If I didn’t have to be modifying and debugging a network-growth simulation today, I’d be reading these papers. The first is not too far from one subject I’m researching right now. Axelsen et al. (arXiv:0711.2208) write about “a tool-based view of regulatory network topology”:
The relationship between the regulatory design and the functionality of molecular networks is a key issue in biology. Modules and motifs have been associated to various cellular processes, thereby providing anecdotal evidence for performance based localization on molecular networks. To quantify structure-function relationship we investigate similarities of proteins which are close in the regulatory network of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We find that the topology of the regulatory network show weak remnants of its history of network reorganizations, but strong features of co-regulated proteins associated to similar tasks. This suggests that local topological features of regulatory networks, including broad degree distributions, emerge as an implicit result of matching a number of needed processes to a finite toolbox of proteins.
The second, Gaume and Forterre’s “A viscoelastic deadly fluid in carnivorous pitcher plants” (arXiv:0711.4724, also in PLoS ONE), is pertinent to my eventual life goal of building an army of atomic super-plants.
The carnivorous plants of the genus Nepenthes, widely distributed in the Asian tropics, rely mostly on nutrients derived from arthropods trapped in their pitcher-shaped leaves and digested by their enzymatic fluid. The genus exhibits a great diversity of prey and pitcher forms and its mechanism of trapping has long intrigued scientists. The slippery inner surfaces of the pitchers, which can be waxy or highly wettable, have so far been considered as the key trapping devices. However, the occurrence of species lacking such epidermal specializations but still effective at trapping insects suggests the possible implication of other mechanisms.
They describe their methodology as follows:
Using a combination of insect bioassays, high-speed video and rheological measurements, we show that the digestive fluid of Nepenthes rafflesiana is highly viscoelastic and that this physical property is crucial for the retention of insects in its traps. Trapping efficiency is shown to remain strong even when the fluid is highly diluted by water, as long as the elastic relaxation time of the fluid is higher than the typical time scale of insect movements.
And in conclusion,
This finding challenges the common classification of Nepenthes pitchers as simple passive traps and is of great adaptive significance for these tropical plants, which are often submitted to high rainfalls and variations in fluid concentration. The viscoelastic trap constitutes a cryptic but potentially widespread adaptation of Nepenthes species and could be a homologous trait shared through common ancestry with the sundew (Drosera) flypaper plants. Such large production of a highly viscoelastic biopolymer fluid in permanent pools is nevertheless unique in the plant kingdom and suggests novel applications for pest control.
Pests. . . like creationists.