Fluctuation and response in biology

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2011 Mar;68(6):1005-10. doi: 10.1007/s00018-010-0589-y. Epub 2010 Nov 30.


In 1905, Albert Einstein proposed that the forces that cause the random Brownian motion of a particle also underlie the resistance to macroscopic motion when a force is applied. This insight, of a coupling between fluctuation (stochastic behavior) and responsiveness (non-stochastic behavior), founded an important branch of physics. Here we argue that his insight may also be relevant for understanding evolved biological systems, and we present a 'fluctuation-response relationship' for biology. The relationship is consistent with the idea that biological systems are similarly canalized to stochastic, environmental, and genetic perturbations. It is also supported by in silico evolution experiments, and by the observation that 'noisy' gene expression is often both more responsive and more 'evolvable'. More generally, we argue that in biology there is (and always has been) an important role for macroscopic theory that considers the general behavior of systems without concern for their intimate molecular details.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Stochastic Processes*
  • Systems Biology
  • Yeasts / genetics
  • Yeasts / metabolism