Inaugural Lecture By Professor Kunihiko Kaneko

Title: Universal Biology: A Physicist's approach to 'What is life' 

Abstract: Universal biology is a field that aims to explore the universal patterns of life phenomena from a physicist's perspective. Life systems are generally complex and hierarchical: Units at a 'macroscopic' level (say cells) consist of diverse components at the 'microscopic' level (say molecules). They change dynamically in time across different scales, yet they maintain themselves and can grow and evolve. To establish a theory of living states, then, the macro-micro consistency (or 'complementarity' a la Niels Bohr) is noted, which allows for a macroscopic theory of adaptive changes in cells based on biological robustness and consistency between cellular growth and molecular replication.

The talk presents a demonstration of how adaptive changes in high-dimensional phenotypes (biological states) are constrained to a low-dimensional slow manifold, which leads to the derivation of a macroscopic law for cellular states, as is confirmed through adaptation experiments of bacteria under stress. The theory is then extended to evolution, resulting in an evolutionary fluctuation-response relationship that shows the proportionality between phenotypic changes due to environmental adaptation and genetic evolution. This finding allows for the prediction of evolution, as also experimentally demonstrated.

Overall, this talk highlights the potential for physicists to contribute to the study of biology through a universal perspective and the development of macroscopic theories for living systems.