Are Biological Systems Poised at Criticality?

Thierry Mora, William Bialek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

301 Scopus citations

Abstract

Many of life's most fascinating phenomena emerge from interactions among many elements-many amino acids determine the structure of a single protein, many genes determine the fate of a cell, many neurons are involved in shaping our thoughts and memories. Physicists have long hoped that these collective behaviors could be described using the ideas and methods of statistical mechanics. In the past few years, new, larger scale experiments have made it possible to construct statistical mechanics models of biological systems directly from real data. We review the surprising successes of this "inverse" approach, using examples from families of proteins, networks of neurons, and flocks of birds. Remarkably, in all these cases the models that emerge from the data are poised near a very special point in their parameter space-a critical point. This suggests there may be some deeper theoretical principle behind the behavior of these diverse systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-302
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Statistical Physics
Volume144
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics

Keywords

  • Biological networks
  • Collective behavior
  • Critical point
  • Maximum entropy model
  • Proteins

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Are Biological Systems Poised at Criticality?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this