Nature’s cover: a simple tool that reveals the scope and scale of all biological processes

Nature’s cover: a simple tool that reveals the scope and scale of all biological processes

Nature’s Envelope, in green, includes all processes performed by, involved in, or resulting from the activities of any and all living organisms. The axes depict the duration of the events and the size of the participants using a log 10 scale. credit David J. Patterson

As biology progresses into a digital age, it is creating new opportunities for discovery.

Increasingly, information from the investigation of aspects of biology, from ecology to molecular biology, is available in digital form. Older ‘legacy’ information is being digitized. Simultaneously, digital information is stored in databases from which it can be harvested and examined with an ever-increasing array of algorithmic and visualization tools.

Out of this trend has emerged a vision that, one day, we should be able to analyze any and all aspects of biology in this digital world.

However, before this can happen, there must be an infrastructure that aggregates information from all sources, reshapes it as standardized data using universal metadata and ontologies, and is made freely available for analysis Is.

That information must make its way to trusted repositories to guarantee permanent access to the data in a refined and reused state.

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

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

With the cover of nature we have for the first time a simple model that shows the scope and scale of biology. Its author Dr David J. Introduced by Patterson (University of Sydney, Australia) as a rhetorical device, the Nature Envelope is described in a forum paper published in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

This is achieved by compiling information about the processes conducted by all living organisms. Processes occur at all levels of organization, from submolecular transactions, such as those that reduce nerve impulses, within and between plants, animals, fungi, protists and prokaryotes. Beyond that, they are also the actions and reactions of individuals and communities; but also the sum of interactions that make up an ecosystem; And finally, the consequences for the biosphere as a whole system.

In enveloping nature, information on the size of participants and duration of processes from all levels of the organization is plotted on a grid. The grid uses a logarithmic (base 10) scale, with approximately 21 orders of magnitude of size and 35 orders of magnitude of time. Information on processes ranging from subatomic to ecosystem through molecular, cellular, tissue, organisms, species, communities is assigned to appropriate decadal blocks.

Examples include the step motion of molecules such as kinesin that move 8 nanometers in about 10 milliseconds; or the migrations of arctic terns that follow routes of 30,000 km or more from Europe to Antarctica in 3–4 months

The extremes of life processes are determined by the smallest and largest entities to participate, and the shortest and most enduring processes. The briefest event to be included is the transfer of energy from a photon to a photosynthetic pigment as the photon passes through a chlorophyll molecule several nanometers wide at a speed of 300,000 km per second. That transaction is done in about 10-17 seconds. Since it contains the smallest subatomic particles, it defines the lower left corner of the grid.

The most permanent is the process of evolution which has been progressing for about 4 billion years. The influence of the latter has created the biosphere (the largest living thing) 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 covers about half the decadal block in the grid. The envelope drawn around the early examples is the envelope of nature.

“Covering Nature will be a useful addition to many discussions, whether they deal with the infrastructure that will manage biology’s digital age, or provide context for education on the diversity and range of processes that engage in living systems.” Nature’s version of Envelop published in the journal Rio is seen as the first version to be refined and enhanced through community participation,” comments Patterson.

original source:
Patterson DJ (2022) The scope and scale of the life sciences (‘nature’s envelope’). Research Ideas & Results 8: e96132.


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