Nature’s Envelope: A Simple Device That Reveals The Scope And Scale Of All Biological Processes

The Shell of Nature: A Simple Device Showing the Scope and Scale of All Biological Processes – Astrobiology

The green envelope of nature encompasses all processes performed by, involved in, or the result of their activities by all organisms. The axes show the duration of the events and the size of the participants on a log10 scale. CREDITDavid J Patterson

As biology moves into a digital age, it creates new opportunities for discovery.

Increasingly, information from studies on aspects of biology from ecology to molecular biology is available in digital form. Older “legacy” information is digitized. Together, the digital information is accumulated in databases from which it can be harvested and examined with an increasing number of algorithmic and visualization tools.

Out of this trend came the vision that one day we should be able to analyze all aspects of biology in this digital world.

Before this can happen, however, there must be an infrastructure that collects information from ALL sources, transforms it into standardized data using universal metadata and ontologies, and makes it freely available for analysis.

This information must also go to trusted repositories to ensure ongoing access to the data in a polished and fully reusable state.

The first layer in the infrastructure is the one that collects all information, old and new, whether it is about the migrations of marine mammals, the sequence of bases in ribosomal RNA, or the known locations of certain species of ciliated protozoa.

How many of these subdomains will there be? To answer this we need to have a sense of the scope and scale of biology.

With Nature’s Envelope, for the first time we have a simple model that depicts the scope and scale of biology. The Nature’s Envelope is created by its author Dr. David J. Patterson (University of Sydney, Australia) presented as a rhetorical device and described in a forum paper published in the open science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

This is achieved by gathering information about the processes of all living organisms. The processes take place at all levels of the organism, from submolecular transactions, such as those underpinning nerve impulses, to those within and between plants, animals, fungi, protists, and prokaryotes. In addition, they are also the actions and reactions of individuals and communities; but also the sum of the interactions that make up an ecosystem; and finally the consequences of the biosphere as a whole.

In Nature’s Envelope, information on the number of participants and the duration of processes at all organizational levels is presented in a grid. The grid uses a logarithmic scale (base 10) that has approximately 21 orders of magnitude and 35 orders of magnitude in time. Information on processes ranging from subatomic, molecular, cellular, tissue, organism, species, and biotic communities to ecosystems is assigned to the appropriate decadal blocks.

Examples are movements from the stepping motion of molecules like kinesin, which move forward 8 nanometers in about 10 milliseconds; or the migrations of arctic terns, following routes of 30,000 km or more over 3 to 4 months from Europe to Antarctica

The extremes of life processes are determined by the smallest and largest entities involved and the shortest and most enduring processes. The shortest event to be considered is the transfer of energy from a photon to a photosynthetic pigment when the photon travels through a chlorophyll molecule several nanometers wide at a speed of 300,000 km per second. This transaction takes about 10-17 seconds to complete. Because they are the smallest subatomic particles, it defines the lower left corner of the lattice.

The evolutionary process, which has been going on for almost 4 billion years, is the most sustainable. The influence of the latter created the biosphere (the largest living object) and affects the gas content of the atmosphere. This process established the upper right end of the grid.

All biological processes fit into a broad S-shaped envelope that spans about half of the decade blocks in the grid. The cloak drawn around the first examples is the cloak of nature.

“Nature’s shell will be a useful adjunct to many discussions, whether addressing the infrastructure that will manage the digital age of biology or providing context for elucidating the diversity and range of processes involving living systems are involved. The version of Nature’s Envelope published in the RIO Journal is seen as the first version to be refined and improved through community participation,” comments Patterson.

Original source:
Patterson DJ (2022) The scope and scale of the life sciences (“nature’s envelope”). Research ideas and results 8: e96132.


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