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Minimal Life

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Dear Participants:

We are delighted that you will join us for the working group on Minimal Life on August 10-11, 2009. We hope and expect that this meeting will be paradigm questioning for us all, bringing into contact not only results but motivations for asking questions that are not usually discussed together.

The format of the meeting will provide 45-minute presentation slots for each speaker, including a discussion period, with time at the end of the day for further discussion. Please do not use your entire time to present results. The backgrounds of your listeners will be different enough that they cannot gain a thorough understanding of what you do in that time – no matter how many results you show – and so it is more important that your talk present enough about your approach to minimality that the question periods can draw out refinements of this perspective in directions that interest the listeners. If our communication is successful, the questions and discussions should encourage speakers to think about minimality from perspectives different than those that they would normally present on their own.

Our motivation to bring together researchers with different approaches to minimality is that each approach stresses some essential feature of the living state, but some abstractions by different approaches are compatible while others represent trade-offs. For example, trophic minimality, lifecycle minimality, and metabolic minimality may be idealized respectively in autotrophs, obligate intracellular parasites, and viruses, further than the three can jointly be met by any single living system. Regulatory or control-theoretic minimality, or minimality under fixed but not fluctuating conditions, may further favor some organisms as models, or may guide engineering paradigms where complexity can be displaced to the boundary conditions provided by the laboratory. If we can quantitatively understand the trade-offs between different forms of minimality, and also which constraints can vary across systems or through history, we may be able to synthesize a more complete minimalist abstraction for the living state.

A final thought: meetings that we have found most rewarding are those in which the participants had given as much forethought to what they wanted to learn from each other, as to what they wanted to teach or present. If you wish to send focused questions please post them on this Wiki page or send them to us in advance of the meeting at morowitz@gmu.edu or desmith@santafe.edu, we will combine them into a preamble that we will read at the opening of the meeting, so that the group can work jointly to address them.


We look forward to seeing you in August,

Harold Morowitz

Clyde Hutchison

Eric Smith

Stephen Giovannoni



Sara.bradley 03:15, 30 May 2009 (UTC)