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Principles of Repurposing - Abstracts

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Workshop Navigation

Dave Ackley: "Software Evolvability"


Athena Aktipis: "Assortment, levels of selection and the evolution of novel functions: insights from basic principles in the evolution of cooperation"


Luis Bettencourt: "Evolving fields in Science and Technology: concept exploration, exploitation and the emergence of consensus"


Lera Boroditsky: "How do we think about things we can never see or touch? Reusing perceptual representations to build abstract knowledge."

One of the great mysteries of the mind is how we are able to think about things we can never see or touch. How do we come to represent and reason about abstract domains like time, justice, or ideas? I will present a series of studies showing how the human mind recycles perceptual representations in the service of higher level cognition (e.g., in the service of imagination, or even representing things that one could never have seen or touched), but also how higher-level aspects of cognition (e.g., categorization and language) constrain and interact with early perceptual processing (e.g., color and motion). Our results demonstrate that 1) people build up abstract knowledge through incremental borrowings or analogies from more perceptual or more experience-based knowledge, and 2) the particular patterns of such borrowings are shaped by languages and cultures. The fact that abstract knowledge is built upon experience-based representations, suggests that evolutionary adaptations that arose for perception and motor action help guide and constrain some of our most sophisticated cognitive endeavors. At the same time, complex knowledge is not simply acquired by the senses from the physical world. It is actively constructed through structures that exist in the social world: in language and culture. Understanding how information across different faculties of the mind is reused may help us understand how physical organisms who collect photons through their eyes, respond to physical pressure in their ears, and bend their knees and flex their toes in just the right amount to defy gravity are able to invent sophisticated notions of number and time, theorize about atoms and invisible forces, and worry about love, justice, ideas, goals, and principles.


Lila Chrysikou: "Creative Repurposing: From Goals to Tools to Features and Back Again"

The ability to use, modify, and create tools for complex goal-directed behavior is a unique aspect of human cognition that has been traditionally linked to the frontal lobes. Repurposing a tool creatively may require the selective activation of one’s knowledge about the attributes, features, and functions of an object (i.e., semantic memory), as guided by the goal at hand under the current contextual circumstances. Specifically, the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) has been identified as a key region implicated in the selective activation of semantic memory in a wide range of tasks. On the other hand, recent findings from neuropsychological populations would suggest that certain patients with neurodegenerative diseases of the frontal lobes exhibit spontaneous artistic skills that they did not possess before the onset of the disease. Furthermore, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulses over the left prefrontal cortex may promote perceptual accuracy in artistic reproduction tasks in healthy subjects.

The present discussion describes a recent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) paradigm that examined the involvement of the left prefrontal region in the generation of usual and unusual goal-oriented uses of common objects (e.g., use a shoe as footwear or as a doorstop). Analyses focusing on the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and the left lateral occipital complex (LOC) revealed different task-specific semantic retrieval strategies associated with the formation of a “mental set,” which continued to be employed even after the task had changed. The results are discussed in the context of a flexible distributed semantic network that selectively focuses on different aspects of semantic knowledge based on task demands.


April Cognato: "Male pregnancy and other evolutionary novelties: Gene ‘repurposing’ and the genesis of evolutionary innovation"

