Santa Fe Institute

Reconstructing the Wiring Diagrams of Earth's Biogeochemical Cycles


January 08, 2013
3:30 PM
Noyce Conference Room

Paul G. Falkowski (Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Program, Rutgers University)

Abstract.  Life is far from thermodynamic equilibrium.  Over the past decade, together with collaborators, I have been analyzing the biochemical reactions responsible for energy generation in all organisms, and we have identified a set of ~500 “core” genes which encode for the energy transduction systems on a planetary scale.  In this lecture, I will examine the evolutionary trajectory of these core reactions, culminating in the splitting of water by light and the use of oxygen as a terminal electron acceptor by aerobic microbes.  These two, and fifteen other processes, form a global electronic circuit,  where individual organisms essentially are transistors on a planetary circuit board.  The wires are the two primary geophysical fluids: the ocean and the atmosphere.  The primary power supply is solar energy.  The output is a self-replicating system that decreases entropy at the cost of increased energy dissipation; a condition that is not amenable to classical Boltzmann functions. The system has a limited number of transistor designs.  We have identified 35 basic structural elements, which appear to have a single common ancestor with a core Fe4S4 motif.  We are attempting to develop a phylogeny of the core motifs in an effort to understand the evolution of biologically catalyzed redox reactions.

Purpose: Research Collaboration

SFI Host: Rogier Braakman

More Info

  • * SFI community lectures are free, open, & accessible to the public.
  • * Other SFI events are by invitation only.

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