Living Systems

Systems Biology



Thermodynamics of living systems probably can be better understood through Gibbs ensembles approach and systems biology.

DMR Sekhar


George Wald described1 living organism as an intricate machine during 1954. During 1980 Hanawalt wrote2,”The phenomenon of life may be traced to the coordinated behavior of molecules within cells. The cell is the self- contained and self–reproducing  fundamental unit of life…… The molecules in the cells are guided by the same basic laws of chemistry and physics that apply through out the universe…… The mystery lies rather in the programmed coordination of the myriad of chemical reactions necessary for the metabolic activities of the cells.” In 1983 Volkenshtein wrote3 that if it is alone for thermodynamics G-C content in the DNA should have increased during evolution. Human genome is apparently4 losing G-C rich regions.

Systems Biology

Living things are in fact living systems. A system is a group of parts5 that come together interacting and interdependent to form a more complex whole unit. A system is more than the sum of its parts. A system exhibits emergent properties which can not be reduced to its individual parts. A system is said to be complex if its emergent properties are unpredictable.

Statistical Thermodynamics

From the stand point of molecular statistics it may be stated6, “the self compression of a gas is not absolutely impossible”. For the study of statistical behavior of thermodynamic systems Gibbs proposed the method of ensembles. According to Gibbs6, an ensemble is a sufficiently large set of microstates which are compatible with a particular thermodynamic or macroscopic state. More clearly the thermodynamic state of a macro system [say ensemble] if in equilibrium does not change in time but the constituent myriad elements [say individual reactions] of the system may be in continuously changing microstates but in such a way that the macro state remains unaltered. Ensembles are classified as [1] micro canonical, [2] canonical and [3] grand canonical ensemble. The grand canonical ensemble is in both thermal and material equilibrium with the surroundings and can exchange both energy and matter.

Living cell as grand canonical ensemble

A living cell may be analogically visualized as grand canonical ensemble and a macro system. The myriad chemical reactions that go on in the cell may be viewed as a family of reactions in micro states which allows us to presume that the entropy change of these reactions follow normal distribution, hence follow hierarchy without disturbing the thermodynamic equilibrium of the cell  with its surroundings but a living cell dies if isolated from its enviornment indicating that the living cell is in steady state. Obviously some reactions at the extreme tail end of the distribution curve will have to move towards decreased entropy. It must be noted here that cells age over time that is they do change though very slowly.
The genome [a discrete sub system] of higher organism with higher percent of A-T pairs than thermodynamically favored G-C pairs indicates that genomic processes are non spontaneous that take entropy [change] to less than zero and to maintain this state cell processes are directed by the genome to expend work. Recent experimental work of Craig Venter and his team clearly proves7 that genomic processes have primacy over cell processes so much so that cell structure and functions are reorganized as per the genetic programmes.


The genome [a discrete sub system] in a cell of higher organism with higher percent of A-T pairs than thermodynamically favored G-C pairs is similar to an air plane in flight or pumping water to over head tank which are non spontaneous. The difference is that genome and cell are self operating. Life is not about the individual chemical reactions that go on in the cell but is about the non spontaneous functioning of the genome. Genome and the cell as living systems are more than the individual chemical reactions that go on inside them. Self programmability and self drive are the emergent system’s properties of the genome. Failure to recognize non spontaneous functioning of genome leads to vain science.
A living cell is akin to Gibbs grand canonical ensemble which is also a living system due to the emergent properties self programmability, consciousness and will. A cell maintains thermal and material equilibrium with its surroundings under the control of genome which acts non spontaneously. An ensemble may or may not evolve into a system. More clearly self programmability, consciousness and will are emergent properties of the system of organised matter [including energy] when it is in the state of life.


  1. George Wald, The origin of life, Molecules to living cells, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1980, San Francisco.
  2. Philip C Hanawalt, Protein Structure and Function: Assembly of Viruses and Ribosomes, 1980, ibid.
  3. Volkenshtein, M.V., Bio physics, MIR Publishers, 1983, Moscow.
  4. Arndt, P.F., Hwa, T., Petrov, D.A., Substantial Regional Variation in Substitution Rates in the Human Genome : Importance of GC content, Gene Density, and Telomere-Specific Effects, J. Mol. Evol. 2005, 60: 748-763.
  5. Yeremin, E.N., Fundamentals of Chemical Thermodynamics, MIR Publishers, 1983, Moscow.
  6. Daniel G. Gibson, et al, Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome, / / 20 May 2010 / Page 1 / 10.1126/science. 1190719.

