The calculation of information and organismal complexity

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Background: It is difficult to measure precisely the phenotypic complexity of living organisms. Here we propose a method to calculate the minimal amount of genomic information needed to construct organism (effective information) as a measure of organismal complexity, by using permutation and combination formulas and Shannon's information concept.Results: The results demonstrate that the calculated information correlates quite well with the intuitive organismal phenotypic complexity defined by traditional taxonomy and evolutionary theory. From viruses to human beings, the effective information gradually increases, from thousands of bits to hundreds of millions of bits. The simpler the organism is, the less the information; the more complex the organism, the more the information. About 13% of human genome is estimated as effective information or functional sequence.Conclusions: The effective information can be used as a quantitative measure of phenotypic complexity of living organisms and also as an estimate of functional fraction of genome.Reviewers: This article was reviewed by Dr. Lavanya Kannan (nominated by Dr. Arcady Mushegian), Dr. Chao Chen, and Dr. ED Rietman (nominated by Dr. Marc Vidal). © 2010 Jiang and Xu; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Jiang, Y., & Xu, C. (2010). The calculation of information and organismal complexity. Biology Direct, 5.

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