A Compositional Framework for Reaction Networks

30 July, 2017

For a long time Blake Pollard and I have been working on ‘open’ chemical reaction networks: that is, networks of chemical reactions where some chemicals can flow in from an outside source, or flow out. The picture to keep in mind is something like this:



where the yellow circles are different kinds of chemicals and the aqua boxes are different reactions. The purple dots in the sets X and Y are ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, where certain kinds of chemicals can flow in or out.

Here’s our paper on this stuff:

• John Baez and Blake Pollard, A compositional framework for reaction networks, Reviews in Mathematical Physics 29, 1750028.

Blake and I gave talks about this stuff in Luxembourg this June, at a nice conference called Dynamics, thermodynamics and information processing in chemical networks. So, if you’re the sort who prefers talk slides to big scary papers, you can look at those:

• John Baez, The mathematics of open reaction networks.

• Blake Pollard, Black-boxing open reaction networks.

But I want to say here what we do in our paper, because it’s pretty cool, and it took a few years to figure it out. To get things to work, we needed my student Brendan Fong to invent the right category-theoretic formalism: ‘decorated cospans’. But we also had to figure out the right way to think about open dynamical systems!

In the end, we figured out how to first ‘gray-box’ an open reaction network, converting it into an open dynamical system, and then ‘black-box’ it, obtaining the relation between input and output flows and concentrations that holds in steady state. The first step extracts the dynamical behavior of an open reaction network; the second extracts its static behavior. And both these steps are functors!

Lawvere had the idea that the process of assigning ‘meaning’ to expressions could be seen as a functor. This idea has caught on in theoretical computer science: it’s called ‘functorial semantics’. So, what we’re doing here is applying functorial semantics to chemistry.

Now Blake has passed his thesis defense based on this work, and he just needs to polish up his thesis a little before submitting it. This summer he’s doing an internship at the Princeton branch of the engineering firm Siemens. He’s working with Arquimedes Canedo on ‘knowledge representation’.

But I’m still eager to dig deeper into open reaction networks. They’re a small but nontrivial step toward my dream of a mathematics of living systems. My working hypothesis is that living systems seem ‘messy’ to physicists because they operate at a higher level of abstraction. That’s what I’m trying to explore.

Here’s the idea of our paper.

The idea

Reaction networks are a very general framework for describing processes where entities interact and transform int other entities. While they first showed up in chemistry, and are often called ‘chemical reaction networks’, they have lots of other applications. For example, a basic model of infectious disease, the ‘SIRS model’, is described by this reaction network:

S + I \stackrel{\iota}{\longrightarrow} 2 I  \qquad  I \stackrel{\rho}{\longrightarrow} R \stackrel{\lambda}{\longrightarrow} S

We see here three types of entity, called species:

S: susceptible,
I: infected,
R: resistant.

We also have three `reactions’:

\iota : S + I \to 2 I: infection, in which a susceptible individual meets an infected one and becomes infected;
\rho : I \to R: recovery, in which an infected individual gains resistance to the disease;
\lambda : R \to S: loss of resistance, in which a resistant individual becomes susceptible.

In general, a reaction network involves a finite set of species, but reactions go between complexes, which are finite linear combinations of these species with natural number coefficients. The reaction network is a directed graph whose vertices are certain complexes and whose edges are called reactions.

If we attach a positive real number called a rate constant to each reaction, a reaction network determines a system of differential equations saying how the concentrations of the species change over time. This system of equations is usually called the rate equation. In the example I just gave, the rate equation is

\begin{array}{ccl} \displaystyle{\frac{d S}{d t}} &=& r_\lambda R - r_\iota S I \\ \\ \displaystyle{\frac{d I}{d t}} &=&  r_\iota S I - r_\rho I \\  \\ \displaystyle{\frac{d R}{d t}} &=& r_\rho I - r_\lambda R \end{array}

Here r_\iota, r_\rho and r_\lambda are the rate constants for the three reactions, and S, I, R now stand for the concentrations of the three species, which are treated in a continuum approximation as smooth functions of time:

S, I, R: \mathbb{R} \to [0,\infty)

The rate equation can be derived from the law of mass action, which says that any reaction occurs at a rate equal to its rate constant times the product of the concentrations of the species entering it as inputs.

