Molecular Codes in Biological and Chemical Reaction Networks
Shannon’s theory of communication has been very successfully applied for the analysis of biological information. However, the theory neglects semantic and pragmatic aspects and thus cannot directly be applied to distinguish between (bio-) chemical systems able to process “meaningful” information from those that do not. Here, we present a formal method to assess a system’s semantic capacity by analyzing a reaction network’s capability to implement molecular codes. We analyzed models of chemical systems (martian atmosphere chemistry and various combustion chemistries), biochemical systems (gene expression, gene translation, and phosphorylation signaling cascades), an artificial chemistry, and random reaction networks. Our study suggests that different chemical systems posses different semantic capacities. No semantic capacity was found in the model of the martian atmosphere chemistry, the studied combustion chemistries, and highly connected random networks, i.e. with these chemistries molecular codes cannot be implemented. High semantic capacity was found in the studied biochemical systems and in random reaction networks where the number of second order reactions is twice the number of species. We conclude that our approach can be applied to evaluate the information processing capabilities of a chemical system and may thus be a useful tool to understand the origin and evolution of meaningful information, e.g. in the context of the origin of life.