Historically, mutations were considered to be “haphazard” – that is, they were not directed to any purpose of the organism. However, over the last several decades, more and more research from a variety of groups have been showing that the cell actually has a variety of systems which generate necessary mutations when needed.
The problem, however, is that there was not a metric available to measure the directedness of mutations – how fit a mutational system is to various selective pressures. This is important because determining the mechanism of directed mutations requires quite a bit of time, energy, and money. Therefore, being able to determine ahead of time if there is something worth discovering helps to direct resources and focus to the most productive areas.
This week, the journal BIO-Complexity published a new Blyth Institute paper, “Measuring Active Information in Biological Systems.” In the paper, Blyth Institute director Jonathan Bartlett showed how techniques which originated in computer search optimization theory can be applied to study mutations. Doing this, we can measure how much information a cell contributes to its own mutations. The paper discussed the measurement itself, how to mitigate issues in applying it in biology, and then several measurements of active information in living organisms using publicly available experimental data.