Paul M. Riechers, James P. Crutchfield

Paper #: 2016-10-023

Maintained by environmental fluxes, biological systems are thermodynamic processes that operate far from equilibrium without detailed-balance dynamics. Yet, they often exhibit well defined nonequilibrium steady states (NESSs). More importantly, critical thermodynamic functionality arises directly from transitions among their NESSs, driven by environmental switching. Here, we identify constraints on excess thermodynamic quantities that ride above the NESS housekeeping background. We do this by extending the Crooks fluctuation theorem to transitions among NESSs, without invoking an unphysical dual dynamics. This and corresponding integral fluctuation theorems determine how much work must be expended when controlling systems maintained far from equilibrium. This generalizes feedback control theory, showing that Maxwellian Demons can leverage mesoscopic-state information to take advantage of the excess energetics in NESS transitions. Altogether, these point to universal thermodynamic laws that are immediately applicable to the accessible degrees of freedom within the effective dynamic at any emergent level of hierarchical organization. By way of illustration, this readily allows analyzing a voltage-gated sodium ion channel whose molecular conformational dynamics play a critical functional role in propagating action potentials in mammalian neuronal membranes.