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"Куда идет мир? Каково будущее науки? Как "объять необъятное", получая образование - высшее, среднее, начальное? Как преодолеть "пропасть двух культур" - естественнонаучной и гуманитарной? Как создать и вырастить научную школу? Какова структура нашего познания? Как управлять риском? Можно ли с единой точки зрения взглянуть на проблемы математики и экономики, физики и психологии, компьютерных наук и географии, техники и философии?"

Alexander V. Oleskin, Cao Boyang

Prof. Alexander V. Oleskin, General Ecology Dept., Biology Faculty, Moscow State University,

Cao Boyang, Shenzen MSU-BIT University, Fundamental and Systemic Biology Master’s Degree Program


The present Master’s Degree project aims to compare two kinds of decentralized network structures: (i) networks composed of interconnected plants tissues and organs as well as of whole plant organisms and their groups that exchange signals enabling them to perceive information (e.g., about the invasion of insect pests); this paart of the project includes experimental research aimed at detecting intraorganismic neuroactive signals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, as well as their precursors and metabolites and (ii) networks formed by environmental activists that specialize in plant resource protection and, in an analogy to plants, set up decentralized distributed network structures which promote the local, regional, and global coordination of their efforts. This comparative study enables making organizational recommendations for environmental specialists that focus on plant conservation.


1. Studying the literature on (a) decentralized network structures in connection with their role in the plant world, with special attention to communication mechanisms that enable their functioning at various organizational levels of plants and their communities/ecosystems and (b) networked organizations in human society, placing special emphasis on their application to the protection of the environment and, more specifically, of plant resources

2. Comparing the two literatures and putting forward organizational scenarios that are based on network paradigms used by plants and that prove applicable to the organization of networked social bodies dealing with plant resource conservation

3. Detecting neurochemical agents (important universal communicative signals) in selected plant species.


The present project deals with network structures in the plant world that exist both at the intra-organismic (networks in plant organs and tissues) and the inter-organismic, or superorganismic (plant populations and communities) levels. The network organization in the realm of plants and the communication factors that maintain it are considered in this work within the context of the global goal of protecting the flora of the planet and of each of its regions. Special emphasis is placed on the structural similarity between the organization of plant organisms and their communities –and that of the decentralized networked bodies of environmental activists who strive to protect the plant world. This is one of the focal points of modern biopolitics, particularly with respect to the situation in present-day China. It faces the challenge of effectively organizing environmental centers to protect natural resources at the level of the whole country and that of is technologically advanced regions as exemplified by the region that is centered around the Shenzhen–Hong-Kong conurbation.

Importantly, environmental protection has been one of the priorities in China in political terms. “China is a developing country. Now it is confronted with the dual task of developing the economy and protecting the environment. Proceeding from its national conditions, China has, in the process of promoting its overall modernization program, made environmental protection one of its basic national policies, regarded the realization of sustainable development as an important strategy and carried out throughout the country large-scale measures for pollution prevention and control as well as ecological environment protection” (Environmental Protection in China, 1996).


Biopolitics has been defined in the literature as “the totality of all kinds of interactions between the life sciences and politics, including both the political potential of biology and the biological implications of politics» (Oleskin, 2012, p.1). It should be noted that there are a number of biopolitical schools and individual biopoliticians who prefer less general definitions of this term. For instance, a group of political scientists belonging to the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS) interprets biopolitics mainly as the application of biological concepts including the theory of evolution to the analysis of human political behavior (Somit and Peterson, 2011).

In contrast, Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis (Greece), the President of the Biopolitics International Organization (BIO), considers the protection of bios, i.e., the global diversity of life, to be one of the core issues of biopolitics (Vlavianos-Arvanitis, 2003). Other biopoliticians from the USA (Walter Anderson) and Germany (V. Gerhardt) believed that biopolitics relates to political activities that are based on new knowledge in the field of the life sciences (Gerhardt, 2001, S.859), paying special attention to genetic technology and relevant political/legal regulations. Michel Foucault (2003), a prominent 20th century scholar in the field of the humanities, put forward a peculiar interpretation of biopolitics. He envisaged it as the spectrum of political measures aimed at influencing the biology of humans and, more specifically, bringing human reproduction, health state, and mortality, as well as the environment, under the political elite’s control.

