by PhilipJ on 31 May 2007
Back in September of last year I mentioned the first of what was to be a series of articles on fundamental questions in biology, and the first article was on cooperativity between microorganisms. I had forgotten all about the series until rediscovering the Challenges website a few days ago. See the website for all of them (there are now 5 in total), and below for a couple of highlights.
From Balancing Robustness and Evolvability, by Lenski, Barrick, and Ofria:
One important question is whether there exists a single unifying mathematical framework that can encompass such diverse examples of biological robustness. Might new insights come from such a conceptual unification, or will future understanding require detailed analyses of specific cases? Across the different scales, recurring mechanisms for achieving robustnessâ€”including redundancy of component parts and negative feedbacksâ€”might serve as organizing principles. Yet, similarities in mechanism could mask important differences in the evolutionary origins of those mechanisms.
Evolution, Interaction, and Biological Networks by Weitz, Benfey, and Wingreen discusses why biologists who aren’t yet “networkologists” should care about biological networks:
The central organizing principle in the study of networks is that interactions between elements in a complex system are heterogeneous. Some elements are connected to many others, some to very few, and interaction strengths and dynamics may vary widely. This is certainly true of the vast majority of biological systems. A primary consequence of these heterogeneous interactions is that patterns and properties emerge at different scales of organization from the interactions themselves. What is distinct about biological networks is that they arise as a result of evolution, with selection operating at the level of individuals and as a result of interactions between organisms.
Also, not specifically related with the Challenges series, the article Mathematics Is Biology’s Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology Is Mathematics’ Next Physics, Only Better is also a good read, particularly given that the biologists are all talking (though I’d consider Fred a physicist!) about mathematics, too.