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How the Cost of Computation Restricts the Processes of Life

David Schwab

Princeton University researcher David Schwab

Credit: Princeton University

Biologists and computer scientists have begun to examine what restrictions the theoretical limits of computation place on the way living things operate, which could help reduce the amount of energy needed to process information.


For example, Boston University researchers Pankaj Mehta and Princeton University researcher David Schwab are studying a cell's determination of the concentration of a chemical in its environment, which is one of the simplest information processing steps in living systems. How fast proteins switch dictates the rate that information about the external chemical concentration flows into the cell.

Mehta and Schwab have calculated the power consumed by this process and how it relates to the flow of information into the cell. However, over time, cells lose information as they get destroyed by things such as noise. So for a cell to maintain even the most basic knowledge of its environment, it must continually use energy.

"Our results indicate that this behavior may be due to the extreme energetic constraints imposed on a metabolically dormant spore, rather than an evolutionarily optimized strategy," according to Mehta and Schwab.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2012 Information Inc. External Link, Bethesda, Maryland, USA 


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