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How crystals that sense and respond to their environments could evolve

Schulman, Rebecca and Winfree, Erik (2008) How crystals that sense and respond to their environments could evolve. Natural Computing, 7 (2). pp. 219-237. ISSN 1567-7818. doi:10.1007/s11047-007-9046-8.

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An enduring mystery in biology is how a physical entity simple enough to have arisen spontaneously could have evolved into the complex life seen on Earth today. Cairns-Smith has proposed that life might have originated in clays which stored genomes consisting of an arrangement of crystal monomers that was replicated during growth. While a clay genome is simple enough to have conceivably arisen spontaneously, it is not obvious how it might have produced more complex forms as a result of evolution. Here, we examine this possibility in the tile assembly model, a generalized model of crystal growth that has been used to study the self-assembly of DNA tiles. We describe hypothetical crystals for which evolution of complex crystal sequences is driven by the scarceness of resources required for growth. We show how, under certain circumstances, crystal growth that performs computation can predict which resources are abundant. In such cases, crystals executing programs that make these predictions most accurately will grow fastest. Since crystals can perform universal computation, the complexity of computation that can be used to optimize growth is unbounded. To the extent that lessons derived from the tile assembly model might be applicable to mineral crystals, our results suggest that resource scarcity could conceivably have provided the evolutionary pressures necessary to produce complex clay genomes that sense and respond to changes in their environment.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access
Schulman, Rebecca0000-0003-4555-3162
Winfree, Erik0000-0002-5899-7523
Additional Information:© 2007 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Received: 1 September 2006; Accepted: 26 March 2007; Published online: 13 June 2007. We thank Andrew Turberfield, Paul Rothemund, Robert Barish, Ho-Lin Chen, and Ashish Goel for insightful conversations and suggestions. This work was supported by NASA Grant No. NNG06GA50G.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Subject Keywords:Evolution; Complexity; Universality; Crystals; Self-assembly; Tiles; Metabolism
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20111020-140158137
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Official Citation:Schulman, R., Winfree, E. How crystals that sense and respond to their environments could evolve. Nat Comput 7, 219–237 (2008).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:27333
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:24 Oct 2011 22:10
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:47

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