Genomic Complexity and a Hierarchy of Regulation

The regulatory interactions of protein expression in complex organisms can in some ways be related to many natural systems of government as they relate to the size of the population they regulate. It seems that the simpler an organism (as defined by the size of its genome and the variety of its protein products) the more autocratic its regulatory systems tend to be. That is, a bacteria can have dozens of gene products linked to only one regulatory mechanism. As organic systems become more complex, genomes become larger and regulation becomes more diversely distributed and democratic. This author uses the concept of “middle management” to describe this regulatory hierarchy. He goes on to explain that the evolution toward democracy in regards to higher order organisms seems to be linked directly to survivability in regards to environmental stresses and challenges to the organizational system itself. More complexity means less direct control but also less risk in the case of disaster.

I find this an excellent correlate to understanding the evolution of human government over the past several thousand years, especially in relation to one of my favorite principles: demographic determinism. Population size and wealth/power distribution direct the formation of government as stresses play against each other to produce an oscillation between control/efficiency and survivability. A government, like an organism, sacrifices efficiency for the sake of stability as its genome grows and develops. It would be simple to look at this similarity and suggest the natural brilliance of democracy; however, when seen as a product of complexity, rather than as cause of complexity, it appears to be the natural compromise to progress, rather than progress itself. Given this knowledge, is it possible to seek an enlightened autocracy that reflects the flexibility of democracy without the drawbacks of its inefficiency? It would seem that nature has not yet found a way.

I, therefore, appreciate the power and longevity of the simple, autocratic bacteria, of which there are likely more individuals on the surface of your computer screen than all the humans which have ever lived through all of time.