Special Issue "Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution"

A special issue of Entropy (ISSN 1099-4300). This special issue belongs to the section "Thermodynamics".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (5 February 2021) | Viewed by 7444

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Robert C. Jennings
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Guest Editor
Department of Biosciences, University of Milan, Milan, Italy
Interests: the Second Law and primary photosynthesis; thermal and electronic energy transfer; dynamics of electronic energy transfer in plant photosystems; energy disorder in plant photosystems, thermodynamics of structural complexity in biological cells
Dr. Giuseppe Zucchelli
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Guest Editor
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Institute of Biophysics, Milan, Italy
Interests: excitation energy transfer in photosynthetic array; Chorophyll electronic transition modulation; Thermodynamics of photosynthesis

Special Issue Information

The question of the nature and origins of life has always occupied the minds of both philosophers and scientists. The development of materialism in Western society about 500 years ago prompted specific and directed studies by biologists, and subsequently by physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers, on this, perhaps the most important and intriguing of questions.

In this Special Issue, we concentrate on the attempts by physicists to understand the animate in terms of the known principles of thermodynamics. Many have suggested, and continue to suggest, that the ever-increasing complexity and thermodynamic “order” creation, in apparent violation of the Second Law, may place life outside the bounds of physics as we know it.

It is the purpose of the present Special Issue to oppose this view and to present the many and varied approaches that physics uses to come to terms with this fundamental question. The Special Issue will cover aspects of this problem at the various levels of biological organization: cellular, whole organisms, and evolution itself.

The overriding question of the bio-genesis and evolution of biological structure, i.e., thermodynamic “order”, in the living state will be addressed by such varied approaches as equilibrium thermodynamics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, the maximum power principle of Lotka and Darwinian natural selection, thermodynamics of multiple gene networks considering network dimensions, entropy production leading to the genesis of information systems, and experiments involving a comparison of energy and entropy differences between a mixture of complex biomolecules and living matter. The specific problem of how thermodynamics relates to primary electron transport in plant photosystems will also be addressed. Furthermore, the generally accepted notion that it is the Gibbs-free energy which drives (bio)chemical reactions and produces (bio)chemical work shall be questioned, and the possible role of environmental heat will be considered.

Prof. Robert C. Jennings
Dr. Giuseppe Zucchelli
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • thermodynamics of life
  • evolution and genesis of biological structural complexity
  • entropy
  • thermodynamic information
  • Gibbs-free energy
  • equilibrium and non-equilibrium thermodynamics
  • maximum power principle

