Category: Developmental Systems Biology

Expensive or Insightful Biology?: Single Cell Analysis as a Symptom

Lists, catalogues and classifications have always been the business of the biological sciences. The nature cabinets of the XVII and XVIII centuries, the collections that occupied much of the XIX century and which fuelled the work of Darwin are good examples of this. Beetles, butterflies, fish, pigeons, plants occupied (and occupy) the time of individuals, often amateurs, interested in Nature. The nature of this enterprise is captured in Umberto Eco’s book “The Infinity of Lists” When we don’t know the boundaries of what we want to portray, when we don’t know how many things we are talking about (….) when […]

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Boltzmann, Darwin and THE current challenge of the life sciences

The XIX century will be called the century of Darwin (L. Boltzmann) While most people have heard of Einstein and Newton and Feynman, Boltzmann is not a household name when thinking about famous physicists. Ludwig Boltzmann was a theoretical physicist extraordinaire who at the end of the XIX century, in that Vienna that was going to give so much to the world in the ensuing years, taught us a most interesting way of thinking in material terms about the structure of matter and abstract concepts like heat and energy. Spurred by his philosophical inclinations, in his latter years he wanted […]

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A new sort of engineering: II. Organizing self organization in Space and Time

Note: This is the second part of the last post and is not its final form. It will be updated and cleaned up in the New Year but wanted to share these thoughts with those of you who cared to read them before the treadmill catches up with me in the New Year.   The vis essentialis of Wolff, the Entelechia of Driesch, the new physical laws promised to Delbruck by Bohr, all found echoes in the famous book “What is life” by E. Schroedinger. This book, that meant so much to a few who went on to change Biology, […]

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A new sort of engineering: I. Of inner forces, programmes and duality in living systems

Biology is a young science and this is easy to forget. For all the hype and glamour of modern conferences and publications, we still are in the midst of empirical data gathering. A bit what astronomers and tinkerers were doing in the XVII century. We have changed collecting and classifying beetles and butterflies for genes and regulatory regions, but the method has not changed that much: systematics. This aside, there are, let us say, three issue in Biology: how a system builds itself, how it works and how it evolves, We know a lot about the second, have a good […]

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New publication on “symmetry breaking in ensembles of ES cells”

New publication on “symmetry breaking in ensembles of ES cells” Progress on our attempts to understand the connection between genes, signals, cells and embryos have just been published in Development. In a first paper we describe a new experimental system in which we coax mouse Embryonic Stem cells to make structures with an anterior posterior axis and a germ layer organization that resembles that of an embryo (http://dev.biologists.org/content/141/22/4231.full). In a second paper we use this experimental system to gain some insights into the emergence of the spinal cord (http://dev.biologists.org/content/141/22/4243.full). You can see a movie and some thoughts on the experiments […]

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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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A new forum for Physics and Biology in Cambridge

The Theory of Living Matter is a new discussion group in Cambridge led by young physicists from the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) group in the Cavendish (Cambridge). The idea behind the group (www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/tlm/) is to promote interactions between theorists and experimentalists in the realm of the biological questions and serve as a forum and a local hub for this topic. There have been two meetings to date with a fair amount of success. This is a very good time for physicists to get into Biology and for biologists to deal with physicists. The main reason for this is that […]

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Grasping at straws

“let us hope that it is not true but, if it is true, let us make sure that it is not widely known” Anonymous comments to the idea of Evolution. A pdf of this blog can be downloaded here. Nature has dedicated two News and Views to a recent piece of work on Wingless (1), thus emphasizing its importance. Both comments focus more on the notion of Wingless as a morphogen than on other aspects of the work. The reason might lie in the fact that much of the notion about Wnt signalling in mammals is derived from the analysis and […]

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Michael Bate and the pioneering of the developmental analysis of neural circuits

Increasingly, the biological sciences bask in short lived small bites of ‘success’ where the publication rather than its content and real impact (as opposed to that of the journals) rules. Highthroughputness, terabytes of information, large genome data analysis, saturation screens, all form part of a culture with little time for pause, reflection and ponder. Perhaps it is because of the prevalence of these attitudes that meetings to celebrate the contributions of senior scientists provide an opportunity to appreciate what it is that we are missing in the current structure of the biological sciences. On December 14 (2013) a symposium took […]

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The Wingless Morphogen: phlogiston in the Drosophila wing imaginal disc

A pdf version of this post is available here. An excellent recent meeting in Oxford on morphogens (EMBO Morphogen workshop) gave me an opportunity to think about this notion in relation to a molecules and a signalling event I have been watching, sometimes gazing, for a long time: Wnt. The notion of ‘morphogens’ was introduced by A.M. Turing in his classic paper on the chemical basis of biological pattern formation (1). The thought emerges from the consideration of “masses of tissues which are not growing, but within which certain substances are reacting chemically, and through which they are diffusing.“ The […]

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