Comparative studies of developmental processes suggest evolutionary innovation occurs through the co-option, or repurposing, of pre-existing genes. Because protein evolution is constrained to maintain ancestral function, it has long been considered that gene duplications are the primary source of new material for the co-option of proteins during the evolution of novel traits. Although gene duplication clearly plays an important role in the evolution of novelty, it is unlikely that biological diversity can be explained entirely by the process of duplicate gene evolution. Rather, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests organisms are equipped with a finite “toolkit” of genes that is repurposed time and again, without duplication, via changes in spatiotemporal pattern of expression, and/or modifications that convey a new function while preserving the old. In addition, recent studies of protein structure challenge the traditional view of protein evolution, and suggest proteins are structurally labile, so that a single protein can have multiple conformations and functions. Conformational diversity and functional promiscuity of proteins can be considered as traits that indicate the ‘evolvability’, or potential of a protein to rapidly acquire a new functional role. In this presentation, I will briefly outline studies from diverse animal systems that demonstrate how novel traits have evolved via co-option of pre-existing genes. I will focus on one example from my own research on the evolution of male pregnancy in seahorses and pipefishes. In these fishes, males carry their embryos on their ventral surface, often enclosed in a fleshy marsupium, or brood pouch, lined with placenta-like tissue that supplies nutrients to developing embryos. The brood pouch is a clear example of an evolutionary innovation: among vertebrates, these fish are the only lineage to have evolved such a structure. We have found a suite of genes differentially expressed in the marsupium of pregnant gulf pipefish one such gene, patristacin, provides evidence for co-option without duplication of a gene that retains its ancestral function in the kidney and liver of bony fishes. Overall these studies provide insight into how the repurposing of a finite set of tools has the potential to produce a vastly diverse suite of evolutionary innovations.


Nicholas de Monchaux: "Interstellar Favela: architectural repurposing and the urban extreme"

The conceptual roots of current architectural practice -- especially since the influence of the "Modern" movement of the 1920s and 30s -- have helped institutionalize a notion of the tabula rasa as a ground for "rational" design practice that is manifestly ill-suited for contemporary urban realities. Whether in the massive, informal growth of developing cities, or the newly-vacant "exurbs" of the developed world, we are confronted by extremes in urban envirnments, where the search for de novo design solutions is absurd, and where re-framing and re-purposing existing urban fabric ( i.e. fashioning) is our only viable course.

Against this background, and the dearth of existing design theories of re-use and adaptation, I examine a design history with historic conceptual links to the study of the city; an extreme history of design for the human body. A study of the design history of the lunar spacesuit reveals the public supremacy of hard, conceptually rigid models that treated the body as a tabula rasa, and the contrasting, ill-reported success of a messy, re-purposes assembly of 21 fabric layers whose chief antecedent was the making of girdles and brassieres. The soft, "fashioned" nature of this design narriative is considered as a potential counter-narriative to traditional design models for body and city, and the expedient urbanity of adaptation and re-purposing asserted against the existing prejudices of design culture.


Doug Erwin


Scott Klemmer: "Can presenting examples improve designers' work? Creating better interfaces through adaptive display."


Ryan Lampe: "Do Patent Pools Encourage Innovation? Evidence from the 19th-Century Sewing-Machine Industry"

Regulators favor patent pools as a remedy for overlapping patent grants and excessive litigation. With patent pools, member firms share patents freely with each other and offer one-stop licenses to outside firms. Thus patent pools are expected to encourage innovation by reducing litigation between pool members and lowering transaction costs for firms that are not members of the pool. We examine this prediction with the example of the first patent pool in U.S. history, the Sewing Machine Combination (1856-1877). Our data confirm that member firms patent more in the years leading up to the pool; member firms, however, patent less as soon as the pool is established. To examine whether changes in patenting translate into increases in performance, we measure improvements in the speed of sewing machines through stitches per minute. Performance data suggest that innovation flattened for the duration of the pool and increased again only after the pool had expired. Our data suggest that a patent pool may discourage innovation if it increases the threat of litigation for outside firms. To avoid litigation with the pool, outside firms shift towards inferior technologies.


Joram Piatigorsky: "Gene Sharing and Evolution: Lens Crystallins Exemplify that Specialization and Diversification Can Occur Simultaneously"

