Stuart Kauffman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Stuart Kauffman
Stuart Kauffman.jpg
Stuart Kauffman in April 2010
Born (1939-09-28) September 28, 1939 (age 74)

Stuart Alan Kauffman (born September 28, 1939) is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth.

In 1967 and 1969 Kauffman proposed "Random Boolean Networks" as very early models of large genetic regulatory networks, proposing that cell types are dynamical attractors of such networks and that cell differentiation steps are transitions between attractors. Recent evidence strongly suggests that cell types in humans and other organisms are indeed attractors. In 1973 he suggested that the zygote may not access all the cell type attractors in the repertoire of the genetic network's dynamics, hence some of the unused cell types might be cancers. This suggested the possibility of "cancer differentiation therapy", for which some evidence is now accumulating. In 1971, Kauffman proposed the self-organized emergence of collectively autocatalytic sets of polymers, specifically peptides, for the origin of molecular reproduction.[1][2] Reproducing peptide, DNA, and RNA collectively autocatalytic sets have now been made experimentally.[3][4] Wagner and Askkenazy's (2008) results demonstrate that molecular replication need not be based on DNA or RNA template replication, still the dominate view for the origin of life. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for applying models of Boolean networks to simplified genetic circuits. His hypotheses stating that cell types are attractors of such networks, and that genetic regulatory networks are "critical", have found experimental support.[5][6]. It now appears that the brain is also dynamically critical.


Kauffman graduated from Dartmouth in 1960, was awarded the BA (Hons) by Oxford University (where he was a Marshall Scholar) in 1963, and completed a medical degree (M.D.) at the University of California, San Francisco in 1968. After completing his residency in Emergency Medicine, he moved into developmental genetics of the fruitfly, holding appointments first at the University of Chicago, then at the University of Pennsylvania from 1975 to 1995, where he rose to Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Kauffman held a MacArthur Fellowship, 1987–1992.

Kauffman rose to prominence through his association with the Santa Fe Institute (a non-profit research institute dedicated to the study of complex systems), where he was faculty in residence from 1986 to 1997, and through his work on models in various areas of biology. These included autocatalytic sets in origin of life research, gene regulatory networks in developmental biology, and fitness landscapes in evolutionary biology. Kauffman holds the founding broad biotechnology patents in combinatorial chemistry and applied molecular evolution.[7]

In 1996, Kauffman started BiosGroup, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based for-profit company that applied complex systems methodology to business problems. BiosGroup was acquired by NuTech Solutions[8] in early 2003. NuTech was bought by Netezza in 2008.

From 2004 to 2009 Kauffman held a joint appointment at the University of Calgary in Biological Sciences and Physics and Astronomy. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. He was an iCORE (Informatics Research Circle of Excellence) [9] chair and the director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics.

In January 2009 Kauffman became a Finland Distinguished Professor (FiDiPro) at Tampere University of Technology, Department of Signal Processing. The appointment is until the end of 2012. The subject of the FiDiPro research project is the development of delayed stochastic models of genetic regulatory networks based on gene expression data at the single molecule level.[10]

In January 2010 Kauffman joined the University of Vermont faculty where he will continue his work with UVM's Complex Systems Center.[11] He is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum. He is now associated with the Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle.

Kauffman and M. Ballivet hold the founding patents on what became combinatorial chemistry, filed in 1985 and issued in many countries. With G. Vattay and S. Niiranen, he holds a new patent about to issue in the Fall of 2014 on "The Poised Realm" which hovers reversibly between quantum coherence and the "classical world".


Kauffman is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection.

Some biologists and physicists working in Kauffman's area reserve judgment on Kauffman's claims about self-organization and evolution. A case in point is the introduction to the 2002 book "Self Organization in Biological Systems".[12] Roger Sansom's Ingenious Genes: How Gene Regulation Networks Evolve to Control Development (MIT Press, 2011) is an extended criticism of Kauffman's models. Kauffman's recent work translates his biological findings to the mind body problem and issues in neuroscience, proposing attributes of a new "poised realm" that hovers indefinitely between quantum coherence and classicality. Kauffman published on this topic in Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing.[13] With colleagues Giuseppe Longo and Maël Montévil, Stuart Kauffman wrote (January 2012) "No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere,"[14] which aims to show that evolution is not law entailed, as is physics, and that, without selection, evolution enables its own future possibilities. This topic is also discussed in Stuart Kauffman's "Prolegomenon to Patterns in Evolution, BioScience June 2014. If no laws entail the evolution of the biosphere, which is part of the universe, then strong Reductive Materialism hoping for laws that entail all that arises in the universe are probably false.

