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The concept of information has penetrated almost all areas of human inquiry, from physics, chemistry, and engineering through biology to the social sciences. And yet its status as a physical entity remains obscure. Traditionally, information has been treated as a derived or secondary concept. In physics especially, the fundamental bedrock of reality is normally vested in the material building blocks of the universe, be they particles, strings, or fields. Because bits of information are always instantiated in material degrees of freedom, the properties of information could, it seems, always be reduced to those of the material substrate. Nevertheless, over several decades there have been attempts to invert this interdependence and root reality in information rather than matter. This contrarian perspective is most famously associated with the name of John Archibald Wheeler, who encapsulated his proposal in the pithy dictum ‘it from bit?’ (Wheeler, 1999).
In a practical, everyday sense, information is often treated as a primary entity, as a ‘thing in its own right’ with a measure of autonomy; indeed, it is bought and sold as a commodity alongside gas and steel. In the life sciences, informational narratives are indispensable: biologists talk about the genetic code, about translation and transcription, about chemical signals and sensory data processing, all of which treat information as the currency of activity, the ‘oil’ that makes the ‘biological wheels go round’. The burgeoning fields of genomic and metagenomic sequencing and bioinformatics are based on the notion that informational bits are literally vital. But beneath this familiar practicality lies a stark paradox. If information makes a difference in the physical world, which it surely does, then should we not attribute to it causal powers? However, in physics causation is invariably understood at the level of particle and field interactions, not in the realm of abstract bits (or qubits, their quantum counterparts). Can we have both? Can two causal chains coexist compatibly? Are the twin narratives of material causation and informational causation comfortable bedfellows? If so, what are the laws and principles governing informational dynamics to place alongside the laws of material dynamics?
Recent advances suggest that the concept of information might hold the key to unravelling the mystery of life's nature and origin. Fresh insights from a broad and authoritative range of articulate and respected experts focus on the transition from matter to life, and hence reconcile the deep conceptual schism between the way we describe physical and biological systems. A unique cross-disciplinary perspective, drawing on expertise from philosophy, biology, chemistry, physics, and cognitive and social sciences, provides a new way to look at the deepest questions of our existence. This book addresses the role of information in life, and how it can make a difference to what we know about the world. Students, researchers, and all those interested in what life is and how it began will gain insights into the nature of life and its origins that touch on nearly every domain of science.
Aberrant microbiota composition and function have been linked to several pathologies, including type 2 diabetes. In animal models, prebiotics induce favourable changes in the intestinal microbiota, intestinal permeability (IP) and endotoxaemia, which are linked to concurrent improvement in glucose tolerance. This is the first study to investigate the link between IP, glucose tolerance and intestinal bacteria in human type 2 diabetes. In all, twenty-nine men with well-controlled type 2 diabetes were randomised to a prebiotic (galacto-oligosaccharide mixture) or placebo (maltodextrin) supplement (5·5 g/d for 12 weeks). Intestinal microbial community structure, IP, endotoxaemia, inflammatory markers and glucose tolerance were assessed at baseline and post intervention. IP was estimated by the urinary recovery of oral 51Cr-EDTA and glucose tolerance by insulin-modified intravenous glucose tolerance test. Intestinal microbial community analysis was performed by high-throughput next-generation sequencing of 16S rRNA amplicons and quantitative PCR. Prebiotic fibre supplementation had no significant effects on clinical outcomes or bacterial abundances compared with placebo; however, changes in the bacterial family Veillonellaceae correlated inversely with changes in glucose response and IL-6 levels (r −0·90, P=0·042 for both) following prebiotic intake. The absence of significant changes to the microbial community structure at a prebiotic dosage/length of supplementation shown to be effective in healthy individuals is an important finding. We propose that concurrent metformin treatment and the high heterogeneity of human type 2 diabetes may have played a significant role. The current study does not provide evidence for the role of prebiotics in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
We discuss HST imaging of eight spectroscopically-confirmed giant arcs, pairs and arclets. Although our HST observations include both pre- and post-refurbishment images, the depth of the exposures guarantees that the majority of the arcs are detected with diffraction-limited resolution. We present the size information on these distant field galaxies in the light of HST studies of lower redshift samples. We suggest that the dominant population of star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 1 is a factor of 1.5–2 times smaller in size than the equivalent population in the local field. This implies either a considerable evolution in the sizes of star-forming galaxies within the last ∼10 Gyrs or a shift in the relative space densities of massive and dwarf star-forming systems over the same time scale.