But a reaction network is more than just a stepping-stone to its rate equation! Interesting qualitative properties of the rate equation, like the existence and uniqueness of steady state solutions, can often be determined just by looking at the reaction network, regardless of the rate constants. Results in this direction began with Feinberg and Horn’s work in the 1960’s, leading to the Deficiency Zero and Deficiency One Theorems, and more recently to Craciun’s proof of the Global Attractor Conjecture.

In our paper, Blake and I present a ‘compositional framework’ for reaction networks. In other words, we describe rules for building up reaction networks from smaller pieces, in such a way that its rate equation can be figured out knowing those those of the pieces. But this framework requires that we view reaction networks in a somewhat different way, as ‘Petri nets’.

Petri nets were invented by Carl Petri in 1939, when he was just a teenager, for the purposes of chemistry. Much later, they became popular in theoretical computer science, biology and other fields. A Petri net is a bipartite directed graph: vertices of one kind represent species, vertices of the other kind represent reactions. The edges into a reaction specify which species are inputs to that reaction, while the edges out specify its outputs.

You can easily turn a reaction network into a Petri net and vice versa. For example, the reaction network above translates into this Petri net:



Beware: there are a lot of different names for the same thing, since the terminology comes from several communities. In the Petri net literature, species are called places and reactions are called transitions. In fact, Petri nets are sometimes called ‘place-transition nets’ or ‘P/T nets’. On the other hand, chemists call them ‘species-reaction graphs’ or ‘SR-graphs’. And when each reaction of a Petri net has a rate constant attached to it, it is often called a ‘stochastic Petri net’.

While some qualitative properties of a rate equation can be read off from a reaction network, others are more easily read from the corresponding Petri net. For example, properties of a Petri net can be used to determine whether its rate equation can have multiple steady states.

Petri nets are also better suited to a compositional framework. The key new concept is an ‘open’ Petri net. Here’s an example:



The box at left is a set X of ‘inputs’ (which happens to be empty), while the box at right is a set Y of ‘outputs’. Both inputs and outputs are points at which entities of various species can flow in or out of the Petri net. We say the open Petri net goes from X to Y. In our paper, we show how to treat it as a morphism f : X \to Y in a category we call \textrm{RxNet}.

Given an open Petri net with rate constants assigned to each reaction, our paper explains how to get its ‘open rate equation’. It’s just the usual rate equation with extra terms describing inflows and outflows. The above example has this open rate equation:

\begin{array}{ccr} \displaystyle{\frac{d S}{d t}} &=&  - r_\iota S I - o_1 \\ \\ \displaystyle{\frac{d I}{d t}} &=&  r_\iota S I - o_2  \end{array}

Here o_1, o_2 : \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R} are arbitrary smooth functions describing outflows as a function of time.

Given another open Petri net g: Y \to Z, for example this:



it will have its own open rate equation, in this case

\begin{array}{ccc} \displaystyle{\frac{d S}{d t}} &=& r_\lambda R + i_2 \\ \\ \displaystyle{\frac{d I}{d t}} &=& - r_\rho I + i_1 \\  \\ \displaystyle{\frac{d R}{d t}} &=& r_\rho I - r_\lambda R  \end{array}

Here i_1, i_2: \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R} are arbitrary smooth functions describing inflows as a function of time. Now for a tiny bit of category theory: we can compose f and g by gluing the outputs of f to the inputs of g. This gives a new open Petri net gf: X \to Z, as follows:



But this open Petri net gf has an empty set of inputs, and an empty set of outputs! So it amounts to an ordinary Petri net, and its open rate equation is a rate equation of the usual kind. Indeed, this is the Petri net we have already seen.

As it turns out, there’s a systematic procedure for combining the open rate equations for two open Petri nets to obtain that of their composite. In the example we’re looking at, we just identify the outflows of f with the inflows of g (setting i_1 = o_1 and i_2 = o_2) and then add the right hand sides of their open rate equations.

The first goal of our paper is to precisely describe this procedure, and to prove that it defines a functor

\diamond: \textrm{RxNet} \to \textrm{Dynam}

from \textrm{RxNet} to a category \textrm{Dynam} where the morphisms are ‘open dynamical systems’. By a dynamical system, we essentially mean a vector field on \mathbb{R}^n, which can be used to define a system of first-order ordinary differential equations in n variables. An example is the rate equation of a Petri net. An open dynamical system allows for the possibility of extra terms that are arbitrary functions of time, such as the inflows and outflows in an open rate equation.

