Information Theory and the Living System

Lila L. Gatlin

Life may be defined operationally as an information processing system- a structural hierarchy of functioning units-that has acquired through evolution the abi lity to store and process the information necessary for its own accurate reproduction. The key word in the definition is information. This definition, like all definitions of life, is relative to the environment. My reference system is the natural environment we find on this planet. However, I do not think that life has ever been defined even operationally in terms of information. This entire book constitutes a first step toward such a definition. It is obvious from a simple inspection of the language of the biologist that the word info rmation is indispensable. It appears on page after page of any modern biology textbook. For example, Stent (1963) states that mutations are: "a sudden change in informational content of the hereditary substance" ; "bacterial viruses are the carriers of a complex hereditary apparatus whose informational content must be very high" ; " these viruses bring into the host cell sufficient genetic information for the construction of a ll enzymes . .. "; etc. The word is vital to the vocabulary of the biologist.

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