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Alex Johnson-Buck

Thanks for your prompt reply! I have only a passing familiarity with systems biology at this point, but one claim that has recently captivated me is the finding that certain motifs are vastly over-represented in the transcriptional regulation networks of E. coli compared to randomly organized networks of the same size (http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v31/n1/full/ng881.html); for some reason, certain patterns of regulation are far more abundant than others, regardless of the particular molecules involved. Why?

These motifs are a property of a system of molecules -- if only bite-sized morsels of it -- rather than individual molecules themselves. Are these reproducible patterns products of natural selection acting on individual genes within a plastic network, or must we invoke more esoteric principles of self-organization to understand their origins? My hunch is that Darwin can still take us quite a long way towards comprehending the origins of such phenomena (at least once you have a functional cell!), but at this point I'm treading in very deep waters.

At any rate, approaches like the above are fascinating to me, and they rest upon decades of work in molecular biology combined with a hefty dose of computation. Maybe bottom-up approaches to understanding the cell will forever yield an incomplete picture, but I think we're still learning a great deal from them.

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