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Peter Schuster's concept of sequence space and shape space


Low and high dimensional landscapes
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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To reach the highest mountain in Europe starting, let's say, from Hamburg. I choose Hamburg because it's a pretty low point, it's at the coast and no elevation. There are very minor hills near Hamburg, hills that are berg, which are perhaps 100 metres high also. If you do that in a landscape like the two-dimensional surface landscape of earth, you get stuck there, because in order to continue you would have to make a jump into the Hartz Mountains, to the Brocken. There you would be 1100 metre high or almost 1200 metre high. And I should say that I brought the example of the raindrop running downhill, evolution is a very similar... but we don't say evolution runs downhill, we say evolution runs uphill to the most fittest point. But the mechanics behind it, which you can form in mathematical equations, is a very similar one. So you... this theory all has been carried out and it's been shown. So here we have a mechanism... evolution, selection... provides you with a mechanism to go uphill wherever there's a gradient to go uphill. But if you are near Hamburg at these little hills here, you would have to make a jump of some 50 kilometres or even more to get to the next gradient, that means to the Hartz Mountains. And from the Hartz Mountains you would have to make also jumps of hundreds of kilometres to get to the next higher mountains, let's say to the Great Arber in Czechoslovakia. And from there you have to make another big jump to get to the Alps, and once you are in the Alps your jumpings might become a little bit shorter in order to reach finally the Mont Blanc.

So, in other words on a low dimensional landscape you would have to make very big jumps and the mutations would be too rare. So that's why people found it difficult to get this. Now Peter Schuster could show that in a high dimensional landscape that's very different. You always are close to some sizeable mountain from which you can go on, and if your population is large enough you can do so.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: Hamburg, Hartz Mountains, Brocken, Great Arber, Czechoslovakia, Großer Arber, Alps, Mont Blanc, Peter K Schuster

Duration: 2 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008