Networked buffering: a basic mechanism for distributed robustness in complex adaptive systems

James Whitacre, A Bender

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39 Citations (Scopus)
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A generic mechanism - networked buffering - is proposed for the generation of robust traits in complex systems. It requires two basic conditions to be satisfied: 1) agents are versatile enough to perform more than one single functional role within a system and 2) agents are degenerate, i.e. there exists partial overlap in the functional capabilities of agents. Given these prerequisites, degenerate systems can readily produce a distributed systemic response to local perturbations. Reciprocally, excess resources related to a single function can indirectly support multiple unrelated functions within a degenerate system. In models of genome:proteome mappings for which localized decision-making and modularity of genetic functions are assumed, we verify that such distributed compensatory effects cause enhanced robustness of system traits. The conditions needed for networked buffering to occur are neither demanding nor rare, supporting the conjecture that degeneracy may fundamentally underpin distributed robustness within several biotic and abiotic systems. For instance, networked buffering offers new insights into systems engineering and planning activities that occur under high uncertainty. It may also help explain recent developments in understanding the origins of resilience within complex ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTheoretical Biology and Medical Modelling
Issue number20
Early online date15 Jun 2010
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2010


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