Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Genes, neurons, and the Internet found to have some identical organizing principles

06.11.2002


How do 30,000 genes in our DNA work together to form a large part of who we are? How do one hundred billion neurons operate in our brain? The huge number of factors involved makes such complex networks hard to crack. Now, a study published in the October 25 issue of Science uncovers a strategy for finding the organizing principles of virtually any network – from neural networks to ecological food webs or the Internet.

A team headed by Dr. Uri Alon, of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Molecular Cell Biology Department has found several such organizational patterns – which they call "network motifs" – underlying genetic, neural, technological, and food networks. The mathematical technique was first proposed by Alon earlier this year (published in Nature Genetics) and has now been shown to be applicable in a wide range of systems.

In developing the technique, Alon surmised that patterns serving an important function in nature might recur more often than in randomized networks. This in mind, he devised an algorithm that enabled him to analyze the plentiful scientific findings examining key networks in some well-researched organisms. Alon noticed that some patterns in the networks were inexplicably more repetitive than they would be in randomized networks. This handful of patterns was singled out as a potential bundle of network motifs.



Surprisingly, the team found two identical motifs in genetic and neural systems. "Apparently both information-processing systems employ similar strategies," says Alon. "The motifs shared by neural and genetic networks may serve to filter noise or allow for complex activation of neurons or genes."

Exposing the "wiring" of such networks can thus help scientists classify systems generically (just as lions and mice both belong to the same "class," neural and genetic systems could be classified in the same generic category if they have many motifs in common). This would function as more than just an organizing principle: "One might be able to learn about the neural system by studying the genetic system, which is usually more accessible," says Alon.

The team studied seven different ecosystems and found motifs relating to food webs. One recurring pattern shows that different species of prey of a given predator often compete over a shared food resource. This food resource is not shared by the predator.

Alon’s method detects network motifs on the basis of their frequency. Any patterns that are functionally important but not statistically significant will not be picked up by this method. But it is an important step forward in exposing the backbones of complicated systems.

What could this pristine territory offer to humankind? The dream, says Alon, is to detect and understand the fundamental laws governing our bodies, rendering the workings of a cell fully evident and the means of repairing it clear cut. One day in the distant future, scientists hope, doctors’ work will be comparable to that of present-day electronic engineers. They will analyze blueprints of malfunctioning cells and then set to work to put them back in shape.

Alon’s research team at Weizmann included students Ron Milo, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nadav Kashatan, and Shai Shen-Orr. Donor Support for Dr. Uri Alon: James and Ilene Nathan Charitable Directed Fund, Mrs. Harry M. Ringel Memorial Foundation, Charpak-Vered Visiting Fellowship, Ottawa, Canada, Yad Hanadiv, Clore Center for Biological Physics, Yad Abraham Center for Cancer Diagnostics and Therapy, Rita Markus Foundation Inc. and Minerva Stiftung Gesellschaft fuer die Forschung m.b.H. Dr. Alon is the incumbent of the Carl & Frances Korn Career Development Chair in the Life Sciences.


The Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. Its 2,500 scientists, students, technicians, and engineers pursue basic research in the quest for knowledge and the enhancement of humanity. New ways of fighting disease and hunger, protecting the environment, and harnessing alternative sources of energy are high priorities at Weizmann.

Below are a few of the uncovered network motifs: (Note to Editor: Illustrations available)

1) The conveyor belt

Found in gene regulation networks. X, in relatively small amounts, will produce a. As its amount increases, it will produce b, c, and d, respectively, allowing for controlled production. Deactivation will follow the opposite sequence.

2) The three chain

Found in food webs. Predators don’t usually eat the same food as their prey. Omnivores, such as humans, are the exception to the rule and are rare in simple ecosystems, conforming to the "feedforward loop" shown below.

3) The bi-parallel

Found in food webs and neural networks: Species of prey of a given predator will often have a similar diet. Like wise, if two neurons are activated by the same neuron, they are likely to both be needed to activate a subsequent neuron.

4) The feedforward loop

Found in gene regulation and neural networks. For Z (a gene or a neuron) to be activated, both X and Y must send it a signal. Y is activated by X, but only when the latter’s signal lasts for a long enough time. Thus, Z won’t begin to be activated if X is activated for only a short time. This motif’s function may be to filter noise (rapid fluctuations of X are unimportant "noise") and to allow rapid deactivation of genes or neurons.

5) The combinatorial switch (or "bi-fan")

Found in gene regulation and neural networks: Different combinations of X and Y give different possible outputs a and b.


Jeffrey Sussman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.weizmann.ac.il/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Designer cells: artificial enzyme can activate a gene switch
22.05.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Flow of cerebrospinal fluid regulates neural stem cell division
22.05.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Designer cells: artificial enzyme can activate a gene switch

22.05.2018 | Life Sciences

PR of MCC: Carbon removal from atmosphere unavoidable for 1.5 degree target

22.05.2018 | Earth Sciences

Achema 2018: New camera system monitors distillation and helps save energy

22.05.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>