Evolution is about adaptation and change. Among the most discussed mechanisms for evolution are gene duplications, which provide new sources for making altered proteins, and mutations affecting amino acid sequences of the encoded proteins. Proteins with new structures are then selected over time and provide novel functions that open new niches and/or greater ability to survive. Gene duplications and mutations occur randomly and the evolution of new functions involves “tinkering,” as described famously by Jacob in 1977. We have developed the concept of “gene sharing” through our studies on lens crystallins. Crystallins are structural proteins that account for 80-90% of the water-soluble protein of the transparent lens of the eye; crystallins are responsible for the optical, refractive properties of the lens. Crystallins were long considered highly specialized proteins that were selected specifically for their lens functions contributing to clear vision. Lenses in eyes from jellyfish to humans accumulate crystallins. Unexpectedly, however, different species often (not always) use entirely different proteins as crystallins to accomplish similar optical functions. Even more surprisingly, lens crystallins are expressed in many tissues where they have entirely different, non-refractive roles. Indeed, many crystallins are common enzymes or physiological stress proteins equally specialized for their metabolic and optical roles. Thus, they are under more than one selective constraint. Gene sharing refers to the fact several functions can share the identical gene. In the case of crystallins, a change in the expression of the gene leads to a new function without loss of the original function. Paradoxically this means that functional specialization and diversification may occur simultaneously. Gene sharing shows that neither gene duplication nor change in protein structure is necessary for functional innovation and evolution. The idea that specialization and diversification go hand-in-hand is counterintuitive and implies that protein functions do not have strict boundaries. A quantitative or qualitative change in gene expression can be sufficient to test for and eventually evolve a new function for the encoded protein, although structural changes can also occur during the specialization processes. Gene sharing challenges the investigator to determine how many ways a gene may be enlarged through multiple functions of its polypeptide rather than how it might be subdivided into an elementary unit. Gene sharing increases robustness by allowing cellular events to be coordinated by reusing the same proteins in different ways in response to biological needs: old functions are not sacrificed for implementation of new functions. Gene sharing fits well with the idea that proteins are selected for marginal stability allowing conformational diversity and accumulation of neutral mutations rather than structural and functional rigidity. Marginal stability increases the ability of proteins to interact and increases evolvability, namely the propensity to evolve and adapt. Gene sharing occurs widely, affecting many if not most proteins, and provides a fluid and interactive view of evolution.


Victor Seidel: "Crafting interpretation in ambiguous contexts: Conceptual modularity and the evolution of novel product concepts"

When individuals in organizations are faced with ambiguous situations in which to coordinate action, the use of a shared concept is regarded as important in providing an interpretive framework, but the process by which concepts are collectively crafted and managed is little understood in detail. Using an inductive case study method of six novel product development projects across three industries, the process by which development teams defined, altered, and ultimately realized novel product concepts was examined. The empirical results suggest that rather than using singular focal points, individuals in such organizations employ conceptual modularity when dealing with such ambiguity. In such contexts, concepts are composed of components—elements such as stories, metaphors, and prototypes—which have modular properties of substitution and interdependence, the assemblage of components is evolved over time, and these components are distinct from the corresponding physical components most commonly considered in innovation studies. Common practices employed in working with concept components are described. In addition to providing decision-logics by which to coordinate action, modular concept components may also provide other functions, including organizational identity and temporal markers within organizations.


Jessika Trancik "Costs, Benefits and Degrees of Technological Repurposing"


Jon Wilkins "Workshop Introduction / Repurposing of the Epigenetic Machinery in Genomic Imprinting"

I will begin by discussing some of the general goals for the workshop. In particular, I will describe a first stab at defining some of the key dimensions along which different instances of repurposing might vary. I will also describe a few of the criteria we might use to define the ease with which repurposing can be accomplished, and criteria for considering whether a particular instance is successful or optimal. These thoughts will hopefully provide a starting place for our discussion, and give us something to build on, modify, or reject completely over the course of the workshop.

After this general introduction, I will briefly describe an instance of repurposing in genomic imprinting. The machinery that is responsible for imprinting establishes, propagates, reprograms, and interprets various epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation and various histone modifications. However, most of this machinery predates the evolution of imprinting. The same proteins are responsible for epigenetic modifications that underlie tissue differentiation and defense against parasitic genetic elements (transposons). In two of these contexts, genomic imprinting and transposon defense, the system is subject to divergent selective pressures. The fact that the same players act in both systems means that these selective pressures interact.