In fact, we prove that \textrm{RxNet} and \textrm{Dynam} are symmetric monoidal categories and that d is a symmetric monoidal functor. To do this, we use Brendan Fong’s theory of ‘decorated cospans’.

Decorated cospans are a powerful general tool for describing open systems. A cospan in any category is just a diagram like this:



We are mostly interested in cospans in \mathrm{FinSet}, the category of finite sets and functions between these. The set S, the so-called apex of the cospan, is the set of states of an open system. The sets X and Y are the inputs and outputs of this system. The legs of the cospan, meaning the morphisms i: X \to S and o: Y \to S, describe how these inputs and outputs are included in the system. In our application, S is the set of species of a Petri net.

For example, we may take this reaction network:

A+B \stackrel{\alpha}{\longrightarrow} 2C \quad \quad C \stackrel{\beta}{\longrightarrow} D

treat it as a Petri net with S = \{A,B,C,D\}:



and then turn that into an open Petri net by choosing any finite sets X,Y and maps i: X \to S, o: Y \to S, for example like this:



(Notice that the maps including the inputs and outputs into the states of the system need not be one-to-one. This is technically useful, but it introduces some subtleties that I don’t feel like explaining right now.)

An open Petri net can thus be seen as a cospan of finite sets whose apex S is ‘decorated’ with some extra information, namely a Petri net with S as its set of species. Fong’s theory of decorated cospans lets us define a category with open Petri nets as morphisms, with composition given by gluing the outputs of one open Petri net to the inputs of another.

We call the functor

\diamond: \textrm{RxNet} \to \textrm{Dynam}

gray-boxing because it hides some but not all the internal details of an open Petri net. (In the paper we draw it as a gray box, but that’s too hard here!)

We can go further and black-box an open dynamical system. This amounts to recording only the relation between input and output variables that must hold in steady state. We prove that black-boxing gives a functor

\square: \textrm{Dynam} \to \mathrm{SemiAlgRel}

(yeah, the box here should be black, and in our paper it is). Here \mathrm{SemiAlgRel} is a category where the morphisms are semi-algebraic relations between real vector spaces, meaning relations defined by polynomials and inequalities. This relies on the fact that our dynamical systems involve algebraic vector fields, meaning those whose components are polynomials; more general dynamical systems would give more general relations.

That semi-algebraic relations are closed under composition is a nontrivial fact, a spinoff of the Tarski–Seidenberg theorem. This says that a subset of \mathbb{R}^{n+1} defined by polynomial equations and inequalities can be projected down onto \mathbb{R}^n, and the resulting set is still definable in terms of polynomial identities and inequalities. This wouldn’t be true if we didn’t allow inequalities. It’s neat to see this theorem, important in mathematical logic, showing up in chemistry!

Structure of the paper

Okay, now you’re ready to read our paper! Here’s how it goes:

In Section 2 we review and compare reaction networks and Petri nets. In Section 3 we construct a symmetric monoidal category \textrm{RNet} where an object is a finite set and a morphism is an open reaction network (or more precisely, an isomorphism class of open reaction networks). In Section 4 we enhance this construction to define a symmetric monoidal category \textrm{RxNet} where the transitions of the open reaction networks are equipped with rate constants. In Section 5 we explain the open dynamical system associated to an open reaction network, and in Section 6 we construct a symmetric monoidal category \textrm{Dynam} of open dynamical systems. In Section 7 we construct the gray-boxing functor

\diamond: \textrm{RxNet} \to \textrm{Dynam}

In Section 8 we construct the black-boxing functor

\square: \textrm{Dynam} \to \mathrm{SemiAlgRel}

We show both of these are symmetric monoidal functors.

Finally, in Section 9 we fit our results into a larger ‘network of network theories’. This is where various results in various papers I’ve been writing in the last few years start assembling to form a big picture! But this picture needs to grow….