Kauffman's "NK" fitness landscapes have been widely applied in biology and economics. His concept of the ever new and typically unprestatable "Adjacent Possible", discussed in "Reinventing the Sacred", is finding wider currency. If "unprestatable", then "sufficient reason" fails us. How do we live forward not knowing even what CAN happen? Recent work with T. Felin, R. Koppl, G. Longo argues that we cannot prestate the evolution of the economy creating new goods and production capacities that flows into the very adjacent possibilities it, largely unknowingly, creates. Similar work with the above and C. Devins, argues that we also largely cannot prestate the evolution of the law into its own ever new and partially unprestatable adjacent possibles.


Select bibliography

  • 1993, Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution, Oxford University Press, Technical monograph. ISBN 0-19-507951-5
  • 1995, At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. Oxford University Press.
  • 2000, Investigations. Oxford University Press.
  • 2008, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion. [Basic Books] - ISBN 0-465-00300-1
  • 2015, "Humanity in a Creative Universe", in preparation Oxford University Press, N.Y.

Selected articles

  • 1969, "Metabolic stability and epigenesis in randomly constructed genetic nets," in: Journal of Theoretical Biology, 22:437–467, 1969.
  • 1991, "Antichaos and Adaptation," in: Scientific American, August 1991.
  • 2004, "Prolegomenon to a General Biology", in William A. Dembski, Michael Ruse, eds., Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, Cambridge University Press.
  • 2004, "Autonomous Agents", in John D. Barrow, P.C.W. Davies, and C.L. Harper Jr., eds., Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity, Cambridge University Press.

About Stuart Kauffman

  • MacKenzie, Dana (2002). "The Science of Surprise", Discover Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 2, 59–63, February 2002.
  • Kauffman about Kauffman: (Video)
  • Goldstein, Jeffrey A. (2008). Book Review of "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion", by Stuart Kauffman. In Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 10(3), 117–130.
  • Di Bernardo, M., I sentieri evolutivi della complessità biologica nell'opera di S. A. Kauffman, Mimesis, Milano 2011.


  1. ^ Kauffman, S. A. (1971) Cellular Homeostasis, Epigenesis, and Replication in Randomly Aggregated Macromolecular Systems. Journal of Cybernetics 1, 71- 96
  2. ^ Kauffman, SA (2011) Approaches to the Origin of Life on Earth. Life. 1(1), 34-48; doi:10.3390/life1010034
  3. ^ Dadon Z, Wagner N, Ashkenasy G (2008) "The Road to Non-Enzymatic Molecular Networks" Angew. Chem. Int. 47, 6128.
  4. ^ Dadon Z, Wagner N, Cohen-Luria R, and Ashkenasy G. (2012) Reaction Networks. In: Ed. Gale PA and Steed JW. Supramolecular Chemistry: From Molecules to Nanomaterials. John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-470-74640-0.
  5. ^ Huang, S. and Kauffman, S. A. (2009) Complex Gene Regulatory Networks - from Structure to Biological Observables: Cell Fate Determination. Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science, Editor : R. A. Meyers, Book Title: Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science,Publisher: Springer,ISBN: ISBN 978-0-387-75888-6
  6. ^ Nykter, M., Price, N. D., Aldana, M., Ramsey, S. A., Kauffman, S. A., Hood, L., Yli-Harja, O. and Shmulevich, I. (2008) Gene Expression Dynamics in the Macrophage Exhibit Criticality. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105(6): 1897-1900
  7. ^ US 5,723,323," Method of identifying a stochastically-generated peptide, polypeptide, or protein having ligand binding property and compositions thereof"
  8. ^ Letterhead
  9. ^ iCORE Home
  10. ^ "Projects and professors selected by Tekes to the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme (FiDiPro)". March 20, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Stuart Kauffman, complex systems pioneer, to join UVM faculty". Retrieved November 27, 2009. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Kauffman, S. (2012). "Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing" in The Once and Future Turing Eds. Barry Cooper and Andrew Hodges, Cambridge University Press.
  14. ^ Longo G, Montévil M, and Kauffman S (2012) No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of ...,

External links[edit]