Paper Abstracts

How organisms continuously track environmental changes

R.J. Guliuzza, P.B. Gaskil

Discipline: Biology

Abstract: We offer a new framework for understanding biological adaptability based on interpreting the findings of 342 journal articles and 67 online reports related to adaptation, bioengineering, and design in view of the assumption that biological functions are most accurately explained by engineering principles. We hypothesize that organisms actively and continuously track environmental variables and respond by self-adjusting to changing environments "utilizing the engineering principles constraining how human-designed objects self-adjust to changes" which results in adaptation. We termed this hypothesis Continuous Environmental Tracking (CET). CET is an engineering-based, organism-focused characterization of adaptation. CET expects to find that organisms adapt via systems with elements analogous to those within human-engineered tracking systems, namely: input sensors, internal logic mechanisms to select suitable responses, and actuators to execute responses. We derived the hypothesis by reinterpreting findings and formalizing biological adaptability within a framework of engineering design, considering: (1) objectives, (2) constraints, (3) variables, and (4) the biological systems related to the previous three. The literature does identify internal mechanisms with elements analogous to engineered systems using sensors coupled to complex logic mechanisms producing highly "targeted" self-adjustments suitable to changes. Adaptive mechanisms were characterized as regulated, rapid, repeatable, and sometimes, reversible. Adaptation happened largely through regulated gene expression and not gene inheritance, per se. These observations, consistent with CET, contrast starkly with the evolutionary framework's randomness of tiny, accidental "hit-and-miss" phenotypes fractioned out to lucky survivors of deadly challenges. Evolutionists now divide over their framework's need of modification, and a trend among some seeks to infuse more engineering into biology. This disarray affords a rare, transient opportunity for engineering advocates to frame the issue. CET may fundamentally change how we perceive organisms; from passive modeling clay shaped over time by the vicissitudes of nature, to active, problem-solving creatures that continuously track environmental changes to better fit existing niches or fill new ones.