Other Important References

  1. May see this link for quick reference to Venter’s experiment: Venter builds Wald’s Machine, in this collection.
  2. May see this link for quick reference on ensembles: &
  3. Gladyshev, Georgi. WHAT IS LIFE? BIO-PHYSICAL PERSPECTIVES [Internet]. Version 21. Knol. 2009 Oct 16. Available from:
  4. Gladyshev, Georgi. Science, evolution and reality,
  5. Gladyshev, Geogi. Synergetics is the knowledge in pictures,
  6. Bose,J.C. 1927, The Unity of Life,[ as reproduced in], Every man’s Science , Vol.XXXIX,NO.4,Oct.-Nov.2004,
  1. Aryanism: Arya Dharma
  2. Hindu in the Contemporary India
  3. Life, Consciousness and Evolution
  4. Bhil Nadu
  5. Engineering Education
  6. Unbound Intelligence – Review
  7. Laws of Biology
  8. Genopsych : collection
  9. Libet’s puzzle
  10. Survival strategies of living systems
  11. New Ideas
  12. घंटाघर
  13. चांदनी रात
  14. Colosseum
  15. ఇప్పుడు కాదండీ
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  17. ద్రోహి
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  20. चंगुल
  21. పరోక్షం
  22. India
  23. Temples of Sand
  24. సమయం
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  26. లోకం పోకడ
  27. శఫరి
  28. బానిసత్వం
  29. ఆలోచన
  30. గొంగళి
  31. సామి
  32. కాల భైరవం
  33. రాజకీయం
  34. స్వేఛ్చ కోసం
  35. గోగు పూలు
  36. పరిశోధన
  37. వైరం
  38. గాంధీ గారు
  39. Blind faith in old science
  40. వాస్తవం
  41. ఆనాటి శఫరి
  42. ప్రయాణం
  43. వైనం
  44. Conscious systems and the third law of biology
  45. గుగ్గిళ్ళు
  46. Sir JC Bose and the second law of biology
  47. Entropy and its dual nature
  48. Living Systems
  49. మాయం
  50. ఎడారి మయూరి
  51. మేఘ నిరసన
  52. రాగ రాగిణి
  53. వెబ్ లో తెలుగు సినిమా పాటలు
  54. పెద్దల మాట
  55. ఉలుకు పలుకు
  56. పునరాలోచన
  57. Reality of the Self
  58. నా కధ
  59. అనివార్యం
  60. ఒకనాటి కల
  61. మార్పు
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  63. ఆటవికులు
  64. మట్టి దిండు
  65. వేకువ ఝామున
  66. శక్తి
  67. సమీక్ష
  68. లెక్కలు
  69. వెన్నెట్లో పూల పందిట్లో
  70. నిశ్చయమైన విషయం
  71. అధ్భుతమైన స్వప్నం
  72. నిన్నటి అందం
  73. Eddington’s Psycho-Syndrome
  74. అగ్ని ప్రక్షాళన
  75. వెర్రి వాడు
  76. వాన
  77. వర్షం
  78. తెల్లవారని తెలివి
  79. యశస్వి
  80. సునామీ
  81. యాక్ ఛి
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  83. మర్దిన్చవే నా చెల్లీ
  84. హిందోళ
  85. స్వర్గం
  86. గుప్త చిత్రం
  87. దేవుడు లేని దగ్గర
  88. ఎడారి
  89. మహా మార్గం
  90. నేను, పర్వతం
  91. గోడు
  92. సన్న్ద్ది
  93. వెయ్యి దివ్వెలు
  94. అరణ్య రాజ్యం
  95. తీరని కోర్క
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  97. వెన్నెట్లో దిగులు
  98. కాకి గోల
  99. విశ్వరూపం
  100. సింగూరు
  101. ఒప్పుకుంది
  102. ప్రియురాలి అందం
  103. శివరంజని
  104. కవితా వేదన
  105. దుమారం
  106. గావు కేకలు
  107. తాళం లేని ద్వారం
  108. అంతంలేని చోటు
  109. మృత సముద్రం
  110. కల్లుకుండ
  111. ఈత చెట్టు
  112. నేస్తాలు
  113. తను
  114. శఫరి
  115. The paradox of life
  116. Castes in the Court
  117. Genopsych
  118. The properties of living systems
  119. Plants and human health
  120. Evolution of Human Societies
  121. Sindollu
  122. Seetha Katha
  123. Venter builds Wald’s machine
  124. The primacy of DNA as a unit of life
  125. The drive and the direction of evolution
  126. Aryan, Arya and Ayyanar
  127. Capacitor like electronic structures of DNA
  128. Thorleif Wathne
  129. Random Birds
  130. Phosphates in agriculture
  131. Poturaju