Fundamental Constraints To The Logic Of Living Systems

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
June 20, 2024
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Fundamental Constraints To The Logic Of Living Systems
The logic of self-replicating living “machines”. Cells reproduce through a complex process that uses DNA as a set of instructions but requires also DNA to be replicated. In von Neumann’s theory (a), a formal machine capable of copying itself would require a set of instructions to guide the construction of a new machine under some controlled states such that instructions also get replicated. In biology, one crucial component of the cellular translation machinery is the ribosome (b), made of two subunits (RibLU and RibSU) that “read” RNA strings to synthesise proteins, playing the role of the Constructor. In a molecular, embodied implementation of cell reproduction, self-organised interactions between a compartment, metabolism and information must interact. An example of a simple implementation is shown in (c) for a synthetic cell involving a compartment coupled to double-stranded polymers and a minimal metabolism (adapted from [127]). Here, a precursor pL is transformed into lipids (L) that allow membrane growth until some instability triggers division. —

It has been argued that the historical nature of evolution makes it a highly path-dependent process. Under this view, the outcome of evolutionary dynamics could have resulted in organisms with different forms and functions.

At the same time, there is ample evidence that convergence and constraints strongly limit the domain of the potential design principles that evolution can achieve. Are these limitations relevant in shaping the fabric of the possible? Here, we argue that fundamental constraints are associated with the logic of living matter.

We illustrate this idea by considering the thermodynamic properties of living systems, the linear nature of molecular information, the cellular nature of the building blocks of life, multicellularity and development, the threshold nature of computations in cognitive systems, and the discrete nature of the architecture of ecosystems. In all these examples, we present available evidence and suggest potential avenues towards a well-defined theoretical formulation.

Fundamental Constraints to the Logic of Living Systems, (open access)


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