Category: History of Science

A lesson from William Harvey in the XVII century on the value of model organisms

It is well known that history repeats itself but, as we have limited memory and a tendency to think about ourselves and our times, we forget the lessons from the last time it came around. Let me tell you a story. Like many of you I associate William Harvey with the wondrous discovery of the circulation of the blood and the identification of the heart as the pump that keeps this movement going. I also was aware that he performed the first proper or recorded measurement in biology as the amount of blood going around the body in a given […]

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Summer Musing

What is your favourite experiment? This is a question that is bound to come up in conversations of scientists, class rooms or retreats. It is sort of like: what’s your favourite novel or your favourite painter. It is always difficult to answer because one is bound to be wrong with what it is said on the spur of  the moment. Whatever one  says –and you will know if you have been here- you will change your mind later, because what you have said is what you remembered. Given time you are likely to come up with a list of experiments […]

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At the start of the World Cup: Football and the Biosciences

As the World Cup begins, perhaps there is a point of talking about Biology in the context of Football. I am a supporter of Athletic Bilbao and, like the main character in ‘fever pitch’ I sometimes see the world, life, through the eyes of football. The problem is that football has changed and so has life and that the optics need some readjustment. Football is not anymore what you breath in ‘fever pitch’. When I was a child, and even when I was an undergraduate, football was about the teams, about special players who could conjure up a moment of […]

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Chemistry, the missing link in “The Double Helix”

Last week there was a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the publication of the papers (sometimes it seems as if there was only one but, actually there were three) on the structure of DNA. The occasion invited recollection and reflection and, perhaps for the last time, allowed some of the protagonists to tell the world famous events in Cambridge, UK.  Much ink has been poured over this to the point that some times it does not feel like Science but rather like a fairy tale, a legend about a girl in the midst of boys chasing a structure which […]

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The emerging impact of modelling and theory in Cell and Developmental Biology

At the BSDB meeting, Michael White (University of Manchester), pioneer of the imaging of gene expression in living cells, gave one of his customarily sound, interesting, inspiring and enlightening talks in which he discussed his work on the dynamics of NFkB expression and its regulatory consequences. The accumulation of measured variables and the dynamic nature of the information gathered by his experiments demand models and, in the course of the talk, he managed to slip some statements about why do we need models in Biology. And I do not think he meant Cell/Nature or Science Figure 9 models (a collection […]

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The end of the biological sciences…..as we knew them

In his book “The end of Science”(1997), James Horgan explores in depth what is left to be known about Nature and the Universe at the end of the XX century. It is an interesting question and one that lies at the heart of the scientific endeavour. Advances in the Physical Sciences, in particular, give the impression that all there is left to know are a few footnotes and, yes, there was the Higgs Boson……. But what about Biology? It has been said that Science will end when we learn more and more about less and less and while Physics has […]

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Maps: resolution and insight in biology

  (thoughts after reading Simon Garfield “On the map: why the world looks the way it does” Gothan books 2012 ) Much of Biology is about maps . Maps of genomes, of cells, of genetic interactions, protein interactions, of the brain, networks. Maps are essential because they orient us, guide us, help us find relationships between objects of the same kind which are otherwise invisible, and  reveal how global pictures emerge from components. But how accurate are our maps? How good are our current biological maps as representations of the reality they try to capture? I often worry about these […]

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