Linux Versus E. coli

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

ScreenHunter_01 May. 04 11.08 Linux bears an uncanny resemblance to the genes in a living cell. Many genes make proteins that act as switches for other genes. The proteins clamp onto DNA near a target gene, allowing the cell to read the gene and make a new protein. And that new protein may, in turn, grab onto many other genes. Thanks to this hierarchy of switches, cells can respond to changes in their environment and quickly carry out complex behaviors, such as reorganizing themselves to feed on a new kind of food.

A number of scientists have begun to compare natural and manmade networks. A lot of the same rules appear to be at work in the growth of the Internet, airport connections, brain wiring, ecosystem food webs, and gene networks. But very often, scientists are finding, it’s the differences between natural and manmade networks that are most revealing, offering clues to the different ways in which people and evolution build complex things.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, Koon-Kiu Yang of Yale and his colleagues present the first detailed comparison of Linux’s network to a gene network. (The paper will be here.) Thanks to the open-source nature of Linux, the scientists could look at every line of code in every version of the system over the past two decades, from Torvald’s first primitive stab to its current sophisticated form. And for a living cell, Yang and his colleagues turned to the living equivalent of Linux–a biological network they could analyze from top to bottom. They chose E. coli. coli, since it is the best-studied species on Earth. (Why E. coli? There’s a certain book that will explain it to you.)

More here.