Can a bacteria be described by physics?

  • #1
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If we had a powerful enough computer, and we supplied to it the laws of physics known so far and the atoms a bacteria was made out of at a certain time, would the simulation then show the actual behavior of a bacteria?

Or more compactly: does current physics suffice to explain all the facets of a bacteria?
 

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  • #2
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We could not supply all of the information about a bacteria that exists in the real world because we cannot know both the momentum and position of a particle with certainty (so we couldn't input all it's information to simulate it properly).

But, if we were to make a pretend bacteria, by inputting where we know the atoms should go for a bacteria, then known physics would suffice for telling us the probability of different possible futures of the bacteria.

See, that's the thing, physics currently works (and will likely always work) by telling you the probability of certain future events happening... But it's likely that since a bacteria is so 'large' compared to the 'size' of an atom that we would get a very large chance that it would act as expected and so could go with that.


Short Answer: Yes, but with some (probably minor in this case) caveats.
 
  • #3
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Amazing, so there's no new concept needed to go from the current knowledge of physics to life? Do you have any back-up for that?
 
  • #4
DaveC426913
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I believe that James is on the wrong track. He seems to think you mean literally predicting its future. The Uncertainty Principle will impact the ability to actually predict what exact events will next happen on an atomic level, but do we need to know that in order to observe a bacterium to eat or excrete or divide? No. Simulating a bacterium does not mean we predict when exactly a metabolismic activity will occur, simply that it will.

But you tell me. If we were to make a simulation, would it be enough that we saw it move and eat and excrete and grow? Or you literally saying you want to predict that, at this moment, it wiggles left instead of right? (And what would it man to predict? You'd have to have a real one and the simulation side-by-side. If the real one wiggled right but the virtual one wiggled left, would that be a failed test?)


As for actually addressing your question: don't know if we do have enough processing power to actually simulate one (note: you'd need to also simulate its environment), but we do believe that we understand all the parts that make up a live bacterium. It is a very (incredibly) complex interaction of proteins and chemcial reactions, but nothing more.
 
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  • #5
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but we do believe that we understand all the parts that make up a live bacterium

That answer (or its negation) is what I'm looking for yes, the conceptual issue, whether current physics suffices to describe living organisms (excluding consciousness, still being the holy grail, cf. last paragraph of this post if you disagree).

Do you find it obvious current physics has all the necessary concepts to describe life (in principal)? The behavior of a living organism --e.g. the action of restoring itself-- seems very unlike 'normal' situations where the equations of physics are applied. I'm not saying that is an arguement against, after all the arrow of time for example is also derivable out of symmetric time laws, something which is at face value contradictory; and I am a reductionist so I'd love for physics to be able to describe life, but I'm just saying I find it unevident that the current state of physics suffices to describe organisms like a bacteria. What are the reasons for believing so? Is there a general concensus on it?

And a side-question, if not pushing it: I think everybody "agrees" that physics, so far, can not describe (self)consciousness (so well above a bacteria) and that something needs to be introduced in theoretical physics to get it, or am I wrong in thinking that there is such a concensus and is the ground divided equally in yay- and naysayers?
 
  • #6
DaveC426913
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Do you find it obvious current physics has all the necessary concepts to describe life (in principal)? The behavior of a living organism --e.g. the action of restoring itself-- seems very unlike 'normal' situations where the equations of physics are applied. I'm not saying that is an arguement against, after all the arrow of time for example is also derivable out of symmetric time laws, something which is at face value contradictory; and I am a reductionist so I'd love for physics to be able to describe life, but I'm just saying I find it unevident that the current state of physics suffices to describe organisms like a bacteria. What are the reasons for believing so? Is there a general concensus on it?
To clear, it is the subset of physics - chemistry - that describes bacteria.

Simple chemistry has been described perhaps optimistically by some as a "closed" science. We get how it works. Biochemistry - protein folding and such - is another ball of wax. It's fabulously complex, and we may not be able to see all the pieces at the same time, but there's nothing mysterious or supernatural about it.
 
  • #7
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What do you mean by "action of restoring itself"?

Organisms are made up of atoms, we know how atoms work/interact in principal. So, in principal, physics has all the necessary concepts to describe life.

As for consciousness, we simply don't know what consciousness is. If you could say definitely, "Consciousness is the result of neuron interaction" then the answer is yes, physics describes consciousness. But we can't say that because we don't know what consciousness is.

EDIT:
"I believe that James is on the wrong track. He seems to think you mean literally predicting its future."

