Bruce Hannon’s Complexity Digest #7

Posted by Connie French on Jun 14, 2010 3:20:25 PM

Excerpted from Complexity Digest 2010-12 by Bruce Hannon

Life after the synthetic cell, Nature

Summary: Nature asked eight synthetic-biology experts about the implications for science and society of the “synthetic cell” made by the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). The institute's team assembled, modified and implanted a synthesized genome into a DNA-free bacterial shell to make a self-replicating Mycoplasma mycoides.

Inductive Game Theory and the Dynamics of Animal Conflict, PLoS Comput Biol

Excerpt: Persistent conflict is one of the most important contemporary challenges to the integrity of society and to individual quality of life. Yet surprisingly little is understood about conflict. (...) Here we develop a new method, Inductive Game Theory, and apply it to a time series gathered from detailed observation of a primate society. We are able to determine which types of behavior are most likely to generate periods of intense conflict, and we find that fights are not explained by single, aggressive individuals, but by complex interactions among groups of three or higher. Understanding how memory and strategy affect conflict dynamics is a crucial step towards designing better methods for prediction, management and control.

Probably the population reached a critical size is a given location...(bh)

Humans: Why They Triumphed, The Wall Street Journal

Excerpt: Human evolution presents a puzzle. Nothing seems to explain the sudden takeoff of the last 45,000 years... "the conversion of just another rare predatory ape into a planet dominator with rapidly progressing technologies. Once "progress" started to produce new tools, different ways of life and burgeoning populations, it accelerated all over the world, culminating in agriculture, cities, literacy and all the rest. Yet all the ingredients of human success "tool making, big brains, culture, fire, even language" seem to have been in place half a million years before and nothing happened. Tools were made to the same monotonous design for hundreds of thousands of years and the ecological impact of people was minimal. Then suddenly "bang!"culture exploded, starting in Africa. Why then, why there?

The answer lies in a new idea, borrowed from economics, known as collective intelligence: the notion that what determines the inventiveness and rate of cultural change of a population is the amount of interaction between individuals.

Spatial Pattern Enhances Ecosystem Functioning in an African Savanna, PLoS Biol

Excerpt: Local interactions between organisms in nature can scale up to produce strikingly regular patterns across entire landscapes. With improvements in satellite imagery, such patterns are increasingly reported in the ecological literature. It remains unclear, however, whether the existence of such patterns actually matters for key ecosystem processes such as productivity. In semi-arid East Africa, below-ground mounds built by Odontotermes termites frequently occur in uniform, “polka-dot” arrangements. We show that, due to the ways in which termites modify the soil, these mounds are hotspots of plant and animal productivity (...)

The difference of being human: Morality, PNAS

Excerpt: I raise the question of whether morality is biologically or culturally determined. The question of whether the moral sense is biologically determined may refer either to the capacity for ethics (i.e., the proclivity to judge human actions as either right or wrong), or to the moral norms accepted by human beings for guiding their actions. I propose that the capacity for ethics is a necessary attribute of human nature, whereas moral codes are products of cultural evolution.

Let's see now, my graduate students are certainly fecund. Is this me creating all this extra population?  (bh)

The role of mentorship in protégé performance, Nature

Summary: Mentors influence the future success of their protégés, but to what extent do those protégés emulate their mentors? Here, one aspect of mentor emulation is studied, namely fecundity " the number of protégés a mentor trains. Analysis of data from the Mathematics Genealogy Project shows that although mentorship fecundity correlates with success, those mentors who maintain a small fecundity go on to train protégés with a larger fecundity. Moreover, the mentor's career stage influences the eventual fecundity of their protégés.

Variable valuations and voluntarism under group selection: An evolutionary public goods game, J Theor Biol.

Excerpt: In biological systems, as in human society, competing social groups may depend heavily on a small number of volunteers to advance the group's prospects. This phenomenon can be understood as the solution to an evolutionary public goods game, in which a beneficent individual or a small number of individuals may place the highest value on group success and contribute the most to achieving it while profiting very little. Here we demonstrate that this type of solution, recently recognized in the social sciences, is evolutionarily stable and [...]

Networks: An Introduction, Oxford University Press


The scientific study of networks, including computer networks, social networks, and biological networks, has received an enormous amount of interest in the last few years. The study of networks is broadly interdisciplinary and important developments have occurred in many fields, including mathematics, physics, computer and information sciences, biology, and the social sciences. This book brings together for the first time the most important breakthroughs in each of these fields and presents them in a coherent fashion, highlighting the strong interconnections between work in different areas.

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