A recently discovered law of physics could help predict genetic mutations

The discovery might have significant effects on cosmology, physics, evolutionary biology, and genome research.
Baba Tamim
An illustration of DNA mutation
An illustration of DNA mutation


Researchers from the University of Portsmouth, UK, have discovered a new law of physics that could help predict genetic mutations before they occur.

The study found that the second law of information dynamics, or 'infodynamics,' behaves differently from the second law of thermodynamics.

"If we can start looking at genetic mutations from a deterministic point of view, we can exploit this new physics law to predict mutations - or the probability of mutations - before they take place," said Dr. Melvin Vopson, study's lead author and senior lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at the university.

The discovery could have massive implications for future developments in genome research, evolutionary biology, computing, big data, physics, and cosmology, according to a press release published by the university in July.

Changes to the gene sequences in the DNA of living things, including viruses, lead to genetic mutations. These mutations cause permanent modifications to the DNA sequence of the gene, which have been crucial to the evolution of humans over time.

However, spontaneous genetic disorders that are not inherited can occasionally develop due to mutations and be passed on to an individual's offspring.

These mutations can be challenging to predict early on. In recent years, researchers have started utilizing machine learning to improve our capacity to anticipate the possibility of such genetic changes.

"If the second law of thermodynamics states that entropy needs to stay constant or increase over time, I thought that perhaps information entropy would be the same," said Dr. Vopson

"But what Dr. Lepadatu and I found was the exact opposite – it decreases over time. The second law of information dynamics works exactly in opposition to the second law of thermodynamics," he added.

According to Dr. Vopson, this could drive genetic mutations in biological organisms.

Dr. Vopson, who co-authored this study with Dr. Serban Lepadatu of the University of Central Lancashire, investigates information systems ranging from a laptop disc to the DNA and RNA in living organisms.

Examining Covid-19

Vopson and the team also examined the COVID-19 genomes as part of their research.

While examining real Covid-19 (Sars-CoV-2) genomes, the team discovered that their information entropy decreased over time instead of rising: "The best example of something that undergoes a number of mutations in a short space of time is a virus. The pandemic has given us the ideal test sample as Sars-CoV-2 mutated into so many variants, and the data available is unbelievable."

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"The Covid data confirms the second law of infodynamics, and the research opens up unlimited possibilities. Imagine looking at a particular genome and judging whether a mutation is beneficial before it happens. This could be game-changing technology which could be used in genetic therapies, the pharmaceutical industry, evolutionary biology, and pandemic research," the researcher explained.

Vopson and Lepadatu's study claims that the observations directly contradict the second rule of thermodynamics' description of the evolution of physical entropy. This conclusion has far-reaching ramifications for many other branches of science.

"In physics, there are laws that govern everything that happens in the universe, for example, how objects move, how energy flows, and so on. Everything is based on the laws of physics," said Dr. Vopson.

"One of the most powerful laws is the second law of thermodynamics, which establishes that entropy – a measure of disorder in an isolated system – can only increase or stay the same, but it will never decrease."

This is an undisputed law linked to the arrow of time, demonstrating that time only moves in one direction. The lead author adds it can only flow in one direction and cannot go backward.

The study was first published in AIP Advances, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

Study abstract:

One of the most powerful laws in physics is the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of any system remains constant or increases over time. In fact, the second law is applicable to the evolution of the entire universe and Clausius stated, “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” Here, we examine the time evolution of information systems, defined as physical systems containing information states within Shannon’s information theory framework. Our observations allow the introduction of the second law of information dynamics (infodynamics). Using two different information systems, digital data storage and a biological RNA genome, we demonstrate that the second law of infodynamics requires the information entropy to remain constant or to decrease over time. This is exactly the opposite to the evolution of the physical entropy, as dictated by the second law of thermodynamics. The surprising result obtained here has massive implications for future developments in genomic research, evolutionary biology, computing, big data, physics, and cosmology.

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