Wednesday, 6 September 2017

ECAL 2017, Wednesday

Day three of the European Conference of Artificial Life, in Lyon, with half a day of presentations, and half a day of excursions.

To start the day we had a keynote presentation by Csaba Pál on the Evolution of complex adaptations.  The emphasis here is that the current state of an evolved system, such as the complex bacterial flagellum, is not necessarily related to how it evolved.  The question is how can a system that needs several complex adaptations, each of which may be individually deleterious, actually evolve?  The answer is ... complicated.  There are many mechanisms, including non-adaptive origins such as neutral mutations, macro-mutations such as gene and chromosome duplications, mutations affecting multiple traits, pre-adaptation / exaptation, noise, dynamic environments, and more.  The four main methodological pillars used to research these issues are population genetics, systems biology, experimental evolution, and comparative genomics.  This great talk was another example of how nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of the phrase “but it’s more complicated than that”.

After coffee I went to the Artificial Chemistries track.  Structural Coupling of a Potts Model Cell examined the coupling between an organism and its environment, and how that affects the  morphological transition network.   Functional grouping analysis of varying reactor types in the Spiky-RBN AChem (my student’s paper) discussed an AChem where the binding properties are emergent properties of the composed molecules.  Time as It Could Be Measured in Artificial Living Systems discussed the simplest possible clocks that might be exploited by simple systems.  Finally, Delving Deeper into Homeostatic Dynamics of Reaction Diffusion Systems with a General Fluid Dynamics and Artificial Chemistry Model looked at a modification to a thermal Gray-Scott reaction-diffusion system that has a more physically plausible source and sink of material.

After lunch we had a choice of excursions: a vineyard, or old Lyon.  I chose the latter.  A bus took us up to the top of the old city, to the Basilica, an amazing building, cool grey stone on the outside, lush decoration on the inside.

Basilica front aspect
Basilica decorated ceiling
Basilica: one of many murals

Then it was back into the bus, and down the hill to the old town: narrow cobbled streets, tall old buildings, gorgeous smells of fresh food; hidden courtyards and towers, and secret passageways ("traboules") between the streets.  Then back on the bus to return to the hotel.

the old reflected in the new, seen through the bus window

The evening saw us all congregate for the conference dinner on the Hermès restaurant boat.  The boat seemed to spend a lot of time turning around.  GPS helped explain the reason: cast off; turn round to go south down the Rhône past the confluence; turn round to go north up the Saône; turn round to go south down the Saône past the confluence; turn round to go north up the Rhône back to the mooring.  Then back to the hotel using the excellent tram system.

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