I tried (and failed it seems) to make it clear that you could not reasonably predict the future of a specific real life bacteria (due to HUP) and that you could only know chances of possible futures for even a pretend bacteria (one that you pretended to know all the initial conditions for).

EDIT2: Beaten!
 
  • #8
DaveC426913
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I tried (and failed it seems) to make it clear that you could not reasonably predict the future of a specific real life bacteria (due to HUP) and that you could only know chances of possible futures for even a pretend bacteria (one that you pretended to know all the initial conditions for).

No, I think you made it clear; I just think you missed the point of the thread. And it would appear that the OP does too.
 
  • #9
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Dave - sigh, the fact I wonder about if the current (as I have emphasized) knowledge of science suffices or not to describe organisms, isn't the same as wondering if it requires anything supernatural... You're giving me the irrational religious nut treatment. Back to business: let me rephrase my question then: given that chemistry is derivable out of (relativistic) quantum mechanics (which hasn't actually been done, except for simple atoms (?), but okay that seems reasonable enough), can a bacteria be completely be described in terms of chemistry? The sad thing, of course, is that now this is in the wrong subforum.

James - Okay, the "action of restoring itself" is a horrible way of referring to... I don't know what to call it in English, but I think you know: if you get a cut, it'll heal itself. Of course I'm not saying such things can't be described by physics, just saying that such features (as self-restoring systems) are not usually associated with the more normal situations where physics is applied: atoms, light, and such.
As for "consciousness", let's replace it with the more manageable concept of "thought" or "that little voice inside your head"

EDIT: "And it would appear that the OP does too." Now you're just trying to be insulting for some reason (although I'm not sure what you're getting at), and don't try to turn it around back at me: saying a person doesn't understand the point of his own question is really just nothing more than being insulting, and you know it. Not a good attitude. It makes me uninterested in what else you have to say, so maybe just leave your replies for what they are.
 
  • #10
DaveC426913
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EDIT: "And it would appear that the OP does too." Now you're just trying to be insulting for some reason (although I'm not sure what you're getting at), and don't try to turn it around back at me: saying a person doesn't understand the point of his own question is really just nothing more than being insulting, and you know it. Not a good attitude. It makes me uninterested in what else you have to say, so maybe just leave your replies for what they are.
You have completely misinterpreted me. I apologize if my ambiguity has lead you to think I am doing anything less than trying to defend the question you asked.

I rephrase post 8 to be explicit:

"I just think [James] missed the point of the thread. And it would appear that Vodka also thinks that James has missed the point of Vodka's thread."




I think James is on the wrong track trying to answer your question in a way you didn't ask. In post 5, I got the impression that you were confirming that - that, indeed, James was missing the point of the question you were trying to ask (you are asking predicting general behaviour, not predicting a specific future). I was concurring with you.





can a bacteria be completely be described in terms of chemistry?
Yes.

Which is why, if you think it might not, what else is there?

(I didn't mean supernatural "religious", I meant supernatural "beyond chemistry into something we don't understand")
 
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  • #11
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Dave, my apologies!

As for the matter at hand

Yes.

Which is why, if you think it might not, what else is there?

You seem certain. How can I convince myself of this? Read an applied chemistry book?
To go further: there are things in organisms we can't explain yet, right (in terms of physics, or the applied physics known as chemistry)? Memory for example? So somewhere as you get to more complex organisms there is a line which marks what physics can explain and can't? Or do you believe pretty much everything in humans is captured in our current laws? (but that would seem like a more personal conviction than a general consensus, I think)
 
  • #12
DaveC426913
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You seem certain. How can I convince myself of this? Read an applied chemistry book?

I'm not certain, but I ask: what mystery is there to ask questions about? Is there a reason you think a bacterium can't be explained by chemistry as we know it?


To go further: there are things in organisms we can't explain yet, right (in terms of physics, or the applied physics known as chemistry)? Memory for example? So somewhere as you get to more complex organisms there is a line which marks what physics can explain and can't? Or do you believe pretty much everything in humans is captured in our current laws? (but that would seem like a more personal conviction than a general consensus, I think)

Agreed. There are some things we don't understand about complex life yet. I suppose we take it on faith that it does not require more than chemistry.
 
  • #13
Pythagorean
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Some, I think, are hoping for a paradigm shift to come out of information theory and the general systems approach.

Of course, it would not disprove the physics or chemistry of life; just help to understand the difference between "animate" and "inanimate" systems.
 
  • #14
Ryan_m_b
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I don't think it is fair to say that we could use the physics of today, partly because we still have no real way of simulating protein folding. This isn't just a question of insufficient computational power but because of a lack of understanding of the process. If we did have such an understanding then it becomes reasonable to suppose that a molecular dynamic simulation of the entire organism and environment would be possible however the simulation of quantum effects may also be necessary for life.

