Genetic information and biological optimization

Hledik M. 2024. Genetic information and biological optimization. Institute of Science and Technology Austria.

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Thesis | PhD | Published | English
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ISTA Thesis
Abstract
This thesis consists of four distinct pieces of work within theoretical biology, with two themes in common: the concept of optimization in biological systems, and the use of information-theoretic tools to quantify biological stochasticity and statistical uncertainty. Chapter 2 develops a statistical framework for studying biological systems which we believe to be optimized for a particular utility function, such as retinal neurons conveying information about visual stimuli. We formalize such beliefs as maximum-entropy Bayesian priors, constrained by the expected utility. We explore how such priors aid inference of system parameters with limited data and enable optimality hypothesis testing: is the utility higher than by chance? Chapter 3 examines the ultimate biological optimization process: evolution by natural selection. As some individuals survive and reproduce more successfully than others, populations evolve towards fitter genotypes and phenotypes. We formalize this as accumulation of genetic information, and use population genetics theory to study how much such information can be accumulated per generation and maintained in the face of random mutation and genetic drift. We identify the population size and fitness variance as the key quantities that control information accumulation and maintenance. Chapter 4 reuses the concept of genetic information from Chapter 3, but from a different perspective: we ask how much genetic information organisms actually need, in particular in the context of gene regulation. For example, how much information is needed to bind transcription factors at correct locations within the genome? Population genetics provides us with a refined answer: with an increasing population size, populations achieve higher fitness by maintaining more genetic information. Moreover, regulatory parameters experience selection pressure to optimize the fitness-information trade-off, i.e. minimize the information needed for a given fitness. This provides an evolutionary derivation of the optimization priors introduced in Chapter 2. Chapter 5 proves an upper bound on mutual information between a signal and a communication channel output (such as neural activity). Mutual information is an important utility measure for biological systems, but its practical use can be difficult due to the large dimensionality of many biological channels. Sometimes, a lower bound on mutual information is computed by replacing the high-dimensional channel outputs with decodes (signal estimates). Our result provides a corresponding upper bound, provided that the decodes are the maximum posterior estimates of the signal.
Publishing Year
Date Published
2024-02-23
Acknowledged SSUs
Page
158
IST-REx-ID

Cite this

Hledik M. Genetic information and biological optimization. 2024. doi:10.15479/at:ista:15020
Hledik, M. (2024). Genetic information and biological optimization. Institute of Science and Technology Austria. https://doi.org/10.15479/at:ista:15020
Hledik, Michal. “Genetic Information and Biological Optimization.” Institute of Science and Technology Austria, 2024. https://doi.org/10.15479/at:ista:15020.
M. Hledik, “Genetic information and biological optimization,” Institute of Science and Technology Austria, 2024.
Hledik M. 2024. Genetic information and biological optimization. Institute of Science and Technology Austria.
Hledik, Michal. Genetic Information and Biological Optimization. Institute of Science and Technology Austria, 2024, doi:10.15479/at:ista:15020.
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