Information Processing in Chemical Networks (Part 2)

13 June, 2017

I’m in Luxembourg, and I’ll be blogging a bit about this workshop:

Dynamics, Thermodynamics and Information Processing in Chemical Networks, 13-16 June 2017, Complex Systems and Statistical Mechanics Group, University of Luxembourg. Organized by Massimiliano Esposito and Matteo Polettini.

I’ll do it in the comments!

I explained the idea of this workshop here:

Information processing in chemical networks.

and now you can see the program here.


The Mathematics of Open Reaction Networks

8 June, 2017

Next week, Blake Pollard and I will talk about our work on reaction networks. We’ll do this at Dynamics, Thermodynamics and Information Processing in Chemical Networks, a workshop at the University of Luxembourg organized by Massimiliano Esposito and Matteo Polettini. We’ll do it on Tuesday, 13 June 2017, from 11:00 to 13:00, in room BSC 3.03 of the Bâtiment des Sciences. If you’re around, please stop by and say hi!

Here are the slides for my talk:

The mathematics of open reaction networks.

Abstract. To describe systems composed of interacting parts, scientists and engineers draw diagrams of networks: flow charts, electrical circuit diagrams, signal-flow graphs, Feynman diagrams and the like. In principle all these different diagrams fit into a common framework: the mathematics of monoidal categories. This has been known for some time. However, the details are more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding, than this basic insight. Here we explain how various applications of reaction networks and Petri nets fit into this framework.

If you see typos or other problems please let me know now!

I hope to blog a bit about the workshop… it promises to be very interesting.


Phosphorus Sulfides

5 May, 2017

I think of sulfur and phosphorus as clever chameleons of the periodic table: both come in many different forms, called allotropes. There’s white phosphorus, red phosphorus, violet phosphorus and black phosphorus:



and there are about two dozen allotropes of sulfur, with a phase diagram like this:



So I should have guessed that sulfur and phosphorus combine to make many different compounds. But I never thought about this until yesterday!

I’m a great fan of diamonds, not for their monetary value but for the math of their crystal structure:



In a diamond the carbon atoms do not form a lattice in the strict mathematical sense (which is more restrictive than the sense of this word in crystallography). The reason is that there aren’t translational symmetries carrying any atom to any other. Instead, there are two lattices of atoms, shown as red and blue in this picture by Greg Egan. Each atom has 4 nearest neighbors arranged at the vertices of a regular tetrahedron; the tetrahedra centered at the blue atoms are ‘right-side up’, while those centered at the red atoms are ‘upside down’.

Having thought about this a lot, I was happy to read about adamantane. It’s a compound with 10 carbons and 16 hydrogens. There are 4 carbons at the vertices of a regular tetrahedron, and 6 along the edges—but the edges bend out in such a way that the carbons form a tiny piece of a diamond crystal:

or more abstractly, focusing on the carbons and their bonds:


Yesterday I learned that phosphorus decasulfide, P4S10, follows the same pattern:



The angles deviate slightly from the value of

\arccos (-1/3) \approx 109.4712^\circ

that we’d have in a fragment of a mathematically ideal diamond crystal, but that’s to be expected.

It turns out there are lots of other phosphorus sulfides! Here are some of them:



Puzzle 1. Why do each of these compounds have exactly 4 phosphorus atoms?

I don’t know the answer! I can’t believe it’s impossible to form phosphorus–sulfur compounds with some other number of phosphorus atoms, but the Wikipedia article containing this chart says

All known molecular phosphorus sulfides contain a tetrahedral array of four phosphorus atoms. P4S2 is also known but is unstable above −30 °C.

All these phosphorus sulfides contain at most 10 sulfur atoms. If we remove one sulfur from phosphorus decasulfide we can get this:


This is the ‘alpha form’ of P4S9. There’s also a beta form, shown in the chart above.

Some of the phosphorus sulfides have pleasing symmetries, like the
alpha form of P4S4:


or the epsilon form of P4S6:


Others look awkward. The alpha form of P4S5 is an ungainly beast:

They all seem to have a few things in common:

• There are 4 phosphorus atoms.

• Each phosphorus atom is connected to 3 or 4 atoms, at most one of which is phosphorus.

• Each sulfur atom is connected to 1 or 2 atoms, which must all be phosphorus.

