Terry Hwa, University of California, San Diego, “A quantitative phenomenological approach towards predictive biology”
Dec 1, 2014 · 12:00 p.m.– 1:00 p.m. · Joseph Henry Room, Jadwin Hall
Dec 1, 2014 · 4:15 p.m.– 5:15 p.m. · Carl Icahn Lab 101
After two millennia of studies in medicine and biology, we have a newfound ability to sequence the entire genome of an individual organism or person, bringing us close to what might be viewed as the reductionist limit to biology. We have the recipe for a complete parts list, and should now ask “What’s next?” You can look for a new understanding of the unanswered questions. You can continue to dig deeper and figure out how atoms make genes, and then how elementary particles make atoms, etc., on the way to the theory of everything. You might identify a distinct biological “layer” below the genome. Or you can work your way back up toward the animal or organism, in accord with P.W. Anderson’s constructionist approach. One possibility would be to use the computational models of systems biology for the upward construction; however, a fully computational model from genome to organism might, if ever attempted, require dealing with a mole of differential equations, termed a Leibniz. The intercalation of computational modeling and experiments may enable the crossing of emergent “boundaries” that defy calculation. The creation of living milli- and micro-homunculi might allow us to complete the hermeneutic circle of biology – in order to understand the whole, we must understand the parts, and in order to understand the parts, we must understand the whole. Our study of animals, organs, cells, molecules, and the genome can be brought full circle with engineered molecules, tissues and organs. Organs on chips may afford us a new approach to synthesis in physiology – the ability to study in a highly controlled environment how organs are regulated and communicate in health, disease, and in the presence of pharmaceuticals and toxins. There are, however, a number of worthy engineering and biological challenges on the way to closing the circle.