A sign-theoretic approach to biotechnology

Research output: PhD thesis

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In the first chapter I review the historical challenge that the concept of “biological information” has posed (and still poses) to molecular biology in particular and to biology in general. Another issue that comes forward is the recurrence in the history of biology of notions related to “goal-oriented-behaviour” and “emergence”. The chapter ends by identifying a very strong and spread trend in life sciences that sees biology at different hierarchical levels as “the science of sensing”. I point out that this is something that the biosemiotic paradigm has been claiming throughout its development in the last three decades.
In chapter two I make a short and instrumental introduction of the biosemiotic paradigm and of the logic behind triadic causality. I present the integrative concept of biological information that has been developed in biosemiotics, based on Gregory Bateson’s “biological cybernetics” and on Charles Peirce’s semiotics. I also provide a brief overview of current knowledge about genome architecture, evolution and communication. I stress the importance of not neglecting the fact that there is no simple linear relation between genotype and phenotype. In section 2.5, I present a “toolbox” of concepts for ”mapping” semiotic networks across hierarchical levels and for relating the different emergent codes in living systems. I consider this an important part of the work because there I define some of the main concepts that will help me to analyse different codes and semiotic processes in living systems in order to exemplify what is the relevance of a sign-theoretic approach to biotechnology. In particular, I introduce the notion of digital-analogical consensus as a semiotic pattern for the creation of complex logical products that constitute specific signs. The chapter ends with some examples of conspicuous semiotic interactions that come forward in different kinds of empirical studies at different hierarchical levels.
Given the central role that the elucidation of signal transduction networks has acquired in the “integrative agenda” in biology, in chapter three I go into some of the details of these networks in order to exemplify how a semiotic approach can be of help when organising the knowledge that can lead us to understanding the relevance, the role and the position of signal transduction networks in relation to the larger semiotic networks in which they function, i.e.: in the hierarchical formal processes of mapping, translation, transformation and transmission of information. The idea is also to investigate how this debate may influence the “integrative agenda” in biology, especially at a time in which biotechnology is considered to be the industrial use of “biological information”. I introduce concepts such as the “signalome” and the “embryonic signalome” and I use the “Ca2+ code” to advance a hypothesis of how a cellular system achieves the necessary categorial perception that allows it to avoid undesirable cross-talk by using the semiotic patterns that I have called digital-analogical consensus. After having exemplified some of the “applications” of the toolbox for mapping semiotic networks, I proceed towards a general definition of biosemiotic technology. I furnish some examples of current technological developments that qualify as biosemiotic technology including some of their possible future developments. Finally I make a connection between a sign-theoretic approach to biotechnology and sustainability, with a glimpse into the future.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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