The pictures seem pretty consistent about showing a ‘double bond’ when a sulfur atom is connected to just 1 phosphorus. However, they don’t show a double bond when a phosphorus atom is connected to just 3 sulfurs.

Puzzle 2. Can you draw molecules obeying the 3 rules listed above that aren’t on the chart?

Of all the phosphorus sulfides, P4S10 is not only the biggest and most symmetrical, it’s also the most widely used. Humans make thousands of tons of the stuff! It’s used for producing organic sulfur compounds.

People also make P4S3: it’s used in strike-anywhere matches. This molecule is not on the chart I showed you, and it also violates one of the rules I made up:



Somewhat confusingly, P4S10 is not only called phosphorus decasulfide: it’s also called phosphorus pentasulfide. Similarly, P4S3 is called phosphorus sesquisulfide. Since the prefix ‘sesqui-’ means ‘one and a half’, there seems to be some kind of division by 2 going on here.


Diamondoids

2 May, 2017

I have a new favorite molecule: adamantane. As you probably know, someone is said to be ‘adamant’ if they are unshakeable, immovable, inflexible, unwavering, uncompromising, resolute, resolved, determined, firm, rigid, or steadfast. But ‘adamant’ is also a legendary mineral, and the etymology is the same as that for ‘diamond’.

The molecule adamantane, shown above, features 10 carbon atoms arranged just like a small portion of a diamond crystal! It’s a bit easier to see this if you ignore the 16 hydrogen atoms and focus on the carbon atoms and bonds between those:


It’s a somewhat strange shape.

Puzzle 1. Give a clear, elegant description of this shape.

Puzzle 2. What is its symmetry group? This is really two questions: I’m asking about the symmetry group of this shape as an abstract graph, but also the symmetry group of this graph as embedded in 3d Euclidean space, counting both rotations and reflections.

Puzzle 3. How many ‘kinds’ of carbon atoms does adamantane have? In other words, when we let the symmetry group of this graph act on the set of vertices, how many orbits are there? (Again this is really two questions, depending on which symmetry group we use.)

Puzzle 4. How many kinds of bonds between carbon atoms does adamantane have? In other words, when we let the symmetry group of this graph act on the set of edges, how many orbits are there? (Again, this is really two questions.)

You can see the relation between adamantane and a diamond if you look carefully at a diamond crystal, as shown in this image by H. K. D. H. Bhadeshia:


or this one by Greg Egan:



Even with these pictures at hand, I find it a bit tough to see the adamantane pattern lurking in the diamond! Look again:


Adamantane has an interesting history. The possibility of its existence was first suggested by a chemist named Decker at a conference in 1924. Decker called this molecule ‘decaterpene’, and registered surprise that nobody had made it yet. After some failed attempts, it was first synthesized by the Croatian-Swiss chemist Vladimir Prelog in 1941. He later won the Nobel prize for his work on stereochemistry.

However, long before it was synthesized, adamantane was isolated from petroleum by the Czech chemists Landa, Machacek and Mzourek! They did it in 1932. They only managed to make a few milligrams of the stuff, but we now know that petroleum naturally contains between .0001% and 0.03% adamantane!

Adamantane can be crystallized:

but ironically, the crystals are rather soft. It’s all that hydrogen. It’s also amusing that adamantane has an odor: supposedly it smells like camphor!

Adamantane is just the simplest of the molecules called diamondoids.
These are a few:


1 is adamantane.

2 is called diamantane.

3 is called triamantane.

4 is called isotetramantane, and it comes in two mirror-image forms.

Here are some better pictures of diamantane:


People have done lots of chemical reactions with diamondoids. Here are some things they’ve done with the next one, pentamantane:



Many different diamondoids occur naturally in petroleum. Though the carbon in diamonds is not biological in origin, the carbon in diamondoids found in petroleum is. This was shown by studying ratios of carbon isotopes.

Eric Drexler has proposed using diamondoids for nanotechnology, but he’s talking about larger molecules than those shown here.

For more fun along these lines, try:

Diamonds and triamonds, Azimuth, 11 April 2016.


Periodic Patterns in Peptide Masses

6 April, 2017

Gheorghe Craciun is a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin who recently proved the Global Attractor Conjecture, which since 1974 was the most famous conjecture in mathematical chemistry. This week he visited U. C. Riverside and gave a talk on this subject. But he also told me about something else—something quite remarkable.

