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Theor Biol Med Model. 2010 Aug 11;7:32. doi: 10.1186/1742-4682-7-32.

Network, degeneracy and bow tie. Integrating paradigms and architectures to grasp the complexity of the immune system.

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Interdept, Center Luigi Galvani for Bioinformatics, Biophysics and Biocomplexity (CIG), University of Bologna, Via F, Selmi 3, 40126 Bologna, Italy.


Recently, the network paradigm, an application of graph theory to biology, has proven to be a powerful approach to gaining insights into biological complexity, and has catalyzed the advancement of systems biology. In this perspective and focusing on the immune system, we propose here a more comprehensive view to go beyond the concept of network. We start from the concept of degeneracy, one of the most prominent characteristic of biological complexity, defined as the ability of structurally different elements to perform the same function, and we show that degeneracy is highly intertwined with another recently-proposed organizational principle, i.e. 'bow tie architecture'. The simultaneous consideration of concepts such as degeneracy, bow tie architecture and network results in a powerful new interpretative tool that takes into account the constructive role of noise (stochastic fluctuations) and is able to grasp the major characteristics of biological complexity, i.e. the capacity to turn an apparently chaotic and highly dynamic set of signals into functional information.

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