Agency in evolution of biomolecular communication

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Biomolecular communication demands that interactions between parts of a molecular system act as scaffolds for message transmission. It also requires an organized system of signs-a communicative agency-for creating and transmitting meaning. The emergence of agency, the capacity to act in a given context and generate end-directed behaviors, has baffled evolutionary biologists for centuries. Here, I explore its emergence with knowledge grounded in over two decades of evolutionary genomic and bioinformatic exploration. Biphasic processes of growth and diversification exist that generate hierarchy and modularity in biological systems at widely ranging time scales. Similarly, a biphasic process exists in communication that constructs a message before it can be transmitted for interpretation. Transmission dissipates matter-energy and information and involves computation. Agency emerges when molecular machinery generates hierarchical layers of vocabularies in an entangled communication network clustered around the universal Turing machine of the ribosome. Computations canalize biological systems to perform biological functions in a dissipative quest to structure long-lived occurrents. This occurs within the confines of a "triangle of persistence" that maximizes invariance with trade-offs between economy, flexibility, and robustness. Thus, learning from previous historical and circumstantial experiences unifies modules in a hierarchy that expands the agency of systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-103
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023


  • complexity
  • computation
  • hierarchy
  • language
  • modularity
  • persistence
  • pragmatics
  • semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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