In addition our knowledge of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome" [Broken] that a simulation is unnecessary for telling us anything about said bacteria.

What such systems might be good for is simulating how http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_biology" [Broken] would act in a given environment. Although such science is far beyond our current capabilities now.
 
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  • #15
Borek
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Taking a reductionist view - whatever emergent properties living organism has, they must be effect of known interactions. No matter how physicist try, so far they have not found anything but four fundamental interactions, so if we (correctly) simulate the system driven by these interactions, all emergent properties should... emerge.

Simple example: diffusion. Diffusion is described by Fick's laws. Imagine you are to simulate ideal gas to which other ideal gas was added. Do you need to use Fick's laws? No! You can simulate random motions of gas molecules ("primitive" physical collisions), and if the sample is large enough, results of the simulation will automatically obey Fick's laws.

Living cell is much larger and calculations are much more complicated, but there is no principal difference between both cases. We know the physics, we know the equations, we know the molecules - once everything is put in place simulated cell should work.

The real question for me is whether our (approximate) models/methods used for simulations are good enough. I doubt, but I am just guessing. But this is "just a technicality".
 
  • #16
Pythagorean
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I don't think the reduced physics will change at all, just the way we integrate the local regions.

In the example of protein folding, I think it's only a matter of complexity, not a matter of new physics. Though there's no doubt QM plays a role in the same reductionist sense. Organic chemistry is founded on quantum states. We don't know very much about open quantum systems at all, so the imaginary line we draw between quantum and classical world is a tough pill with chemical (and thus, biological) systems.

Borek: I don think this is just a technicality in the wake of chaos and complexity. Sometimes, an error of 10^-6 is really a totally different region of state space from the dynamics point of view. Our real state space is thousands of dimensions large and many of us only try to understand two state variables at a time.

Things would move much faster, I think, if we could imagine ten dimensions at once.
 
  • #17
Borek
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Borek: I don think this is just a technicality in the wake of chaos and complexity. Sometimes, an error of 10^-6 is really a totally different region of state space from the dynamics point of view. Our real state space is thousands of dimensions large and many of us only try to understand two state variables at a time.

Perhaps my wording was not the best one, but I have a feeling we think about the same problem. Note quotes in my post.
 
  • #18
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Dave, my apologies!

As for the matter at hand



You seem certain. How can I convince myself of this? Read an applied chemistry book?
To go further: there are things in organisms we can't explain yet, right (in terms of physics, or the applied physics known as chemistry)? Memory for example? So somewhere as you get to more complex organisms there is a line which marks what physics can explain and can't? Or do you believe pretty much everything in humans is captured in our current laws? (but that would seem like a more personal conviction than a general consensus, I think)

We have a handle on memory in bacteria.

Of course, specie-ists will tell you it's just an adaptation response and is nothing more than fairly unadventurous biochemistry (methylation and demethylation of certain residues on the cytoplasmic side of the transmembrane chemoreceptor), and it only persists for so long to "remind" the bacterium that it's swimming in the right direction for nutrients.

Mind you, even if one was to model a single bacterium computationally, the real challenge would be to model an entire community of them. For example, do heterocysts come about when one models a colony of cyanobacteria (the differentiated bacteria that are able to fix nitrogen)? Do you see differential gene expression in biofilms versus floating bacterial colonies?

It helps to remember that while modeling a single bacterium might be a truly great accomplishment, people will never be happy with only one. ;)
 
  • #19
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Perhaps my wording was not the best one, but I have a feeling we think about the same problem. Note quotes in my post.

I meant not to argue, but to extrapolate. What was a guess to you, appears almost certain to me in modeling philosophy.
 
  • #20
Ryan_m_b
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Mind you, even if one was to model a single bacterium computationally, the real challenge would be to model an entire community of them. For example, do heterocysts come about when one models a colony of cyanobacteria (the differentiated bacteria that are able to fix nitrogen)? Do you see differential gene expression in biofilms versus floating bacterial colonies?

It helps to remember that while modeling a single bacterium might be a truly great accomplishment, people will never be happy with only one. ;)

If we had the knowledge of all the relevant biochemistry and the necessary computational power and programming to simulate a colony of bacteria we only need to strap more computers into the mix. The hardest part will be gaining the relevant knowledge of starting organism and environment conditions and writing the relevant simulation software.
 
