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      Physical foundations of biological complexity


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          Living organisms are characterized by a degree of hierarchical complexity that appears to be inaccessible to even the most complex inanimate objects. Routes and patterns of the evolution of complexity are poorly understood. We propose a general conceptual framework for emergence of complexity through competing interactions and frustrated states similar to those that yield patterns in striped glasses and cause self-organized criticality. We show that biological evolution is replete with competing interactions and frustration that, in particular, drive major transitions in evolution. The key distinction between biological and nonbiological systems seems to be the existence of long-term digital memory and phenotype-to-genotype feedback in living matter.


          Biological systems reach hierarchical complexity that has no counterpart outside the realm of biology. Undoubtedly, biological entities obey the fundamental physical laws. Can today’s physics provide an explanatory framework for understanding the evolution of biological complexity? We argue that the physical foundation for understanding the origin and evolution of complexity can be gleaned at the interface between the theory of frustrated states resulting in pattern formation in glass-like media and the theory of self-organized criticality (SOC). On the one hand, SOC has been shown to emerge in spin-glass systems of high dimensionality. On the other hand, SOC is often viewed as the most appropriate physical description of evolutionary transitions in biology. We unify these two faces of SOC by showing that emergence of complex features in biological evolution typically, if not always, is triggered by frustration that is caused by competing interactions at different organizational levels. Such competing interactions lead to SOC, which represents the optimal conditions for the emergence of complexity. Competing interactions and frustrated states permeate biology at all organizational levels and are tightly linked to the ubiquitous competition for limiting resources. This perspective extends from the comparatively simple phenomena occurring in glasses to large-scale events of biological evolution, such as major evolutionary transitions. Frustration caused by competing interactions in multidimensional systems could be the general driving force behind the emergence of complexity, within and beyond the domain of biology.

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          Van der Waals heterostructures

          Research on graphene and other two-dimensional atomic crystals is intense and likely to remain one of the hottest topics in condensed matter physics and materials science for many years. Looking beyond this field, isolated atomic planes can also be reassembled into designer heterostructures made layer by layer in a precisely chosen sequence. The first - already remarkably complex - such heterostructures (referred to as 'van der Waals') have recently been fabricated and investigated revealing unusual properties and new phenomena. Here we review this emerging research area and attempt to identify future directions. With steady improvement in fabrication techniques, van der Waals heterostructures promise a new gold rush, rather than a graphene aftershock.
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            Theory of spin glasses

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              Mobile elements: drivers of genome evolution.

              Mobile elements within genomes have driven genome evolution in diverse ways. Particularly in plants and mammals, retrotransposons have accumulated to constitute a large fraction of the genome and have shaped both genes and the entire genome. Although the host can often control their numbers, massive expansions of retrotransposons have been tolerated during evolution. Now mobile elements are becoming useful tools for learning more about genome evolution and gene function.

                Author and article information

                Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
                Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
                National Academy of Sciences
                11 September 2018
                27 August 2018
                27 August 2018
                : 115
                : 37
                : E8678-E8687
                [1] aNational Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine , Bethesda, MD 20894;
                [2] bInstitute for Molecules and Materials, Radboud University , 6525AJ Nijmegen, The Netherlands
                Author notes
                1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: koonin@ 123456ncbi.nlm.nih.gov .

                Contributed by Eugene V. Koonin, July 31, 2018 (sent for review May 21, 2018; reviewed by Sergei Maslov and Eörs Szathmáry)

                Author contributions: Y.I.W., M.I.K., and E.V.K. designed research; Y.I.W., M.I.K., and E.V.K. performed research; and M.I.K. and E.V.K. wrote the paper.

                Reviewers: S.M., University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; and E.S., MTA Ecological Research Center.

                Author information
                Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.

                This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).

                Page count
                Pages: 10
                Funded by: US Department of Health and Human Services
                Award ID: Intramural funds
                Award Recipient : Mikhail I Katsnelson Award Recipient : Eugene V Koonin
                Funded by: NWO
                Award ID: Spinoza Prize
                Award Recipient : Mikhail I Katsnelson Award Recipient : Eugene V Koonin
                PNAS Plus
                Biological Sciences
                PNAS Plus

                evolution of complexity,competing interactions,frustrated states,spin glasses,self-organized criticality


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