We expand on the work of Brainerd, Blandford & Smail (1996) (BBS), using a larger archival WFPC-2 dataset including many galaxy redshifts. It is clear from our data that the ellipticity distribution of images changes substantially with observed magnitude (figure 1, left) which is shown by simulations to be mainly the result of detection effects. We have detected a lensing signal, using a similar selection method to BBS and are also implementing a maximum likelihood method to constrain halo parameters. Using simulations, we show in figure 1 (right) that the signal is consistant with typical halo velocity dispersions of σ∗ ∼ 70–100 kms−1 However, the radial extent of the halos is less well constrained.
We compare the density fields from POTENT and IRAS. We vary the smoothing scale, and use a non-parametric test to obtain a value for the linear bias parameter b, as a function of offset c, which arises because the normalisation volumes for the two samples are different (Dekel et al., 1993). The smoothed fractional overdensities are related by δP = δI/b + c.
FFQ are commonly used to examine the association between diet and disease. They are the most practical method for usual dietary data collection as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to administer. In Australia, the Cancer Council of Victoria FFQ (CCVFFQ) version 2 and the online Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation FFQ (CSIROFFQ) are used. The aim of our study was to establish the level of agreement between nutrient intakes captured using the online CSIROFFQ and the paper-based CCVFFQ. The CCVFFQ and the online CSIROFFQ were completed by 136 healthy participants. FFQ responses were analysed to give g per d intake of a range of nutrients. Agreement between twenty-six nutrient intakes common to both FFQ was measured by a variety of methods. Nutrient intake levels that were significantly correlated between the two FFQ were carbohydrates, total fat, Na and MUFA. When assessing ranking of nutrients into quintiles, on average, 56 % of the participants (for all nutrients) were classified into the same or adjacent quintiles in both FFQ, with the highest percentage agreement for sugar. On average, 21 % of participants were grossly misclassified by three or four quintiles, with the highest percentage misclassification for fibre and Fe. Quintile agreement was similar to that reported by other studies, and we concluded that both FFQ are suitable tools for dividing participants’ nutrient intake levels into high- and low-consumption groups. Use of either FFQ was not appropriate for obtaining accurate estimates of absolute nutrient intakes.
Trans-generational transfer of gregarious-phase traits in the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria (Forskål, 1775) is mediated by primer gregarizing pheromonal signals produced by ovipositing females that experience crowding. We monitored time-course proteomic events in eggs from solitary-reared locusts that had been exposed for 1, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 12 days to different levels of the sand-associated gregarizing signal originating from 0, 3, 5 or 10 ovipositions by crowd-reared females. Evidence for the phase transition was sought by comparing the protein patterns of embryos thus exposed with those from crowd-reared (gregarious) controls; this comparison was continued until the stage of the first instars. Expressed proteins were analysed by two-dimensional protein gel electrophoresis, and patterns from the different treatments within stages were compared by profile matching and χ2 analyses. Eggs derived from crowd- and solitary-reared females showed essentially similar protein patterns at early stages of embryogenesis; however, mature stages (particularly, days 10 and 12) and hatchlings demonstrated significantly different patterns. Protein patterns of eggs from solitary-reared females that were incubated in sand contaminated with the pheromonal signal and of the hatchlings that emerged were similar to those derived from gregarious females and dependent on the level of the pheromone to which the embryos had been exposed. The results confirm the gregarizing effect of the signal and constitute a useful basis for unravelling the mechanism of the signalling cascades associated with gene expressions triggered by the pheromone.
We compared findings of an audit of New Zealand's version of the second opinion appointed doctor (SOAD) scheme with published information on the equivalent scheme for England and Wales, to consider what might be learnt from the different jurisdictions' experience.
Strong similarities exist between the two schemes in the demographic profile of individuals subject to the SOAD process and rates of approval of compulsory treatment. The clearer legal framework for the English scheme and its supervision by an independent national agency may offer significant advantages in terms of consistency and transparency, compared with the informal, decentralised structure of New Zealand's scheme.
Clinicians may not always favour greater formality or elaborate national structures for administering the Mental Health Act, but there are advantages in promoting clarity and consistency in a mandatory statutory process designed to protect compulsory patients' rights.