March 28, 2013
Contacts: Chelsea Whyte, (631) 344-8671 or Peter Genzer, (631) 344-3174
“The term ‘survival of the fittest’ refers to natural selection in biological systems, but Darwin’s theory may apply more broadly than that. New research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory shows that this evolutionary theory also applies to technological systems.
Computational biologist Sergei Maslov of Brookhaven National Laboratory worked with graduate student Tin Yau Pang from Stony Brook University to compare the frequency with which components ‘survive’ in two complex systems: bacterial genomes and operating systems on Linux computers. Their work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Linux Mascot Tux
Maslov and Pang set out to determine not only why some specialized genes or computer programs are very common while others are fairly rare, but to see how many components in any system are so important that they can’t be eliminated. ‘If a bacteria genome doesn’t have a particular gene, it will be dead on arrival,’ Maslov said. ‘How many of those genes are there? The same goes for large software systems. They have multiple components that work together and the systems require just the right components working together to thrive.’
Using data from the massive sequencing of bacterial genomes, now a part of the DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase), Maslov and Pang examined the frequency of usage of crucial bits of genetic code in the metabolic processes of 500 bacterial species and found a surprising similarity with the frequency of installation of 200,000 Linux packages on more than 2 million individual computers. Linux is an open source software collaboration that allows designers to modify source code to create programs for public use.
The most frequently used components in both the biological and computer systems are those that allow for the most descendants. That is, the more a component is relied upon by others, the more likely it is to be required for full functionality of a system.
It may seem logical, but the surprising part of this finding is how universal it is. ‘It is almost expected that the frequency of usage of any component is correlated with how many other components depend on it,’ said Maslov. ‘But we found that we can determine the number of crucial components – those without which other components couldn’t function – by a simple calculation that holds true both in biological systems and computer systems.’”
See the full article here.
One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.
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