Frank, S. A. 2012. Natural selection. III. Selection versus transmission and the levels of selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 25:227-243.
George Williams defined an evolutionary unit as hereditary information for which the selection bias between competing units dominates the informational decay caused by imperfect transmission. In this article, I extend Williams' approach to show that the ratio of selection bias to transmission bias provides a unifying framework for diverse biological problems. Specific examples include Haldane and Lande's mutation-selection balance, Eigen's error threshold and quasispecies, Van Valen's clade selection, Price's multilevel formulation of group selection, Szathmary and Demeter's evolutionary origin of primitive cells, Levin and Bull's short-sighted evolution of HIV virulence, Frank's timescale analysis of microbial metabolism, and Maynard Smith and Szathmary's major transitions in evolution. The insights from these diverse applications lead to a deeper understanding of kin selection, group selection, multilevel evolutionary analysis, and the philosophical problems of evolutionary units and individuality.