PublicationsMacromolecular networks and intelligence in microorganisms
Living organisms persist by virtue of complex interactions among many components organized into dynamic, environment-responsive networks that span multiple scales and dimensions. Biological networks constitute a type of information and communication technology (ICT): they receive information from the outside and inside of cells, integrate and interpret this information, and then activate a response. Biological networks enable molecules within cells, and even cells themselves, to communicate with each other and their environment. We have become accustomed to associating brain activity – particularly activity of the human brain – with a phenomenon we call “intelligence.” Yet, four billion years of evolution could have selected networks with topologies and dynamics that confer traits analogous to this intelligence, even though they were outside the intercellular networks of the brain. Here, we explore how macromolecular networks in microbes confer intelligent characteristics, such as memory, anticipation, adaptation and reflection and we review current understanding of how network organization reflects the type of intelligence required for the environments in which they were selected. We propose that, if we were to leave terms such as “human” and “brain” out of the defining features of “intelligence,” all forms of life – from microbes to humans – exhibit some or all characteristics consistent with “intelligence.” We then review advances in genome-wide data production and analysis, especially in microbes, that provide a lens into microbial intelligence and propose how the insights derived from quantitatively characterizing biomolecular networks may enable synthetic biologists to create intelligent molecular networks for biotechnology, possibly generating new forms of intelligence, first in silico and then in vivo.