Directedness in the physiology, ecology, and evolution of holobiont systems

Principal Investigator: Derek Skillings, University of North Carolina

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This project seeks to provide conceptual foundations for goal-directedness in host-microbiome symbiotic associations through conceptual analysis of diverse forms of biological individuality, which can distinguish modes of agency and their interactions in holobiont systems, comprehend transitions between forms of biological individuality, and provide a naturalistic concept of holobiont health. In particular, they will work collaboratively across disciplines to synthesize divergent approaches to holobiont individuality and clarify both how conflicts of agency manifest in these systems and how unique kinds of overall system directedness emerge at different scales. A key output of this work will be a richer and more precise theoretical vocabulary for one of the fastest growing multidisciplinary areas of contemporary biology, where concepts of agency and function are routinely used without attention to clarity and rigor.


Derek Skillings

Agential Behavior and Plasticity in Evolution
Directedness in holobiont systems
Subaward Principal Investigator

Derek Skillings is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He specializes in the philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, marine phylogeography and evolutionary ecology. He works primarily on biological individuality and explanation and causal reasoning in biology. He is particularly interested in the problem of how to approach the complex and hierarchical nature of living systems when investigating biological phenomena and constructing explanations.

Leonardo Bich

Leonardo Bich

Evolutionary Origins and Transitions of Agency, Higher-Level Agency and Directionality in Ecology and Earth Science, Agential Behavior and Plasticity in Evolution
An organizational account of ecological functions, Directedness in holobiont systems, Integration and individuation in the origin of agency

Leonardo Bich is a ‘Ramon y Cajal’ Researcher at the IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind, and Society of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Spain. He obtained a PhD in Anthropology and Epistemology of Complex Systems from the University of Bergamo. He worked at the CNRS & University of Bordeaux, at the Biology of Cognition Lab of the Universidad de Chile and, as a visiting fellow, at the Center for Philosophy of Science of the University of Pittsburgh. His research is focused on theoretical and epistemological issues related to biological organisation, autonomy, and control and on their implications for investigations in Origins of Life, Synthetic and Systems Biology, and Theoretical Biology.

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