Biotensegrity

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Read here about biotensegrity, the field of research into biological forms of tensegrity

Overview[edit]

Biotensegrity is a term applied to the field of research into biological tensegrity with its focus on the structural/mechanical aspects of living forms and their connections to whole-organism and whole-body physiology.

Stephen M. Levin introduced the term biotensegrity as a way of distinguishing tensegrity in art, mathematics or engineering from that of tensegrity in biology, all of which are related but which contain significant differences specific to their own fields. From its conception in the mid-1970’s, biotensegrity has been founded on some basic principles of self-organization, and which describe the mechanical structure-function relationship at all size-scales in living organisms – from viruses to vertebrates – including human bodies.

At the smallest level, biotensegrity explains how atoms spontaneously organize into the most stable and energy-efficient configurations. At a slightly larger scale level, biotensegrity clarifies how cells are able to both sense and respond to changes in their environment, through the transformation of mechanical signals into biochemical ones, and alter their surroundings.

Biotensegrity shows how tissues, organs and multi-level systems emerge through the complex interactions between the forces of tension and compression. It describes the basic mechanics of joint motion and the inherent bioinformatic signalling processes that enable the structures themselves to control motion in synergy with the nervous system.

Biotensegrity is having an influence on tensegrity in engineering and design at the nano, micro and macro scales. Additionally, because biotensegrity explains how the therapeutic application of mechanical forces can have an effect on every part of the body, it is also changing the way that clinicians, therapists and movement practitioners think about their work, leading to new and improved treatments.


To attempt to organize the diverse research agendas that fall under the biotensegrity label, this article is ordered by scale - from the micro to the macro - although this is really a semi-arbitrary distinction because everything is connected to everything else.

Medicine and therapeutics[edit]

Swanson 2013 [5] published a review of biotensegrity research from an osteopathic perspective that provides a conceptual understanding of the hierarchical organization of the human body and explains the body’s ability to adapt to change. He described how mechanical forces applied during osteopathic manipulative treatment could lead to effects right down to the cellular level, thus providing a platform for future research on the mechanisms of action of both manually applied and movement oriented interventions.

Scarr 2020 [6] published an editorial that summarized why an understanding of biotensegrity is relevant to practitioners of every flavor.

Topics in Biotensegrity[edit]

Molecular biotensegrity[edit]

Recent work shows that the DNA molecules can be formed into tensegrity-based stable structures. Rigid DNA Triangles with Flexible Four-Arm DNA Junctions by Liu, Wang, Deng, Walulu, Mao states, DNA “must be specified as multiples of half-turns, in order to avoid torsional stress in this system.” They find three double-stranded DNA helices in a plane, linked at four immobile crossover points. See Rigid DNA Triangles with Flexible Four-Arm DNA Junctions by Liu, Wang, Deng, Walulu, Mao.

See the work of Seeman on DNA.

Cellular biotensegrity[edit]

The tensegrity model of cellular cytoskeleton structure has entered cell biological mainstream thinking. For example, the cytoskeletal organization of breast carcinoma and fibroblast cells inside three dimensional (3-D) isotropic silicon microstructures was found to be consistent with the tensegrity model [1].

Tensegrity is also a guiding principle in cellular mechanical signal transduction and related mechanopathology.

See Ingber, the founder and central researcher into this theory.

Organelle biotensegrity[edit]

In connective tissue, integrins are particular important in assessing the tensegrity structures of organelles.

Tissue biotensegrity[edit]

Tissue biotensegrity is usually discussed in the context of organ biotensegrity.

Organ biotensegrity[edit]

Myers in Anatomy Trains explicates the double bag structure of organs in terms of tensegrity. See Myers, Tom and Anatomy Trains.

Organism biotensegrity[edit]

This heading is a stub. See animals, or the portal to structural anatomy.

Social biotensegrity[edit]

Social networks are beginning to be explicated by tensegrity-centered concepts.

Some examples:

Francesco Cingolani et al speculate that tensegrity can explicate self organizing social networks. They wrote, "Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)... can be used for completely different and contradictory purposes. On one side you can take advantage of its enormous data processing capacity to centralize all information and try to 'solve' the urban complexity, but they can also be used to open and decentralized decision making.... The presence of a centralized entity is not required when the control devices and return of information (feedback) allows the actors to see or realize the consequences of their actions. The phenomenon of unconscious self-organization becomes conscious and intentional control when it allows individuals to understand the effects of their actions. Here we can talk about the concept of tensegrity, when referring to a management model where decentralized decisions join centralized ones preventing a fully closed and omnipresent 'dynamic of control'. " [3]

Stefan Michal Wasilewski research at the University of Hull finds that, "Tensegrity and Team Syntegrity not only can model the dynamics within a system but also within recursive layers. Whilst TSI (Beyond Dispute, Beer, 1994) shows a way in which to interrogate the management of a business I believe it also offers (along with Tensegrity) a method to discern the ultimate stability of a network by categorising them based upon their degree of closed structure (Autopoietic Form) and communication dependencies within recursive structures. When reviewing Tensegrity structures it is hard for me not to see ‘black boxes’ (Beer, 1994) linked by communication chains." [4]

Biotensegrity Resources[edit]

In addition to the Category:Portal to Biotensegrity on this wiki, we cite selected resources below.

Stephen M.Levin's biotensegrity.com Website[edit]

Steve Levin's Biotensegrity Website is the ideal primary reference, http://www.biotensegrity.com/. He writes, "Tensegrity icosahedrons are used to model biologic organisms from viruses to vertebrates, their cells, systems and subsystems. There are only tension and compression elements in tensegrity systems. There are no shears, bending moments or levers, just simple tension and compression, in a self organizing, hierarchical, load distributing, low energy consuming structure."

See http://www.biotensegrity.com/

Graham Scarr's Tensegrity in Biology Website[edit]

Graham Scarr maintains a comprehensive website on biotensegrity, http://www.tensegrityinbiology.co.uk. He writes, "For the last few hundred years the bones of the skeleton have been considered to stack on top of one another like a pile of bricks and resist gravity through a complicated system of levers, because that is the building system common in man-made structures, but it does not fit with modern biology." Scarr elaborates that tensegrity and biotensegrity offer better explanations. The pages on his website contain a great deal of information and original articles, some of which have been polished and brought up-to-date in the publication of the 2nd edition of his book. Rather than a definitive treatise on biotensegrity, it should be considered as ‘work in progress that is updated as time permits.

See http://www.tensegrityinbiology.co.uk/

Links and References[edit]

[1] [Organization Of Breast Carcinoma And Fibroblast Cells] [3] Urban Aperture(s): Porosity As A New Model For Hybrid Public Space by Francesco Cingolani, Domenico Di Siena, Manu Fernandez, Paco Gonzalez, Cesar Reyes Najera And Ethel Baraona Pohl, see http://www.dpr-barcelona.com/%7Chttp://www.dpr-barcelona.com. [4] Stefan Michal Wasilewski Research Proposal, The University of Hull, Upgrade Report 2009 for Student No: 361429 [5] [Journal American Osteopath. Assoc. 2013;113(1):34-52] [6] Biotensegrity: what is the big deal? http://www.tensegrityinbiology.co.uk/thebigdeal