Wednesday, September 13, 2006

 

Fundamental Questions in Biology (PLoS Biology Editorial)

September 2006 PLoS Biology Editorial: Not so long ago, virtually every major university had a department of biology, or perhaps bookend departments of zoology and botany, which complemented physics, chemistry, mathematics, and possibly geology to form its science foundation. Biology was, at least compared to the field today, an integrated discipline, from the molecular and cellular to the ecosystem, firmly resting on Darwinian principles. Weekly colloquia drew biologists from across the spectrum, whether the topic was the genetic code, the nature of the synapse, or the Cambrian Radiation.

But biology has seen its own radiation and is just starting to catch up with this explosion. The amazing pace of advance in our understanding of biology has, perhaps unavoidably, engendered increasing specialization. Much of that advancement has involved the development of new tools, both in the laboratory and in computer models, and this has been dependent on the migration into biology departments of tools and people from physics, mathematics, chemistry, and elsewhere. These new collaborators have catalyzed rapid progress on specific problems, but they often have little interest in the broader scope of biology. [US Evolution News]
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Simon A. Levin (homepage) is Series Editor of the Challenges Series and Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States.

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