Month: January 2017

Updating Darwin: Information and entropy drive the evolution of life

The evolution of species, according to Darwin, is driven by struggle – by competition between variant autonomous individuals for survival of the fittest and reproductive advantage; the outcome of this struggle for survival is natural selection. The Neo-Darwinians reframed natural selection in terms of DNA: inherited genotypes directly encode expressed phenotypes; a fit phenotype means a fit genotype – thus the evolution of species is the evolution of selfish, reproducing individual genotypes.

Four general characteristics of advanced forms of life are not easily explained by this Neo-Darwinian paradigm: 1) Dependence on cooperation rather than on struggle, manifested by the microbiome, ecosystems and altruism; 2) The pursuit of diversity rather than optimal fitness, manifested by sexual reproduction; 3) Life’s investment in programmed death, rather then in open-ended survival; and 4) The acceleration of complexity, despite its intrinsic fragility.

Here I discuss two mechanisms that can resolve these paradoxical features; both mechanisms arise from viewing life as the evolution of information. Information has two inevitable outcomes; it increases by autocatalyis and it is destroyed by entropy. On the one hand, the autocalalysis of information inexorably drives the evolution of complexity, irrespective of its fragility. On the other hand, only those strategic arrangements that accommodate the destructive forces of entropy survive – cooperation, diversification, and programmed death result from the entropic selection of evolving species. Physical principles of information and entropy thus fashion the evolution of life.


Updating Darwin: Information and entropy drive the evolution of life
Irun R. Cohen

Version 1. F1000Res. 2016; 5: 2808.
Published online 2016 Dec 1. doi:  10.12688/f1000research.10289.1


The multiplex network of human diseases

Untangling the complex interplay between phenotype and genotype is crucial to the effective characterization and subtyping of diseases. Here we build and analyze the multiplex network of 779 human diseases, which consists of a genotype-based layer and a phenotype-based layer. We show that diseases with common genetic constituents tend to share symptoms, and uncover how phenotype information helps boost genotype information. Moreover, we offer a flexible classification of diseases that considers their molecular underpinnings alongside their clinical manifestations. We detect cohesive groups of diseases that have high intra-group similarity at both the molecular and the phenotypic level. Inspecting these disease classes, we demonstrate the underlying pathways that connect diseases mechanistically. We observe monogenic disorders grouped together with complex diseases for which they increase the risk factor. We propose potentially new disease associations that arise as a unique feature of the information flow within and across the two layers.


The multiplex network of human diseases
Arda Halu, Manlio De Domenico, Alex Arenas, Amitabh Sharma


Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study

Face-to-face social interactions enhance well-being. With the ubiquity of social media, important questions have arisen about the impact of online social interactions. In the present study, we assessed the associations of both online and offline social networks with several subjective measures of well-being. We used 3 waves (2013, 2014, and 2015) of data from 5,208 subjects in the nationally representative Gallup Panel Social Network Study survey, including social network measures, in combination with objective measures of Facebook use. We investigated the associations of Facebook activity and real-world social network activity with self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction, and body mass index. Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being. For example, a 1-standard-deviation increase in “likes clicked” (clicking “like” on someone else’s content), “links clicked” (clicking a link to another site or article), or “status updates” (updating one’s own Facebook status) was associated with a decrease of 5%-8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health. These associations were robust to multivariate cross-sectional analyses, as well as to 2-wave prospective analyses. The negative associations of Facebook use were comparable to or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of offline interactions, which suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.


Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study.
Shakya HB, Christakis NA. Am J Epidemiol. 2017 Jan 16. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww189


High fishery catches through trophic cascades in China

Fishing marine ecosystems indiscriminately and intensely can have negative impacts on biodiversity, but it may increase the biomass of fish available for capture in the system. We explore the possibility that China’s high fishery catches are a result of predator removal using an ecosystem model of the East China Sea (ECS). We show that China’s high fishery catches can be explained by the removal of larger predatory fish and consequent increases in the production of smaller fish. We project that single-species management would decrease catches in the ECS by reversing these ecosystem effects. Fisheries similar to those in China produce a large fraction of global catch; management reform in these areas must consider the entire ecosystem, rather than individual species.


Postdoctoral Fellowships at UNAM

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has an open call for postdoctoral fellowships to start in September, 2017. 

Candidates should have obtained a PhD degree within the last three years and be under 36 years, both to the date of the beginning of the fellowship.
 There will be another call to begin March, 2018 closing around June 2017.