Protein molecular evolution. From M. Deem.A recent article in the May 2007 APS News describes the use of a physics model to understand accelerations in evolution that occurred between the appearance of 1-celled organisms 3.5 billion years ago, multi-celled organisms 1 billion years ago, and everything other organism that has since appeared on earth in only the last billion years.
The modeling is by Michael Deem of Rice U. His model allows for "cross-species genetic exchange" - in effect DNA from one species is adopted by another which then realizes an evolutionary advantage. Successful DNA adoption is called HGT - Horizontal Gene Transfer. Deem’s approach is based on field-theoretic techniques. The net result: species can evolve much quicker because they contain fully-functioning "genetic modules" from another species. The implications for our own genome are startling, and it may be that a "significant portion of our DNA was donated by viruses and bacteria that infected our ancestors" over millennia.
In addition to evolution, Deem and his team are researching the immune response to viruses and vaccines, cystine-knot antimicrobials and the innate immune system, and the structure and nucleation of zeolites, using an assortment of models grafted from physics research. The physics of nuclear spin glass modeling is used in the virus work, e.g.
Deem’s research itself if a meta example of HGT - the use of physics models in biological systems.
The work on evolution is incredibly important. If not already, it will soon be attacked because of its controversial suggestions and, most important, success. I’m sure that creationists and intelligent design proponents are up in arms about anything showing that it is indeed possible for incredible complexity to develop in a Darwinian way in a relatively short period of time.
Not to mention sharing DNA modules with rather unsavory creatures and even lower forms of life.
For Deem and his research team, it’s just another example of physics as a way of life, and a way of understanding life.
Keep on modeling.