The mystery

A peptide is basically a small protein: a chain of made of fewer than 50 amino acids. If you plot the number of peptides of different masses found in various organisms, you see peculiar oscillations:

These oscillations have a frequency of about 14 daltons, where a ‘dalton’ is roughly the mass of a hydrogen atom—or more precisely, 1/12 the mass of a carbon atom.

Biologists had noticed these oscillations in databases of peptide masses. But they didn’t understand them.

Can you figure out what causes these oscillations?

It’s a math puzzle, actually.

Next I’ll give you the answer, so stop looking if you want to think about it first.

The solution

Almost all peptides are made of 20 different amino acids, which have different masses, which are almost integers. So, to a reasonably good approximation, the puzzle amounts to this: if you have 20 natural numbers m_1, ... , m_{20}, how many ways can you write any natural number N as a finite ordered sum of these numbers? Call it F(N) and graph it. It oscillates! Why?

(We count ordered sums because the amino acids are stuck together in a linear way to form a protein.)

There’s a well-known way to write down a formula for F(N). It obeys a linear recurrence:

F(N) = F(N - m_1) + \cdots + F(N - m_{20})

and we can solve this using the ansatz

F(N) = x^N

Then the recurrence relation will hold if

x^N = x^{N - m_1} + x^{N - m_2} + \dots + x^{N - m_{20}}

for all N. But this is fairly easy to achieve! If m_{20} is the biggest mass, we just need this polynomial equation to hold:

x^{m_{20}} = x^{m_{20} - m_1} + x^{m_{20} - m_2} + \dots + 1

There will be a bunch of solutions, about m_{20} of them. (If there are repeated roots things get a bit more subtle, but let’s not worry about.) To get the actual formula for F(N) we need to find the right linear combination of functions x^N where x ranges over all the roots. That takes some work. Craciun and his collaborator Shane Hubler did that work.

But we can get a pretty good understanding with a lot less work. In particular, the root x with the largest magnitude will make x^N grow the fastest.

If you haven’t thought about this sort of recurrence relation it’s good to look at the simplest case, where we just have two masses m_1 = 1, m_2 = 2. Then the numbers F(N) are the Fibonacci numbers. I hope you know this: the Nth Fibonacci number is the number of ways to write N as the sum of an ordered list of 1’s and 2’s!

1

1+1,   2

1+1+1,   1+2,   2+1

1+1+1+1,   1+1+2,   1+2+1,   2+1+1,   2+2

If I drew edges between these sums in the right way, forming a ‘family tree’, you’d see the connection to Fibonacci’s original rabbit puzzle.

In this example the recurrence gives the polynomial equation

x^2 = x + 1

and the root with largest magnitude is the golden ratio:

\Phi = 1.6180339...

The other root is

1 - \Phi = -0.6180339...

With a little more work you get an explicit formula for the Fibonacci numbers in terms of the golden ratio:

\displaystyle{ F(N) = \frac{1}{\sqrt{5}} \left( \Phi^{N+1} - (1-\Phi)^{N+1} \right) }

But right now I’m more interested in the qualitative aspects! In this example both roots are real. The example from biology is different.

Puzzle 1. For which lists of natural numbers m_1 < \cdots < m_k are all the roots of

x^{m_k} = x^{m_k - m_1} + x^{m_k - m_2} + \cdots + 1

real?

I don’t know the answer. But apparently this kind of polynomial equation always one root with the largest possible magnitude, which is real and has multiplicity one. I think it turns out that F(N) is asymptotically proportional to x^N where x is this root.

But in the case that’s relevant to biology, there’s also a pair of roots with the second largest magnitude, which are not real: they’re complex conjugates of each other. And these give rise to the oscillations!

For the masses of the 20 amino acids most common in life, the roots look like this:

The aqua root at right has the largest magnitude and gives the dominant contribution to the exponential growth of F(N). The red roots have the second largest magnitude. These give the main oscillations in F(N), which have period 14.28.

For the full story, read this:

• Shane Hubler and Gheorghe Craciun, Periodic patterns in distributions of peptide masses, BioSystems 109 (2012), 179–185.

Most of the pictures here are from this paper.

