DNA Molecules

Researchers developed a structure to test the predictions of biological optimality theories, consisting of development.

Development adapts and enhances organisms to their ecological specific niche. This could be used to anticipate how an organism evolves, however how can such predictions be carefully evaluated? The Biophysics and Computational Neuroscience group led by teacher Gašper Tkačik at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria has actually now produced a mathematical structure to do precisely that.

Evolutionary adjustment frequently finds creative options to obstacles positioned by different environments, from how to survive in the dark depths of the oceans to creating detailed organs such as an eye or an ear. But can we mathematically forecast these outcomes?

Wiktor Mynarski

Postdoctoral fellow Wiktor Mynarski. Credit: Kris Maker

This is the essential question that inspires the Tkačik research study group. Working at the crossway of biology, physics, and mathematics, they apply theoretical principles to complicated biological systems, or as Tkačik puts it: “We simply wish to reveal that it is sometimes possible to predict modification in biological systems, even when handling such an intricate monster as advancement.”

Climbing up mountains in many measurements

In a joint work by the postdoctoral fellow Wiktor Mynarski and PhD trainee Michal Hledík, helped by group alumnus Thomas Sokolowski, who is now working at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, the researchers spearheaded a vital advance towards their goal.

Michal Hledík

PhD student Michal Hledík. Credit: Martin Šveda

The established design the researchers base their outcomes on represents adjustment as movement on a landscape with mountains and valleys. The functions of an organism figure out where it is located on this landscape. As evolution advances and the organism adapts to its ecological specific niche, it climbs up towards the peak of one of the mountains. Much better adjustment results in a much better efficiency in the environment– for example producing more offspring– which in turn is reflected in a higher elevation on this landscape. A falcon with its sharp eyesight is located at a greater point than the bird’s forefather whose vision was worse in the same environment.

The new structure by Mynarski, Hledík, and colleagues permits them to measure how well the organisms are adapted to their niche. On a two-dimensional landscape with mountains and valleys, computing the elevation appears trivial, but real biological systems are much more intricate.

Structure bridges in science

IST Austria supplies a fertile ground for interdisciplinary collaborations. Wiktor Mynarski, initially originating from computer technology, has an interest in applying mathematical principles to biological systems.

Gašper Tkačik

Professor Gašper Tkačik. Credit: Nadine Poncioni/IST Austria

” This paper is a synthesis of numerous of my clinical interests, bringing together different biological systems and conceptual approaches,” he describes this most current research study.

” There, I found out that the living world is not always untidy, intricate, and unapproachable by physical theories. On the other hand, it can drive totally brand-new developments in used and fundamental physics,” he discusses.

” Our tradition needs to be the capability to point a finger at picked biological systems and forecast, from first principles, why these systems are as they are, rather than being restricted to explaining how they work,” Tkačik describes his motivation. Forecast needs to be possible in a regulated environment, such as with the relatively basic E. coli germs growing under optimum conditions. Another avenue for prediction are systems that operate under difficult physical limits, which strongly constrain development. One example are our eyes that need to communicate high-resolution images to the brain while using the very little amount of energy.

Recommendation: “Analytical analysis and optimality of neural systems” by Wiktor Młynarski, Michal Hledík, Thomas R. Sokolowski and Gašper Tkačik, 15 February 2021, Nerve Cell
DOI: 10.020

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