Big data reveals extraordinary unity underlying life's diversity

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From microscopic algae to elephants, life has devised countless ways to thrive in every environment on the planet. But while biologists have tended to focus on the many varied forms that species have evolved, the age of Big Data offers an unprecedented view of some surprisingly common features shared by all creatures great and small.

A new paper published this week in PNAS brings together data from many thousands of studies to show that many of the most important features of life follow universal laws. The work, led by Ian Hatton at ICTA-UAB in Barcelona, shows that metabolism, abundance, growth and mortality all follow strikingly consistent relationships with from the tiniest bacteria to the .

"The fact that we find these simple mathematical relationships that span all life points to some at the heart of living systems that we don't yet fully understand," explains Hatton.

The study also presents evidence that suggests one of ecology's most prominent theories, the metabolic theory of ecology, needs to be re-examined. This theory has played a major role in ecological thinking, based on the idea that an organism's is the principal limit on many other vital traits, including how quickly it can grow.

"One of our key findings is that limits to the rate at which an organism can grow seems to put the brakes on metabolism, rather than the other way around," says co-author Eric Galbraith, also at ICTA-UAB. "This puts growth in the driver's seat for understanding these large-scale patterns."

Given that growth underlies everything from juvenile development to cancer, and from resource productivity to global carbon cycling, understanding growth more generally could prove very important.

"What is so astounding is that no matter where you look, no matter what kind of living system, everything seems to follow the same growth law," says Hatton. "We can't yet explain it, but we know it has deep implications."

The paper, which also includes coauthors from Princeton University, Charles University of the Czech Republic and the CNRS in France, offers a new perspective on life's most fundamental features, and the extraordinary unity pervading life's diversity.


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More information: Ian A. Hatton el al., "Linking scaling laws across eukaryotes," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1900492116
Citation: Big data reveals extraordinary unity underlying life's diversity (2019, October 7) retrieved 20 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-10-big-reveals-extraordinary-unity-underlying.html
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Oct 08, 2019
This is interesting! The new results replace two of the criticisms against Kleiber's law (observationally different exponents for metabolism in different groups; so theoretically not caused by a limiting factor https://en.wikipe...%27s_law ) with the observation that it is *growth* that depends tightly and with the Kleiber's law theoretical exponent 3/4. And it applies to vascular plants as well as vascular animals, which is used in Kleiber's law theory.

The authors suggest it is growth dynamics that causes biological scaling of modern vascular multicellular individuals, akin to how growth dynamics of cells causes it in unicellular individuals.

Oct 08, 2019
"What is so astounding is that no matter where you look, no matter what kind of living system, everything seems to follow the same growth law," says Hatton. "We can't yet explain it, but we know it has deep implications."

What are the odds that confirmation bias leads to that prized mathematical formula? But, if nature/evolution is, as we believe, there will be those that bend/break the rules. Then, after the formula has been polished into law, a dissenter peeks at you. Now, what is one to do with the oddball, but give it your strongest dose of scientific screw you.
So, comfortable is the confirmation path, for you know exactly where it leads, but at the end of it you'll still be left, puzzling for why you came.

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