Why technology won’t save biology

Ashutosh Jogalekar, 3QuarksDaily


Carl Woese’s integrated view of biology should help temper the application of technology to biological understanding

There seems to be no end to biology’s explosive progress. Genomes can now be read, edited and rewritten with unprecedented scope, individual neurons can now be studied in both space and time, the dynamics of the spread of viruses and ecological populations can be studied using mathematical models, and vaccines for deadly diseases like HIV and Ebola seem to hold more promise than ever. They say that the twentieth century belonged to physics and the twenty first belongs to biology, and everything we see in biology seems to confirm this idea.

There have been roughly six revolutions in biology during the last five hundred years or so that brought us to this stage. The first one was the classification of organisms into binomial nomenclature by Linnaeus. The second was the invention of the microscope by Hooke, Leeuwenhoek and others. The third was the discovery of the composition of cells, in health and disease, by Schwann and Schleiden, a direct beneficiary of the use of the microscope. The fourth was the formulation of evolution by natural selection by Darwin. The fifth was the discovery of the laws of heredity by Mendel. And the sixth was the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson, Crick and others. The sixth, ongoing revolution could be said to be the mapping of genomes and its implications for disease and ecology.

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