Thermodynamics and Information Theory in Biology

1998 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Annual Meeting and Science Innovation Exposition
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Monday, February 16, 1998, 3:00pm-6:00pm
Track: Emerging Science: Transforming the Next Generation
Session number: 101.0

Georgi P. Gladyshev, Academy of Creative Endeavors, Russia

All 5 talks at the meeting on Thermodynamics and Information Theory in Biology are now available from Aven ( on the page: Tape number AS891.

To join our discussions about information theory in biology, see the news group

Symposium Synopsis

The year 1998 is the 50th anniversary of the publication by Claude Shannon of "A Mathematical Theory of Communication". By proving that communication can proceed with as few errors as desired, this work opened the doorway to global and planetary communications systems. We owe the purity of compact disc music renderings and the clarity of international phone calls to this seminal work.

1998 is also a year booming in knowledge about genetic sequences, with the recent completion of bacterial chromosomes, yeast, and more than 1% of the human genome. Remarkably, the same theorems that Shannon proved for telephone systems apply equally well to biological systems, ranging in this symposium from the dynamics of entire ecosystems down to the details of molecular interactions.

Finally, 1998 is the 125th anniversary of the publication by J. Willard Gibbs of his first thermodynamic work "Graphical methods in the thermodynamics of fluids". This theory has been of limited or questionable use in biology because it applies to isolated and closed, near equilibrium systems. Recent advances in the thermodynamics of quasi-closed systems and the stability of cellular components (supramolecular thermodynamics) are complementary to general thermodynamic and informational theories. At the molecular level, information theory is being used to make clinical predictions of the severity of genetic diseases and to understand how molecules process information and energy.

This symposium is dedicated to the idea that the fusion of thermodynamics and information theory will create a solid foundation for future biological science.

List of Speakers

For each speaker are links for further information, mail links, small descriptions of our subjects, and a link to the final full abstract.

  • Information Theory and Ecology
    Robert E. Ulanowicz, University of Maryland
    Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

    Ecosystem dynamics (unlike mechanical behaviors encountered in ontogeny) appear to be causally open. Karl Popper exhorted the development of a "calculus of conditional probabilities" to quantify open systems. Information theory provides the required calculus to make of ecological dynamics a template for a truly "evolutionary theory of knowledge."
    Full abstract
    Press Release (html)
    Press Release (PostScript)

  • Supramolecular Thermodynamics
    James R. Lepock, University of Waterloo, Canada
    The conformational stability of proteins is determined by the Gibbs free energy of folding (). Proteins within living cells interact to form supramolecular structures. The strength of interaction is described by the interaction energy (). Differential scanning calorimetry can be used to measure and which vary during evolution, growth, and conditions of stress as selection for favorable molecular interaction occurs.
    Full abstract

  • Thermodynamics of Aging
    Georgi P. Gladyshev*
    Academy of Creative Endeavors, Moscow, Russia
    Although from the point of view of general laws of nature there is no direct link between thermodynamics and information theory, the conclusions of information theory should in principle relate to thermodynamic tendences of biological phenomena and processes. An interdisciplinary discussion of the results of a new branch of science - hierarchical thermodynamics (supramolecular thermodynamics of tissue and its aging in particular) and information theory in biology (in particular) make for better understanding of the world around us. The first point for discussion is to understand the sense of the correlation between these theories. The second point is to discuses the perspectives of practical applications of supramolecular thermodynamics and information theory for biology and medicine.
    Full abstract

  • Molecular Diagnosis Using Information Theory-Based Approaches
    Peter K. Rogan
    Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, Pittsburgh, PA
    Information is a quantitative measure of conservation among aligned protein or nucleic acid sequences. Visual displays of information content show the contributions of all of the sequences in the alignment or how representative any individual sequence might be. Molecular biology applications include design of PCR experiments, identification of binding sites, and analysis of protein/nucleic acid interactions, mutations, and polymorphisms.
    Press Release
    Full abstract

  • Information Theory in Molecular Recognition
    Thomas D. Schneider*
    The topic will be advanced molecular machine theory, Levels 3 and 4.
    For a review of levels 0 to 2, see Nanotechnology, 5(1):1-18, 1994.
    Press Release
    Full abstract
    * Symposium Organizer

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    origin: 1997 September 15
    updated: 1998 June 12
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