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Strategies of Explanatory Abstraction in Molecular Systems BiologyI consider three explanatory strategies from recent systems biology that are driven by mathematics as much as mechanistic detail. Analysis of differential equations drives the first strategy; topological analysis of network motifs drives the second; mathematical theorems from control engineering drive the third. I also distinguish three abstraction types: aggregates, being elements grouped into single composites; generalizations, being classes formed from instances; and structures, akin to positions held by occupants. Using a common explanandum as reference point—namely, the robust perfect adaptation of chemotaxis in Escherichia coli—I argue that each strategy invokes a different combination of abstraction types.
University of Alabama in Huntsville