HomePOPULARBiological Universality: Life Necessitates Instability, Proposes USC Biologist

Biological Universality: Life Necessitates Instability, Proposes USC Biologist

Life appears to require at least some instability, a concept that should be considered a biological universality, suggests John Tower, a molecular biologist from the University of Southern California.

Biological laws, though often less absolute than those in math or physics, describe ubiquitous patterns or principles that help us understand life’s complex processes. Most known biological laws emphasize stability and the conservation of materials or energy. For instance, Allen’s rule (1877) states that warm-blooded animals in colder climates have stouter limbs to conserve body heat, while those in warmer regions have longer limbs to dissipate heat. Similarly, the repeating structures in nautilus shells and honeycomb obey power laws to conserve resources.

Tower’s concept of ‘selectively advantageous instability’ challenges the traditional focus on conservation in biological systems. He argues that some level of instability is a fundamental biological necessity despite the associated loss of resources. This instability increases system complexity, providing benefits such as adaptability and the potential for evolutionary change.

“Even the simplest cells exhibit this instability by regularly degrading and replacing proteins and RNAs,” Tower explains. This process is essential for life, facilitating adaptation and evolution despite the energy costs and genetic mutations that may result.

Tower’s theory highlights the contradictory balance between stability and instability in biological systems, suggesting that this dynamic is crucial for life’s ability to adapt and thrive. He links this concept to broader scientific phenomena such as chaos theory and Turing patterns, indicating that instability is integral to these processes as well.

This research, emphasizing the importance of instability in biological systems, was published in Frontiers in Aging.

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