  • #21
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If we had the knowledge of all the relevant biochemistry and the necessary computational power and programming to simulate a colony of bacteria we only need to strap more computers into the mix. The hardest part will be gaining the relevant knowledge of starting organism and environment conditions and writing the relevant simulation software.

I think, from a modeling perspective, you would still need another level of abstraction to understand the colony in whole, especially since bacteria can swap genetic material so frequently. It really brings a whole new level of complexity, you now have a supernetwork. A network within a network that can swap "submotifs".

In fact, we have two different mathematical modeling schemes; population dynamics for the ecology, molecular networks for describing processes inside the single cell. People are working form both ends to model, they haven't met in the middle yet (as far as I know of). You always have to compromise one way or the other. It's not just about computational resources: the programming exceptions and logic handling becomes impossible when you try to both generalize and specify at the same time.

Colonies:

Masayasu Mimura, Hideo Sakaguchi, Mitsugu Matsugarbagea, Reaction-diffusion modelling of bacterial colony patterns, Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Volume 282, Issues 1-2, 1 July 2000, Pages 283-303, ISSN 0378-4371, DOI: 10.1016/S0378-4371(00)00085-6.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378437100000856)
Keywords: Pattern formation; Bacterial colony; Reaction-diffusion models

Inside Bacteria:

Bacterial Molecular Networks
Methods and Protocols
Series: Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 804
Helden, Jacques van; Toussaint, Ariane; Thieffry, Denis (Eds.)
1st Edition., 2011, 470 p. 139 illus.
 
  • #22
Ryan_m_b
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I think, from a modeling perspective, you would still need another level of abstraction to understand the colony in whole, especially since bacteria can swap genetic material so frequently. It really brings a whole new level of complexity, you now have a supernetwork. A network within a network that can swap "submotifs".

In fact, we have two different mathematical modeling schemes; population dynamics for the ecology, molecular networks for describing processes inside the single cell. People are working form both ends to model, they haven't met in the middle yet (as far as I know of). You always have to compromise one way or the other. It's not just about computational resources: the programming exceptions and logic handling becomes impossible when you try to both generalize and specify at the same time.

Yes I agree, I was making the statement that on the understanding that had the relevant knowledge and technology to run simulations at atomic resolution then we could just add more resources.

The big thing with all this simulation talk is that to get there you already have to know and understand the process you are simulating. Simulation only helps if you know all the fundamental processes and want to investigate something that relies on them (e.g. understanding the chemistry well enough will allow you to simulate a protein folding) or if you want to see how a change will effect a system.
 
  • #23
Pythagorean
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The big thing with all this simulation talk is that to get there you already have to know and understand the process you are simulating. Simulation only helps if you know all the fundamental processes and want to investigate something that relies on them (e.g. understanding the chemistry well enough will allow you to simulate a protein folding) or if you want to see how a change will effect a system.

Agreed... which is why studying "emergent properties" has become a popular computational task. For instance, we know how neurons work in principle. But we don't know all the permutations and parameter tunings of a neural network that will lead to the right central pattern generator for a salsa dance. It would take endless simulations and tests to find it, and only then could we go in and test our simulation against the real network now that we have somewhere to look.

Of course, as Eve Marder has provided, there is much degeneracy in these networks (different permutaitons leading to the same behavior), so you could still bark up the wrong tree if you're not careful to parallelize with experimentalists in your modeling.
 
  • #24
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Dave, my apologies!

As for the matter at hand



You seem certain. How can I convince myself of this? Read an applied chemistry book?
To go further: there are things in organisms we can't explain yet, right (in terms of physics, or the applied physics known as chemistry)? Memory for example? So somewhere as you get to more complex organisms there is a line which marks what physics can explain and can't? Or do you believe pretty much everything in humans is captured in our current laws? (but that would seem like a more personal conviction than a general consensus, I think)

Not trying to go off topic but memory is no mystery either. Hebbian learning was described back in the late 1940s. I could even use a system of metronomes to intuitively illustrate how it works, even though it is nothing like computer memory. From a physics perspective self organized systems are not particularly well understood even though we can show through computer models that the core principles are dirt simple. It is this class of phenomena that I presume you mean by what we cannot explain. Yet the same self-organizing behaviors that make it possible is also ubiquitous in non-living systems. It really comes down to how thoroughly you expect it to be explained.
 
  • #25
Ryan_m_b
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Not trying to go off topic but memory is no mystery either.

This is misleading, whilst some processes of how working memory is converted into long term memory are understood to some extent we are still nowhere near to having a comprehensive understanding of memory.

Memory formation and storage links to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness" [Broken], just because we have some idea of the physical processes doesn't mean we have any idea how physical systems give rise to subjective experience.
 
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