Biologists know a lot about how life works, but they are still figuring out the big questions of why life exists, why it takes various shapes and sizes, and how life is able to amazingly adapt to fill every nook and cranny on Earth.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Arizona State University has discovered that the answers to these questions may lie in the ability of life to find a middle ground, balancing between robustness and adaptability. The results of their study have been recently published in Physical Review Letters.
The research team, led by Bryan Daniels of the Center for Biosocial Complex Systems with direction from faculty member Sara Walker of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, sifted through data to better understand the root connections among 67 biological networks that describe how components of these systems interact with one another. The biological networks are sets of individual components (like proteins and genes) that interact with one another to perform important tasks like transmitting signals or deciding a cell’s fate. They measured a number of mathematical features, simulating the networks’ behavior and looking for patterns to provide clues on what made them so special.
“We wanted to know whether the biological networks were special compared to random networks, and if so, how,” says Daniels.
They focused on trying to find a threshold point at which an entire system may change in response to just a small change. Such a change could profoundly upset the balance of life, creating a teeter-totter of fate deciding whether an organism would die or thrive.
“In a stable system, organisms will always come back to their original state,” explains Daniels. “In an unstable system, the effect of a small change will grow and cause the whole system to behave differently.”
Through rigorous testing of the 67 networks, the team found that all of the networks shared a special property: They existed in between two extremes, neither too stable nor unstable.
As such, the team found that sensitivity, which is a measure of stability, was near a special point that biologists call “criticality,” suggesting that the networks may be evolutionarily adapted to an optimal tradeoff between stability and instability.
What does “evolutionarily adapted” mean, as opposed to just “adapted”? As a corrupt paradigm, Darwinism is full of such padding.
“We still don’t really understand what life is,” says Walker, “and determining what quantitative properties, such as criticality, best distinguish life from non-life is an important step toward building that understanding at a fundamental level so that we may recognize life on other worlds or in our experiments on Earth, even if it looks very different than us.” Paper. (paywall) – Bryan C. Daniels, Hyunju Kim, Douglas Moore, Siyu Zhou, Harrison B. Smith, Bradley Karas, Stuart A. Kauffman, Sara I. Walker. Criticality Distinguishes the Ensemble of Biological Regulatory Networks. Physical Review Letters, 2018; 121 (13) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.138102 More.
But, of course, we are always led back to the most basic question: Why do life forms seek to remain alive? Termite colonies go to considerable trouble to remain termite colonies but boulders take no trouble to avoid becoming sand. In short, life forms are not just “complex”; they are complex for a purpose, to remain alive. So purpose in nature demonstrably exists. How to understand it is the question.
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See also: J. Scott Turner and the “Giant Crawling Brain”