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Debates
Volume 47 - No.1:January 2003 (index)
Indian J Physiol Pharmacol  2003;

Cybernatic cloning - a new approach
In biological research

by DEBRUP SENGUPTA
Indian Institute of Science
Bangalore - 560 012

During the last decade biological science has been going through a transition phase. Scientists have been able to amass a great deal of knowledge, it may be in form of various genome projects or may be in form of protein database or by understanding various dynamic physiological processes. Inspite of this increase in information regarding various biological phenomena in logarithmic scale, there lies a very fundamental question that remains to be answered: what are the basic principles or rules that can be generalized for all life forms? To put this in a different way, what are the principles that define life or a principle that unifies all biological phenomena? As man's knowledge has evolved, definition of life has changed from time to time. Presently different people define life, based on different phenomena like reproduction, respiration, and digestion. These definitions give some generalization about life; they do not give anything concrete to work upon. The basic problem encountered in formulating such principle is, lack of different type of life form. If there would had been a parallel evolution on earth itself or on any other planet in close proximity, this may have generated two distinct life forms, say carbon based life and silicon based life. Different life forms would have helped in formulating generalized principles of life. In order to formulate such generalized principle of life, attempts are being made to design artificial life form or system that could mimic the functional scheme of any biological phenomena; one approach that is being worked out in order to design such a model is based on the principle of cybernetics. Cybernetic approach redefines life on the basis of the vastness of controls operating in living system and the information flow that brings about this control.

 

Cybernetics is classically defined as the study of basic principles of "control" that takes place in any type of dynamic process: machine, computer, biological system, economics. Cybernetics gives mathematical and logical interpretation of any control system, controlling the dynamic process. Computer scientists and engineers have always aspired to design better control system having high level of automation. In order to design such system engineers turned their attention toward biological controls and designed models that mimicked these controls operating in biological system. Designing of any control system is based on logical interpretation and analysis of control flow, that is flow of information through various components of control system. The trajectory that the information takes is termed as loops. Mimicking this information flow plays an important role in reducing the error, where the error is the difference in the desired output and output that is actually obtained during any dynamic process.

 

In order to design cybernetic model of life, we have to interpret life based on a principles of cybernetics. In order to do so, we have to take different perspectives of living forms. First of all we have to remember that any living system is an open system, meaning that there is a continuous exchange of matter and energy between the system and the surrounding. As there exists continuous variation in the surrounding of a living system with time and space, uncontrolled exchange of matter and energy can take place along the potential gradient. Such uncontrolled exchange may lead to thermodynamic disturbances. As a result, system shifts to a state of increased entropy or randomness. As per the information entropy equivalence theory, the sum of information and entropy is always constant. For example, if there are number of different nucleotides in a solution, then the system has high entropy, but when they are arranged as polynucleotide sequence, then they have less entropy, but high level of information. This brings us to a conclusion that controls are needed in a biological system to maintain a high information content. Whenever we talk of control, then certain desired output for any given phenomenon has to be defined and criteria have to be laid down that define error. Nature sets the criteria for error in the controls operating in biological system. Any biological unit that shows large error has been removed during the course of evolution through natural selection. To simplify the idea of control and information flow, it can be stated that control systems in biological systems are needed for proper transfer of information: on the other hand, transfer of information is needed for proper control. Above discussion gives a logical justification of cybernetic approach to life, based on the notion that vast number of controls and enormous amount of information transfer is a ubiquitous phenomenon in the living world, and this may form the basis of redefining life.

 

Going by the principle of cybernetics, if any two operations or dynamic processes show similar functional scheme, they are regarded as cybernetic model of each other. A cybernetic model may not necessarily be a well defined object: abstract phenomenon with identical functional scheme like mathematical expression, can act as cybernetic model. Designing cybernetic model for a biological phenomenon involves deriving mathematical operation and logical interpretation of the controls operating in the phenomenon, and secondly mimicking the information flow that takes place in the regulation of the phenomenon. To illustrate the above approach let us consider a particular cell in a group of cells under consideration. If we desire to interpret a particular phenomenon in the cell of our interest by applying the principles of cybernetics, we need to derive a mathematical relationship of the phenomenon based on the transformation that it brings about in the cell. Let a biological parameter that is being transformed during the phenomenon x be y. The quantity of y in a given cell will then depend on intracellular status of the cell itself at the very moment in time as well as the intracellular status of neighbouring cells in the previous instant of time. To obtain mathematical interpretation of the above phenomenon, y could be defined by a function of x in the cell itself at the very instant of time t and a function of x in adjacent cell in previous instant of time (t-1)

 

 

The mathematical function which we get

 

Y = ft (x) + g(t-1) (x)

Ft (x) cell itself

g(t-1) (x) adjacent cell

 

The operations f and g determine the ways the two cells depend on each other: rather it could be considered as the information flow between the cells. Using this mathematical interpretation and information pathway, an algorithm could be formulated. This algorithm could be used to simulate the functional scheme of biological phenomenon. Such cybernetic embodiment of biological phenomenon could be regarded as different life form, showing functional scheme of a life process or it can be regarded as cybernetic clone of particular biological process.

 

This approach may help to formulate general principles of life. Such principle can play a significant role in laying down the basis for theoretical biology. Cybernetic approach can give a means of studying those biological phenomena for which, till date no proper approach has been devised, for example, information processing in brain. This may also help in reducing animal experimentation and may give a preliminary idea of the phenomenon under study. For example, if vaccine has to be developed using a particular antigen, mathematical models of immune system which has been derived to certain extent is used to get an idea about clonal proliferation and antibody production. This mathematical data can give a preliminary idea about the response of an immune system towards any particular antigen under study.

 

However, there are number of hurdles in the process of designing such cybernetic models for biological phenomenon. To design such model it is needed to understand the actual biological phenomenon completely. As far as biological controls are concerned, the interrelationship between the controls are so enormous that understanding them and then obtaining their accurate model is difficult. In order to formulate such approach it is needed that biologists, computer scientists and mathematicians come to a common platform. Let us imagine that this century witnesses scientists from different domains of science like physics, mathematics, computer, will pour in the knowledge of their respective fields to unravel the mysteries of life lying inside our body. Our salute is due to such awesome interdisciplinary effort of the scientists of today and tomorrow.

for more queries contact : Executive editor, Department of Physiology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, N.Delhi - 29, mail id: exec_edit@ijpp.com
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