Importantly, biopolitics forms a part of a still broader field that is sometimes referred to as the bio-humanities, which encompasses all contributions of the modern-day life sciences to our knowledge concerning humankind and society, irrespective of whether they are related to politics. The bio-humanities, apart from biopolitics, include bioetics, bio-esthetics, bio-philosophy, bio-semiotics, etc. (Oleskin, 2012).

Many biopoliticians draw comparisons between various forms of life (animals, plants, microorganisms) and humans. In particular, the collective (biosocial) systems that are formed by living organisms, including bacterial biofilms, plant communities, insect colonies, fish shoals, bird flocks, and ape troops, are compared with human social bodies. In this connection, special emphasis should be placed on the specific subfields of biopolitics that are of direct relevance to the subject of this work:

1. Behavioral (Ethological) Subfield of Biopolitics. Ethology is the field of science that deals with the behavior of living organisms. Ethology made spectacular progress durng the last several decades, although its conceptual underpinnings were created starting from the 1930s and the 1940s, thanks to the classical studies of Oscar Heinroth, Konrad Lorenz (and his disciple Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt), Nikko Tinbergen, Karl Frisch, and others. Classical ethology concentrated on innate species-specific behaviors under natural conditions. However, the subject of ethology was subsequently modified to include both innate and acquired (learned) behavior forms. Data on animal behaviors were applied, sometimes in a too straightforward and uncritical way, to human behavior, considering it from a new vantage-point. Of special importance were behavioral studies with our close evolutionary relatives such as apes. By the 1970s, human ethology was established as a new area of research. The popular-science book Naked Ape of the ethologist Desmond Morris (1967) was concerned with comparing the food-searching, reproductive, and self-protective behaviors of humans (“naked apes”) with those of other primates. In subsequent years, other books by Morris, e.g., The Human Zoo, saw the daylight. Tinbergen in his seminal work On War and Peace in Animals and Humans highlighted the important role of evolutionarily conserved behavior forms, including the protection of individual and group territories as well as dominance and submission (resulting in forming hierarchies), in human society.

In ethological terms, biopolitics focuses on the question: To what extent and in what respects can the social behavior of humans be compared to that of animals?

Biopoliticians conducted research on evolution-molded human behavioral predispositions and trends that promote aggression, nationalism, racism, terrorism, etc. The following issues were also raised:

(i) What evolutionarily conserved forms of social behavior related to dominance and submission influence political activities, including presidential elections, ethnic conflicts, and leader—follower relationships, as well as the democratic, authoritarian, or totalitarian political systems formed by people?

(ii) What human behaviors in political situations are not amenable to the ethological approach and are only accounted for by social, cultural, and spiritual factors?

In the book entitled Darwinism, Dominance, and Democracy, Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson (1997) asserted that nature has invested humans (like other social animal species) with an innate predisposition to establish hierarchical structures based on the dominance of powerful leaders. From this viewpoint, the idea of democracy is to be considered an artificial ‘brain child”, and, therefore, it is so fragile even in the modern-day “civilized” world, according to these biopoliticians. Nonetheless, democracy is feasible, in their opinon, to the extent to which our reason can harness the “savage” evolution-molded trends of human social behavior

Importantly, the term biopolitics can be interpreted from the ethological perspective, which should enable us to take into consideration analogous, quasi-political, phenomena in other sociable biological species from insects (and probably even unicellular organisms) to primates. According to Peter Corning (1983, 2003), politics in this broad sense includes management activities that involve decision-making concerning common or overlapping goals as well as communication and control processes that are necessary for achieving these goals. This approach to politics invokes cybernetics (Greek: ό, I govern), i.e. the science that deals with governance, control, and goal-setting in natural and technical systems.

2. Communicative Subfield of Biopolitics. Communication in the biological realm (bio-communication) is construed as information exchange among biological individuals (cells or multicellular organisms) and/or their groups. Commnication is a prerequisite for any kind of social behavior, since organisms can hardly engage in such behavior without exchanging messages. Communication has been extensively studied in various primates (lemur, monkey, and ape species), although it is also characteristic of other forms of life, notably including plants. In classical studies with chimpanzees, they could communicate to one another information about the location of objects, their type (Are they edible? Are these objects dangerous?), and number (see: Deryagina and Butovskaya, 2004).

From this perspective, human communication forms a part of bio-communiction. Human communication involves a large number of culturally modified archaic elements (typical messages) that are, nevertheless, similar to those of other primates. Of obvious biopolitical relevance are dominance and submission signals that are relatively uniform in many primate species (Masters, 2001).

