What is modularity?

Modularity is a quite general organizational pattern, and it’s a useful concept in several different areas, from computer science to biology. In biology, the concept is applied at practically every level or organization, from the structure of macro-molecules (Ancel and Fontana’s classic paper1 is probably my favorite on this subject), to ecological communities.2 The basic premise is the same in all these flavors of modularity: a system is modular if its constitutive elements are organized into semi-independent groups, called modules, that are internally strongly connected, leading to a internal coherence of the modules and a relative independence between modules. Influenced by Tiago, I’ve recently taken to calling these modules assortative3, to differentiate them from other possibilities for parceling elements into groups.

1. Ancel, L. W., & Fontana, W. (2000). Plasticity, evolvability, and modularity in RNA. J. Exp. Zool., 288(3), 242–283.
2. Grilli, J., Rogers, T., & Allesina, S. (2016). Modularity and stability in ecological communities. Nat. Commun., 7, 12031. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms12031
3. Zhang, L., & Peixoto, T. P. (2020). Statistical inference of assortative community structures. Phys. Rev. Research, 2(4), 043271. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevResearch.2.043271
Diogo Melo
Diogo Melo
Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow

My research interests include the evolution of genetic architeture and computational biology.