A Framework for Investigating Rules of Life by Establishing Zones of Influence. Academic Article uri icon


  • The incredible complexity of biological processes across temporal and spatial scales hampers defining common underlying mechanisms driving the patterns of life. However, recent advances in sequencing, big data analysis, machine learning, and molecular dynamics simulation have renewed the hope and urgency of finding potential hidden rules of life. There currently exists no framework to develop such synoptic investigations. Some efforts aim to identify unifying rules of life across hierarchical levels of time, space, and biological organization, but not all phenomena occur across all the levels of these hierarchies. Instead of identifying the same parameters and rules across levels, we posit that each level of a temporal and spatial scale and each level of biological organization has unique parameters and rules that may or may not predict outcomes in neighboring levels. We define this neighborhood, or the set of levels, across which a rule functions as the zone of influence. Here, we introduce the zone of influence framework and explain using three examples: (a) randomness in biology, where we use a Poisson process to describe processes from protein dynamics to DNA mutations to gene expressions, (b) island biogeography, and (c) animal coloration. The zone of influence framework may enable researchers to identify which levels are worth investigating for a particular phenomenon and reframe the narrative of searching for a unifying rule of life to the investigation of how, when, and where various rules of life operate.

published proceedings

  • Integr Comp Biol

author list (cited authors)

  • Lawing, A. M., McCoy, M., Reinke, B. A., Sarkar, S. K., Smith, F. A., & Wright, D.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Lawing, A Michelle||McCoy, Michael||Reinke, Beth A||Sarkar, Susanta K||Smith, Felisa A||Wright, Derek

publication date

  • January 2022