An ancient (evolutionarily conserved) communication channel is based on chemical signals. Many types of signals are of biopolitical interest because they influence human social behavior. In this work, special attention will be given to the evolutionarily conserved substances called neurochemicals that are essential for the operation of human/animal nervous cells (neurons) and, in addition, perform an extremely wide variety of functions in living nature (see Chapter 6). Of direct relevance to this work, including its experimental section, is the synthesis of neurochemicals in plants and their diverse functions in the plant world.

3. Environmental Subfield of Biopolitics. The seminal work by Lynton Caldwell Biopolitics: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy (1964) and his subsequent publications (Caldwell, 1986, 1999) highlighted the set of biopolitical issues that deal with the environment. Long before the Chernobyl disaster, Caldwell emphasized the threat posed by radioactive fallout, the negative influence of fluorine compounds (that were widely used in the USA for water disinfection) on human health, and the potential impact of pesticides whose dangerous effects received sufficient attention only in the 1980s and 1990s. Caldwell’s attitude was called “environmental pessimism”, in contrast to “humanistic optimism” that only focuses on the technological progress of human civilization while ignoring the needs of all other forms of life. Alternatively, the attitude criticized by Caldwell and other biopoliticians is termed antropocetrism, while he adopted a version of biocentrism that concentrates on the conservation of living nature

Vlavianos-Arvanitis (2003) and the Biopolitics International Organization (BIO) headed by her also supported biocentrism. In a nutshell, her ides are as follows: (i) All humans collectively form a coherent entity, the “body of humankind” (ii) The “body of humankind” foms a part of the “body of bios” that also incorporates the whole manifold of life from microorganisms to fungi, plants, ad animals: (iii) The detrimental influence of humankind and its technology on the biological environment is comparable to damaging the organs of this “body of bios”, e.g., destroying forests is analogous to injuring an organism’s respiratory organs; and (iv) This destructive behavior of humankind toward the biosphere is not only dangerous for the whole planet and humankind itself; it is also immoral.

Such biocentric attitudes are advocated not only by those who call themselves biopoliticians. Of relevance in this context are the views of Meyer-Abich (1990). Drawing on the earlier work by von Uexküll (1921), he interpreted the originally German-language term Umwelt as the environment of a living organism to which it specifically responds according to the organism’s needs. «The earthworm’s world has only the earthworm’s things, the dragonfly’s world has only dragonfly’s things” (von Uexküll, 1921, S. 45). Meyer-Abich was convinced that thing in the world exist not only in order to meet human needs (as humankind’s resources); they also belong to the Umwelt of other biological species and form part of their “functional spheres”.

International organizations that deal with biopolitics focus on global environmental concerns, such as water, air, and soil pollution, environmental problems in megalopolises, and, which is of direct relevance to this work, the progressive deterioration of plant resources as well as of the whole Earth’s biodiversity.

Notably, forests have been destroyed recently at a rate of one hectare per day, while restoring the forest (the reforestation) on each of the hectares will take 15-20 years. During the course of the development of human civilization, over 42% of the initial area occupied by forests have been deforestated. Naturally, the deforestation tempo has been increasing For instance, about 40% of tropical rainforests were destroyed between 1955 and 1995. If the current rate of their destruction (ca. 15 million hectares per year) does not change, rainforests will be completely eliminated between 2030 and 2050. Forest elimination predominantly takes place in Third World countries. The countries of the West that destroyed most of their forests in the past are currently restoring, “recultivating” them; they protect the remnants of pristine forests and the recently planted trees from pollution (for instance, a whole campaign against forest deterioration, Waldsterben, has recently been carried out in Germany). However, the citizens of developing countries are not concerned about environmental problems in the face of more pressing concerns; they have to use archaic technology, including slash and burn agriculture, in order to provide subsistence for the rapidly growing population. One of the incentives for the intense exploitation of natural resources is that the developing countries are to pay their debt to the creditors from the West, which, therefore, are indirectly responsible for the deforestation of the Third World. It has recently been suggested, therefore, to waive a part of the developing countries’ debt or to give them more time to pay the debt, on condition that the debtors will protect their forests and the whole environment.

One of the BIO members, Prof. Papaioannu (1989), put forward a futuristic project envisaging the subdivision of the planet into two partially overlapping zones: the global city (ecumenopolis) and the global garden (ecumenokepos). The global garden should represent a continuous multi-level system ranging from small gardens (or even flower pots) to vast unpopulated areas of the Earth.

