often possible to prove what the optimum is.
Genetic algorithms are inspired by Darwin's theory of evolution. Solution to a problem solved by genetic algorithms uses an evolutionary process (it is evolved). Algorithm begins with a set of solutions (represented by chromosomes) called population. Solutions from one population are taken and used to form a new population. This is motivated by a hope, that the new population will be better than the old one. Solutions that are then selected to form new solutions (offspring) are selected according to their fitness - the more suitable they are the more chances they have to reproduce. This is repeated until some condition (for example number of populations or improvement of the best solution) is satisfied.