Information-Theoretic Models of Communication in Biological Systems
This thesis aims to find general principles governing the behaviour of biological systems, with a particular emphasis in the communicational (social) aspect of these systems. Communication between biological entities plays a major role in their evolution, enabling them to exchange information about their environment and thereby improving their chances of survival. Communication also plays a pivotal role in the organisation of populations of organisms, clearly observed in social insects, but present also at least in bacteria, plants, fungi, animals and humans. It is also theorised that the genetic code is a by-product of the establishment of an innovation-sharing protocol between primitive cells [Vetsigian et al., 2006]. This thesis is mainly concerned with identifying necessary conditions for the emergence of communicational codes, and the problems that arise with their establishment. For this purpose, we introduce an information-theoretic framework where species maximise their growth rate by following a Kelly-gambling strategy to bet on environmental conditions. Information theory provides a powerful tool for abstracting away mechanisms and for focusing on hard limits of a system's dynamics which cannot be circumvented. We begin by exploring the relation between information exchange and limited resources. We show that a transition from cooperation to antagonism in the exchange of environmental information follows from a change in the availability of resources, from abundant to scarce. We then assume a non-competitive scenario with abundance of resources, where conflicts in a population occur only at a communicational (informational) level, rather than on the physical level, such as competing for (physical) resources. However, traditional Shannon communication is non-semantic, as opposed to the semantic communication observed in biological systems, which is necessary for capturing conflicts in communication. In the traditional use of information theory, it is assumed that every organism knows how to \interpret" the information offered by other organisms. However, this assumes that one \knows" which other organisms one observes, and thus which code they use. In our model, however, we wish to preclude that: namely, we will do away with the assumption that the identity of the organisms who send the messages and those who receive them is known, and the resulting usable information is therefore influenced by the universality of the code used and by which organisms an organism is \listening" to. We introduce a model which captures semantic communication in information-theoretic terms, where organisms talk to each other in a communication network. We show that, for particular population structures, when organisms cannot identify which other organisms they talk to, the adoption of a universal code emerges as a solution for full interpretation of the shared information. However, the evolution and establishment of universal codes for communication introduces vulnerabilities: organisms can be exploited by parasites. We de ne two types of parasites whose strategies have different levels of complexity and study the co-evolution of a host (the population) and a parasite by optimising their respective objective functions in stages. First, we consider a disruptive parasite (a troll) that inflicts harm in a host by minimising a population's mutual understanding, and then a more complex parasite, which manipulates the members of the population via their codes (the puppetmaster). We show emergent characterisations of both parasites, as well as which host configurations are robust against parasites and show adaptive properties. This thesis introduces a framework which allows the study of informational properties in the host-parasite co-evolution, where the rules of the parasite's habitat, the host, are the outcome of an evolutionary process, and where these very same rules are those that allow the parasite to exploit the host.