To re-iterate, protecting living nature has been one of the long-term priority goals of modern Chinese policies. In relevant official documents, starting from the 1980s, it has been emphasized that “the prevention and control of environmental pollution and ecological destruction and the rational exploitation and utilization of natural resources are of vital importance to the country’s overall interests and long-term development” (Environmental Protection in China, 1996). The aforementioned multi-level system of ameliorating the environment, particularly with respect to the plant world, has its important analogs in terms of modern Chinese policies vis-a-vis the environment. Special emphasis has been placed on “establishing and improving environmental protection organizations under governments at all levels, forming a rather complete environmental control system” (Environmental Protection in China, 1996).

However, protecting the environment and, in particular, plant resources, still remains a challenging mission for China. “China harbors one of the most species-rich floras in the world. This plant diversity is currently severely threatened by high levels of habitat degradation and unsustainable resource extraction, the country’s exceptionally fast economic growth, an uncontrolled increase in tourism, invasive species, and climate change” (Sang et al., 2011, p.720). Therefore, it is imperative that new efficient organizational structures and scenarios should be designed and tested in practice, in order to promote environmental conservation and plant resource protection on both the local and the national level; attaining this important goal calls for the development of a system of distributed networked environmental organizations (see below).

4. Organizational Subfield of Biopolitics. This subfield is aimed at revealing universal basic organizational patterns that are used both by biological systems and human society. These patterns exist regardless of the kind of systems, e.g. the forms of life, that implement them.

For instance, it is possible to classify biological and social systems into types, depending on whether (i) they are centralized (hierarchical) or decentralized (distributed) and (ii) interaction among their elements (network nodes) is predominantly cooperative or competitive. Systems that lack a centralized hierarchy and are characterized by prevalence of cooperation over competition are often referred to as decentralized network structures in the literature (Oleskin, 2014). This issue will be considered in more detail in this work, first in general terms and then specifically with regard to (a) plants and their communities and (b) networked environmental organizations that are concerned with flora protection.


Many scientists and scholars, especially those specializing in the currently popular nework science, define network structures as any “set of items, which we will call vertices or sometimes nodes, with connections between them, called edges” (Newman, 2003, p.2, emphasis added – C.B.). The term “network structure” in this meaning has been applied to various kinds of systems (Barabási, 2002; Newman, 2003, 2012; Newman et al., 2006; Almaas et al., 2007; Wey et al., 2008).

As for biology, network science has recently been applied (Hill et al., 2008; Wey et al., 2008) to animal social systems including fish shoals (Croft et al., 2008), bat colonies (Patriquin et al., 2010), meerkats groups (Madden et al., 2009), and chimpanzee troops (Le Hellaye et al., 2010). The network approach was used to elucidate dominance-submission relationship patterns in centralized (hierarchical) structures (de Vries et al., 2006). Of relevance is recent research on the nervous system and especially the brain, which has made good use of the neuronal network concept.

A more specific interpretation of the term “network structure” is predominantly used in the humanities and the social sciences (Thorelli, 1986; Powell, 1990; Castells, 1996, 2004; Börzel, 1998; Meulemann, 2008; Kahler, 2009). Not all structures composed of inteconnected nodes are to be called networks in terms of this interpretation. A network structure should not have a single center (leader, dominant element), and its behavior should result from cooperative interactions among its nodes that may include temporary, partial leaders that exert a limited influence on the whole structure. In part, the World Wide Web functions in compliance with this organizational principle.

It should be noted that, although the scientific term “network structure” was coined relatively recently, the notion of the network has been actually in use since time immemorial. The kind of network that was familiar to most people in the ancient world was the fishing net. This image was actually characterized by features that are also typical of the modern interdisciplinary network concept, including a lack of a central controlling agency, the interconnectedness of all network nodes (“meshes”), and fractal properties (a part of a network is a reduced copy of the whole network). In many networks, their nodes’ interconnectedness is based on a network-consolidating matrix. It consists of threads or ropes in a fishing net. In a bacterial colony or biofilm, it is made of biopolymer substances (proteins, polysaccharides, and nucleic acid molecules). An immaterial analog of such a matrix in human society is the set of social values, shared behavioral norms, and common goals that promote the functioning of a decentralized networked organization or enterprise without a central boss (or a CEO/Managing Director).

