Statistical mechanics in biology: how ubiquitous are long-range correlations?

H. E. Stanley, S. V. Buldyrev, A. L. Goldberger, Z. D. Goldberger, S. Havlin, R. N. Mantegna, S. M. Ossadnik, C. K. Peng, M. Simons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


The purpose of this opening talk is to describe examples of recent progress in applying statistical mechanics to biological systems. We first briefly review several biological systems, and then focus on the fractal features characterized by the long-range correlations found recently in DNA sequences containing non-coding material. We discuss the evidence supporting the finding that for sequences containing only coding regions, there are no long-range correlations. We also discuss the recent finding that the exponent α characterizing the long-range correlations increases with evolution, and we discuss two related models, the insertion model and the insertion-deletion model, that may account for the presence of long-range correlations. Finally, we summarize the analysis of long-term data on human heartbeats (up to 104 heart beats) that supports the possibility that the successive increments in the cardiac beat-to-beat intervals of healthy subjects display scale-invariant, long-range "anti-correlations" (a tendency to beat faster is balanced by a tendency to beat slower later on). In contrast, for a group of subjects with severe heart disease, long-range correlations vanish. This finding suggests that the classical theory of homeostasis, according to which stable physiological processes seek to maintain "constancy," should be extended to account for this type of dynamical, far from equilibrium, behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-253
Number of pages40
JournalPhysica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 1994


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