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Research

Article
An Evolution Based on Various Energy Strategies
Entropy 2021, 23(3), 317; https://doi.org/10.3390/e23030317 - 08 Mar 2021
Viewed by 778
Abstract
The simplest model of the evolution of agents with different energy strategies is considered. The model is based on the most general thermodynamic ideas and includes the procedures for selection, inheritance, and variability. The problem of finding a universal strategy (principle) as a [...] Read more.
The simplest model of the evolution of agents with different energy strategies is considered. The model is based on the most general thermodynamic ideas and includes the procedures for selection, inheritance, and variability. The problem of finding a universal strategy (principle) as a selection of possible competing strategies is solved. It is shown that when there is non-equilibrium between the medium and agents, a direction in the evolution of agents arises, but at the same time, depending on the conditions of the evolution, different strategies can be successful. However, for this case, the simulation results reveal that in the presence of significant competition of agents, the strategy that has the maximum total energy dissipation of agents arising as a result of evolution turns out to be successful. Thus, it is not the specific strategy that is universal, but the maximization of dissipation. This result discovers an interesting connection between the basic principles of Darwin–Wallace evolution and the maximum entropy production principle. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution)
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Article
Information Thermodynamics and Reducibility of Large Gene Networks
Entropy 2021, 23(1), 63; https://doi.org/10.3390/e23010063 - 01 Jan 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1586
Abstract
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) control biological processes like pluripotency, differentiation, and apoptosis. Omics methods can identify a large number of putative network components (on the order of hundreds or thousands) but it is possible that in many cases a small subset of genes [...] Read more.
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) control biological processes like pluripotency, differentiation, and apoptosis. Omics methods can identify a large number of putative network components (on the order of hundreds or thousands) but it is possible that in many cases a small subset of genes control the state of GRNs. Here, we explore how the topology of the interactions between network components may indicate whether the effective state of a GRN can be represented by a small subset of genes. We use methods from information theory to model the regulatory interactions in GRNs as cascading and superposing information channels. We propose an information loss function that enables identification of the conditions by which a small set of genes can represent the state of all the other genes in the network. This information-theoretic analysis extends to a measure of free energy change due to communication within the network, which provides a new perspective on the reducibility of GRNs. Both the information loss and relative free energy depend on the density of interactions and edge communication error in a network. Therefore, this work indicates that a loss in mutual information between genes in a GRN is directly coupled to a thermodynamic cost, i.e., a reduction of relative free energy, of the system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution)
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Communication
How Life Works—A Continuous Seebeck-Peltier Transition in Cell Membrane?
Entropy 2020, 22(9), 960; https://doi.org/10.3390/e22090960 - 30 Aug 2020
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 1110
Abstract
This paper develops a non-equilibrium thermodynamic approach to life, with particular regards to the membrane role. The Onsager phenomenological coefficients are introduced in order to point out the thermophysical properties of the cell systems. The fundamental role of the cell membrane electric potential [...] Read more.
This paper develops a non-equilibrium thermodynamic approach to life, with particular regards to the membrane role. The Onsager phenomenological coefficients are introduced in order to point out the thermophysical properties of the cell systems. The fundamental role of the cell membrane electric potential is highlighted, in relation to ions and heat fluxes, pointing out the strictly relation between heat exchange and the membrane electric potential. A Seebeck-like and Peltier-like effects emerge in order to simplify the description of the heat and the ions fluxes. Life is described as a continuos transition between the Peltier-like effect to the Seebeck-like one, and viceversa. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution)
Article
Photon Dissipation as the Origin of Information Encoding in RNA and DNA
Entropy 2020, 22(9), 940; https://doi.org/10.3390/e22090940 - 27 Aug 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1856
Abstract
Ultraviolet light incident on organic material can initiate its spontaneous dissipative structuring into chromophores which can catalyze their own replication. This may have been the case for one of the most ancient of all chromophores dissipating the Archean UVC photon flux, the nucleic [...] Read more.
Ultraviolet light incident on organic material can initiate its spontaneous dissipative structuring into chromophores which can catalyze their own replication. This may have been the case for one of the most ancient of all chromophores dissipating the Archean UVC photon flux, the nucleic acids. Oligos of nucleic acids with affinity to particular amino acids which foment UVC photon dissipation would most efficiently catalyze their own reproduction and thus would have been selected through non-equilibrium thermodynamic imperatives which favor dissipation. Indeed, we show here that those amino acids with characteristics most relevant to fomenting UVC photon dissipation are precisely those with greatest chemical affinity to their codons or anticodons. This could provide a thermodynamic basis for the specificity in the amino acid-nucleic acid interaction and an explanation for the accumulation of information in nucleic acids since this information is relevant to the optimization of dissipation of the externally imposed thermodynamic potentials. The accumulation of information in this manner provides a link between evolution and entropy production. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution)
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Article
Thermal Resonance and Cell Behavior
Entropy 2020, 22(7), 774; https://doi.org/10.3390/e22070774 - 16 Jul 2020
Cited by 15 | Viewed by 1168
Abstract
From a thermodynamic point of view, living cell life is no more than a cyclic process. It starts with the newly separated daughter cells and restarts when the next generations grow as free entities. During this cycle, the cell changes its entropy. In [...] Read more.
From a thermodynamic point of view, living cell life is no more than a cyclic process. It starts with the newly separated daughter cells and restarts when the next generations grow as free entities. During this cycle, the cell changes its entropy. In cancer, the growth control is damaged. In this paper, we analyze the role of the volume–area ratio in the cell in relation to the heat exchange between cell and its environment in order to point out its effect on cancer growth. The result holds to a possible control of the cancer growth based on the heat exchanged by the cancer toward its environment and the membrane potential variation, with the consequence of controlling the ions fluxes and the related biochemical reactions. This second law approach could represent a starting point for a possible future support for the anticancer therapies, in order to improve their effectiveness for the untreatable cancers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Thermodynamics of Life: Cells, Organisms and Evolution)
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