Decentralized distributed network structures that stimulate cooperation among their nodes represent a universal pattern that exists in various kinds of systems ranging from star clusters and crystals to ensembles of particles and technical devices. To re-iterate, this work is concerned with network structures in the plant world that ether form inside a plant organism (intra-organismic networks) or are composed of many interacting plants (inter-organismic networks). Such plant networks are compared with network structures in human society as exemplified by decentralized bodies formed by environmentalists specializing in protecting plant resources.

Network structures represent multi-component cooperative systems. Self-organization and efficient adaptation to environmental factors, also denoted as “collective self-education” (that is particularly characteristic of neuronal networks and their analogs), are among the typical features of non-hierarchical networks that lack a central controlling agency. Therefore, network structures are on the agenda of such recently developed areas of research as cybernetics, systems theory, and especially cynergetics. Cynergetics is an interdisciplinary field of science that addresses general patterns and phenomena in complex non-equilibrium systems that are based on the principle of self-organization (Knyazeva and Kurdyumov, 2007).


A large number of diverse biological systems are decentralized: cooperation among their components dominates over competition. For instance, “microbial colonies or biofilms consist of a multitude of cells, and a lack of a single central controlling unit does not prevent the effective coordination of social behavior… In a large number of biological systems, the term “network structure” can be interpreted not only in organizational, but also in geometrical terms. Predator dictyobacteria form nets that are composed of a large number of cells. Their prey (cells of other bacterial species) is trapped in their meshes” (Oleskin, 2014, p.18).

The aforementioned network-specific features also apply to networks formed by plants or their parts, including cells in the meristem, phloem, xylem, and other kinds of tissues; roots, rhizomes, and other underground plant organs; and fungal hyphae that form a part of various kinds of mycorrhiza systems. At a higher organizational level, decentralized networks are formed by plant populations and communities as exemplified by the forest cenosis of the Dayun Park in Shenzhen (China). In all likelihood, these multi-level distributed networks conform with the principles and scenarios that are characteristic of network structures in the animal world that have been more extensively researched recently. Drawing on this research on animal networks, I consider below the typical network organization patterns (paradigms) that also seem applicable to the realm of plants

1. Cellular Paradigm of Network Organization. Network structures are formed by various kinds of cells, including free-living unicellular organisms (microorganisms) and the ells of the tissues of multicellular organisms. Many cellular networks lack even partial leaders (pacemakers). Cell behavior coordination depends on cell—cell contacts (cytoplasmic bridges, plasmodesms, cell wall fusion sites, etc.) and long-range signals including quorum sensing pheromones (Fuqua et al., 1994; Waters and Bassler, 2005). In biopolitical terms, quorum sensing is a “democratic” coordination mechanism based on a peculiar “voting” system. All bacterial cells in a population release a signal substance. Once the signal concentration exceeds a threshold level, all these cells change heir behavior, e.g., start aggregating and forming microolonies. In terms of molecular biology, this behavioral change is induced by altering the activity of certain genes in response to the binding of the signal substance to a specific receptor. To re-iterate, bacterial cells produce a matrix that is composed of biopolymers; the cells of a colony or biofilm are cemented by the matrix (Oleskin et al., 2010).

Of special note in this context are biofilms, i.e., matrix-embedded microbial associations attached to biological or non-biological surfaces (Hall-Stoodley et al., 2004, p. 95). Biofilms can be composed of same-species cells, but thy can also include ells belonging to different species or even kingdoms of life. For instance, cells of eubacteria and archeans form a part of CH4-producing (methanogenic) associations Biofilms are of much interest in conceptual terms because they represent advanced microbial social systems, “cities of microbes” that are similar to multicellular organisms in many respects. A large number of microbial biofilms are characterized by functional differentiation of their cells, advanced cell behavior coordination, a biofilm-level life-cycle (biofilm ontogeny) and even the capacity for rapid regeneration after an injury (Sumina, 2006).

Remarkably, cell networks are also formed by cells inside a multicellular organism. It is fascinating that a multicellular organism is comparable with a “cell state”, the comparison drawn by Rudolph Wirchow in the 19th century. According to Yu. M. Vasiliev (2000, p. 189), “every cell in our organism—and any other multicellular organism—forms a part of a highly complex community. Both in a state and in an organism, the behavior of an individual (of a cell or a human) is reasonable and normal as long as the individual adequately responds to social signals emitted by other community members. A human individual who does not respond to social signals, often becomes a criminal. A cell inadequately responding to the signals of other cells may give rise to a tumor”