The President of the VPH Institute, Denis Noble, has recently delivered a lecture to a large Congress in China with the title Physiology and Evolution. The video is available.
During the lecture Prof Noble explains that a major revolution is occurring in evolutionary biology and why it is set to change the nature of biology and of the importance of physiology to that change. For the VPH project this is potentially important news. The genome is not isolated from the influences of the development of the organism and it is also sensitive to the environment.
Denis Noble uses the insight of the 1983 Nobel Prize winner, Barbara McClintock, the discoverer of jumping genes, who said that 'the genome is an organ of the cell'. As such, modellers of the cells tissues, organs and systems of the body will in future need to include the downward causation from the organism and its environment onto the genome. These determine its activation patterns (some of which are inherited), its structure, and even its sequences. This is another grand challenge for the future of the VPH project. It may still be too early to meet that challenge just yet. We need to advance the present projects to the stage where such a grand vision could be achievable. But the existence of this challenge is itself significant. It brings physiology and the VPH project into the centre ground of biology, relevant to its conceptual foundations. Moreover, the implications of the change extend far beyond biology itself.
This video will also interest economists, business leaders, politicians and others who deal with the important social questions that have been raised by ideas in evolutionary biology ever since Darwin wrote his Origin of Species. The Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976) had precisely such an influence, many would say to the detriment of biological science and to social and political ideas (Midgeley, 2010). Denis Noble shows that all of this is metaphorical metaphysics (Noble, 2006, 2011). It is time we dropped the misleading metaphors used widely in biology during the twentieth century.
- Dawkins R (1976, 2006). The Selﬁsh Gene. Oxford University Press, Oxford Midgley M (2010). The Solitary Self. Darwin and The Selﬁsh Gene. Acumen, Durham.
- Noble D (2006). The Music of Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Noble D. (2011) Neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis and selﬁsh genes: are they of use in physiology? Journal of Physiology, 589, 1007-1015.