Living systems are ubiquitous in the natural world. While they exist at many different scales—from the tiniest bacterial colony to vast human societies—they share some commonalities between them, such as the drive for growth, the need for nutrient consumption and waste, and the capability to spontaneously mutate and evolve.

These commonalities create the potential to apply principles across living systems that occupy vastly different scales and complexity. In this presentation, I will consider populations composed of two very different living organisms—budding yeast and humans—and consider examples of how principles derived from the study of each system can shed light on the other. In the case of budding yeast, we will discuss the problematic biological phenomenon of stochastic gene expression and show how it can be reconciled to evolutionary principles by considering it within a framework taken from economic game theory. In the case of human populations, we will consider community resilience in light of two recent advances in microbial ecology: 1) cooperation density leading to higher resilience and 2) critical slowing down preceding sudden systemic collapse. These examples will highlight the potential for learning from cross-disciplinary models of living systems.

Published by Healey, October 04, 2014