On the utility of a mechanistic approach to physiology - descriptive vs. mechanistic biology

Published on February 29, 2016   11 min

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Other Talks in the Series: Evolutionary Physiology

Lecture one, Descriptive versus Mechanistic Biology.
Contemporary Biology is on par with Alchemy and Astrology in that it is descriptive and non-predictive. The Evolutionary Physiology course is structured to provide a mechanistic, predictive way of thinking about biology.
Up until the publication of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859, man was thought to have descended from God, angels and demons, by the great chain of being. Darwin offered a different form of descent from animal ancestors, which was a radical departure.
Despite our enlightened understanding of our evolutionary origins, we continue to think of physiology in the same way that it has been thought of the last 3,000 years. As an assemblage of Lego blocks formed by the skeleton and internal organs.
Down through history, physiologists such as Galen, Harvey, Claude Bernard, Walter Cannon, Ewald Weibel, and J.B. West, have honed and refined that descriptive relationship culminating in systems biology, which is a mathematical expression of the very same descriptive view of physiology.
Systems biology reduces the processes of physiology to its functional elements, DNA and phenotypes into post-biological networks that generate physiology in adaptation to the environment. This perspective is predicated on the current view of biology as a progression from DNA to RNA to protein. Yet we know that you cannot generate phenotype from DNA.
The great epigeneticist Waddington attempted to envision a more holistic view of physiology as landscapes supported by genetic pathways that underpin them, but this was only a metaphor without any fundamental understanding of the interrelationships between genes and phenotypes either.

On the utility of a mechanistic approach to physiology - descriptive vs. mechanistic biology

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