What is life? How did life arise from non-life? What did life look like at its origin?
Big Biology is a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology. Tune into Episode 9 of the podcast to hear hosts Art and Marty talk with Sara walker about how life might have arisen on Earth and why biologists and physicists should work together to find a theory of life.
Enrico Borriello and Sara Walker, in collaboration with theoretical biologist Manfred Laubichler, just published a preprint on arXiv titled "A unified, mechanistic framework for developmental and evolutionary change".
The paper tackles difficulties with the idea that cell phenotypes correspond to stable points (attractors) in genetic regular networks (GRNs). Rather than a one-to-one map between the attractor and the phenotype, the authors propose that phenotypes are relevant macrostates of the GRNs. This resolves the issue of phenotypes being fixed size and enables a unified theory of genotypic change over both developmental and evolutionary timescales.
The full paper can be found here.
Group member Siyu Zhou and his team recently took first place in the Commentator Category of the AI world cup. The goal of the competition was to create an artificial intelligence designed to act as commentator of the world cup games played between competing artificial intelligences. However, since the data generating process was known, Siyu and the team realized that no model trained on the data would outperform the data itself (a result familiar to AI practitioners). Thus, they hard coded their "artificial intelligence" using a series of if/then statements. According to Siyu:
"We entered the competition for commentators in good faith, starting with data collection and building state of the art neural networks. But, we soon realized the model, which was trained to learn the distribution of the data, would never outperform the data generating script itself with well defined rules. We joked that winning the competition using our hard coded script would troll the organizers and all other contestants, so we went ahead and submitted it. It turned out ironically dramatic."
Group member Jake Hanson recently returned from the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute in St. Andrews, Scotland. This intensive two week program brought together interdisciplinary scientists from around the world in order to address fundamental questions regarding consciousness and cognition. Participants were exposed to lectures from a variety of disciplines including physics, primatology, and sociology. In addition, they worked together in groups to complete projects based on the synthesis of ideas from these disparate fields. Of course, there was also plenty of time to talk both science and non-science over great food and drink.
Postdoctoral Research Scholar (JOB# 12520)
Arizona State University
Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science
The Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science (http://beyond.asu.edu) at Arizona State University invites applications for up to two postdoctoral research scholars to work on the theory of life’s origins, with emphasis on the deep conceptual foundations. These full-time, benefits-eligible positions are renewable on an annual basis (July 1 – June 30), contingent upon satisfactory performance, availability of resources, and the needs of the university. Applicants must be within five years of receipt of their Ph.D. to be considered for initial appointment and for subsequent annual renewal.
Ideal candidates will be able to apply theory directly to experimental data, and be adventurous enough to develop radically new ideas. A background in physics or computer science is preferred, but promising candidates across all disciplinary backgrounds will be considered. The candidate will work under the direction of Prof. Sara Walker (see emergence.asu.edu for more details of the research program) and will also interact with other faculty in the Beyond Center including Paul Davies, and faculty in the Center for Biosocial Complex Systems, a collaboration between Arizona State University and the Santa Fe Institute.
Minimum Qualifications: PhD in a related field by the time of appointment.
Desired Qualifications: background in physics or computer science.
Applicants should send a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and a statement of research interests in pdf format to Jeanette Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org. They should also arrange for three letters of recommendation to be sent to the same address. Initial review of complete applications will begin on September 30, 2018 is preferred, if not filled, every week thereafter until the search is closed. Further enquiries should be emailed directly to Sara Walker (email@example.com) or Paul Davies (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A background check is required for employment. Arizona State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.
Arizona State University is a VEVRAA Federal Contractor and an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will be considered without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, protected veteran status, or any other basis protected by law.
What do you get when you cross an asteroid and a comet? A centaur! Centaurs don’t have a formal definition, but as a class of planetary bodies, they tend to orbit between 5-30 AU and often fit this description. Centaurs are also the only major class of planetary body which humanity has never sent a spacecraft to. Last summer, Harrison Smith, eLIFE grad student, was a part of a team of scientists and engineers at JPL that created a mission concept to visit one of these unexplored objects. A paper by the team detailing this mission concept was recently accepted to the journal Planetary and Space Science, and can be viewed by clicking this link.
Can physics explain the evolution of consciousness, intelligence & free will? Sara Walker & Chiara Marletto are using constructor theory to explain the emergence of sophisticated observers, in a project funded by the Foundational Questions in Science Institute. Read more here.
Postdocs Doug Moore, Gabriele Valentini and graduate student Hikaru Furukawa are headed to Tokyo for ALIFE 2018, the 2018 conference on artificial life. Here's the full list of presentations:
Douglas Moore, Michael Levin & Sara Walker 'Pattern Generation in Coupled Networks' - read about it here.
Gabriele Valentini, Douglas Moore, Jake Hanson, Ted Pavlic, Stephen Pratt & Sara Walker 'Transfer of Information in Collective Decisions by Artificial Agents' - read about it here.
Hikaru Furukawa & Sara Walker 'Major Transitions in Planetary Evolution' - read about it here.
Sara Imari Walker