Images © LABoral - Autor Marcos Morilla

Secuencias 24 (Sequences 24), 2008
Armesto, Pablo

The patterns that unfold from genetic activity are continuously changing, responding to the circumstances in which each organism is immersed. Such patterns respond to the nonlinear dynamics of complex systems, and life is just that. Each gene behaves like a node that can be activated (on) or deactivated (off), operating like a binary fuse responding to the specific signals it receives while at the same time being dependant on the activity of the other genes, which also act as nodes regulated by external signals. In other words, genes do not simply act but instead are activated. Biologists use the term “gene expression patterns”. In this way biological forms are not determined by a genetic design but are instead t are the emergent properties of a complex epigenetic network of metabolic processes. Genes contribute only the initial conditions to determine the type of dynamic that will appear in a given species.

Today we know that natural selection occurs not only in individual genes but also in the self-organization patterns of organisms. In other words, natural selection does not choose individual genes—there are no selfish genes—but rather the continuity of the life cycle of organisms. We no longer understand life as a form of predetermined genetic destiny but instead as a system of networks, which constitute the authentic basic patterns of life. As biologist Harold Morowitz says, “There is profound network logic in the development of the genetic code”.

However, life transcends mere organisms. Life is the fabric of interactions that take place at different scales of space—from planetary to atomic dimensions—and time— from nanoseconds to billions of years. It is a great fabric in which we experience illusions of individuality, projections perhaps of an outmoded determinist vision. Genes “jump” from one organism to another — they always have and they always will. Consequently, the true tree of life is actually more like a thick, tangled bush where branches cross in a medley of ramifications and fusions. The concept of the individual is increasingly difficult to define from a genetic perspective. It is closer to a physical perspective, understood as a node, or as Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine defined it, as a dissipative structure.

Scientific advisors: e-biolab and The National Institute of Bioinformatics-INB

Acknowledgements: Luis Rico and Alfonso Valencia

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