My main question is this:

Puzzle 2. Suppose we take many lists of natural numbers m_1 < \cdots < m_k and draw all the roots of the equations

x^{m_k} = x^{m_k - m_1} + x^{m_k - m_2} + \cdots + 1

What pattern do we get in the complex plane?

I suspect that this picture is an approximation to the answer you’d get to Puzzle 2:

If you stare carefully at this picture, you’ll see some patterns, and I’m guessing those are hints of something very beautiful.

Earlier on this blog we looked at roots of polynomials whose coefficients are all 1 or -1:

The beauty of roots.

The pattern is very nice, and it repays deep mathematical study. Here it is, drawn by Sam Derbyshire:


But now we’re looking at polynomials where the leading coefficient is 1 and all the rest are -1 or 0. How does that change things? A lot, it seems!

By the way, the 20 amino acids we commonly see in biology have masses ranging between 57 and 186. It’s not really true that all their masses are different. Here are their masses:

57, 71, 87, 97, 99, 101, 103, 113, 113, 114, 115, 128, 128, 129, 131, 137, 147, 156, 163, 186

I pretended that none of the masses m_i are equal in Puzzle 2, and I left out the fact that only about 1/9th of the coefficients of our polynomial are nonzero. This may affect the picture you get!


Information Processing in Chemical Networks (Part 1)

4 January, 2017

There’s a workshop this summer:

Dynamics, Thermodynamics and Information Processing in Chemical Networks, 13-16 June 2017, Complex Systems and Statistical Mechanics Group, University of Luxembourg. Organized by Massimiliano Esposito and Matteo Polettini.

They write, “The idea of the workshop is to bring in contact a small number of high-profile research groups working at the frontier between physics and biochemistry, with particular emphasis on the role of Chemical Networks.”

The speakers may include John Baez, Sophie de Buyl, Massimiliano Esposito, Arren Bar-Even, Christoff Flamm, Ronan Fleming, Christian Gaspard, Daniel Merkle, Philippe Nge, Thomas Ouldridge, Luca Peliti, Matteo Polettini, Hong Qian, Stefan Schuster, Alexander Skupin, Pieter Rein ten Wolde. I believe attendance is by invitation only, so I’ll endeavor to make some of the ideas presented available here at this blog.

Some of the people involved

I’m looking forward to this, in part because there will be a mix of speakers I’ve met, speakers I know but haven’t met, and speakers I don’t know yet. I feel like reminiscing a bit, and I hope you’ll forgive me these reminiscences, since if you try the links you’ll get an introduction to the interface between computation and chemical reaction networks.

In part 25 of the network theory series here, I imagined an arbitrary chemical reaction network and said:

We could try to use these reactions to build a ‘chemical computer’. But how powerful can such a computer be? I don’t know the answer.

Luca Cardelli answered my question in part 26. This was just my first introduction to the wonderful world of chemical computing. Erik Winfree has a DNA and Natural Algorithms Group at Caltech, practically next door to Riverside, and the people there do a lot of great work on this subject. David Soloveichik, now at U. T. Austin, is an alumnus of this group.

In 2014 I met all three of these folks, and many other cool people working on these theme, at a workshop I tried to summarize here:

Programming with chemical reaction networks, Azimuth, 23 March 2014.

The computational power of chemical reaction networks, 10 June 2014.

Chemical reaction network talks, 26 June 2014.

I met Matteo Polettini about a year later, at a really big workshop on chemical reaction networks run by Elisenda Feliu and Carsten Wiuf:

Trends in reaction network theory (part 1), Azimuth, 27 January 2015.

Trends in reaction network theory (part 2), Azimuth, 1 July 2015.

Polettini has his own blog, very much worth visiting. For example, you can see his view of the same workshop here:

• Matteo Polettini, Mathematical trends in reaction network theory: part 1 and part 2, Out of Equilibrium, 1 July 2015.

Finally, I met Massimiliano Esposito and Christoph Flamm recently at the Santa Fe Institute, at a workshop summarized here:

Information processing and biology, Azimuth, 7 November 2016.

So, I’ve gradually become educated in this area, and I hope that by June I’ll be ready to say something interesting about the semantics of chemical reaction networks. Blake Pollard and I are writing a paper about this now.