In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences


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The first goal is to provide a conceptual framework for assessing work in this area—that is, a sense of coherence for those not engaged in this research. The second goal is to assess current work using that framework and to point out some of the more promising opportunities for future efforts, such as research that could significantly benefit society.

The third and final goal of the report is to set out strategies for realizing those benefits—ways to enable and enhance collaboration so that the United States can take full advantage of the opportunities at this intersection. Any attempt to provide an all-inclusive framework for this work will inevitably leave out research that belongs within it.

With that caveat, a good way to think of research at this intersection is that it turns ways of looking at things—both figuratively and literally—from their original purpose and uses them to tackle new problems, often in ways far removed from when they were first conceived. Most—but not all—of the new problems being addressed at this intersection are biological ones, largely because of the incredible richness of this field.

The realm of biology is immense, involving complicated structures as small as molecules and as large as the biosphere and timescales that range from submicroseconds to eons. Answers to these problems seek not only to describe how the individual structures, in their immense complexity and diversity, work but also how they interplay. A very rich source of potential questions indeed.

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The ways of looking often come from the physical sciences. Those ways might be conceptual—approaches for looking at and solving problems—or analytical—methods for extracting understanding from data—or technical—tools for collecting information needed to address the problem at hand. But it is this intermingling of problems from one arena and ways of looking at them from another arena that makes this intersectional area between the biological and physical sciences so rich and offers many of the opportunities that reside there.

The committee expects that ideas will emerge from such studies that will go well beyond the intersection and transform both the biological and physical sciences. What, then, are some of the areas being explored at this intersection? Interestingly, many share common conceptual themes, several of which are discussed in this report.

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Interactions appear in both branches, albeit with much different content and contexts. Describing how individual particles interact—what forces and energy exchanges cause crystalline materials to form, and matter in all phases to display characteristic behavior and to undergo phase changes—are mainstays of the world of physics. However, these ways of thinking about and discussing how inanimate.

Another area finding fertile ground and producing fruitful cross-research opportunities centers on the dynamics of systems. Equilibrium, multistability, and stochastic behavior—concepts familiar to physicists and chemists—are now being used to tackle issues involved in living systems such as adaptation, feedback, and emergent behavior.

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Ideas of pattern formation that are at the heart of condensed matter physics now help us to understand biological self-assembly and the development of biological systems. This report also discusses how some of the mysteries of the biological world have been unraveled using tools and techniques developed in the physical sciences.

These tools include not only imaging devices, both photon- and matter-based, but also computational models and algorithms. While many of them are used interchangeably by the two fields, others must be modified.

However, to reach the heart of biological systems, even more sophisticated investigatory technologies and tools will be needed, many of which have not even been imagined much less developed. Work taking place at the intersections of engineering and the life sciences and of materials development and the life sciences covers but two of such topics. Both are fascinating examples of where the meshing of different cultures and sets of ideas can produce much fruitful discussion and advancement.

Further, the committee acknowledges that the research that is the subject matter of this report both arises from and depends upon the rich, ongoing efforts taking place within the core disciplines of the physical and life sciences. Such intersectional research serves to supplement rather than to supplant the scientific advances being made in the more traditional fields. Some of the most fundamental challenges in this area and near-term prospects for successfully meeting them are discussed in the form of five Grand Challenges:.

Some have been covered in other NRC reports. Others might be the focus of future reports.

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Grand Challenge 1. Natural substances display remarkable architecture, demonstrating the immense breadth of what can be achieved in developing structures and systems. Can the skills and knowledge-sets of biological and physical scientists be combined to provide greater insight into identifying those structures, capabilities, and processes that form the basis for living systems, and then to use that insight to construct systems with some of the characteristics of life that are capable, for example, of synthesizing materials or carrying out functions as yet unseen in natural biology?

Grand Challenge 2. Can we understand how it works and build on that understanding to predict brain function?

Addressing this challenge will require drawing on the resources of the physical sciences, both existing and to be developed, from imaging techniques to modeling capabilities. Grand Challenge 3. Genes and the environment interact to produce living organisms. Can we deepen our understanding of those interactions to begin to comprehend how organisms change over time—how they age and heal, for example—and from that understanding realize the promise of personalized medicine and access to better health care?

Grand Challenge 4. Earth interacts with its climate and the biosphere through strikingly different yet intertwined mechanisms that operate over vast ranges of time and space.

In Da Club - Membranes & Transport: Crash Course Biology #5

Can life and physical scientists develop an effective approach for understanding how these mechanisms interplay and use that understanding to develop strategies that will preserve this heritage? Grand Challenge 5. Living systems display remarkable diversity, serving to protect communities from harm. This diversity is declining, however, as the result of human activities, yet efforts to understand its role in the health of a species or an ecosystem have only recently been undertaken. Second, even if the reviewer is correct, we do not think this is a good reason for any vague concepts. When Scientific Models Represent.

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science,17 1 : Cartwright, Nancy The Dappled World: A study of the boundaries of Science. New York: Cambridge University Press. Contessa, Gabriele Scientific Representation, Interpretation, and Surrogative Reasoning.

Philosophy of Science Craver, Carlf Explaining the Brain.

New York: Oxford University Press. Craver, Carl. Kaiser Mechanisms and Laws: Clarifying the Debate. Chao, S. Chen, and R. Millstein eds. Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics, pp. Darden, Lindley and Nancy Maull Interfield Theories. Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences.

Annual Review of Sociology Leuridan, Bert Can Mechanisms really Replace aws of Nature?. Philosophy of Science 77 3 : Thinking about Mechanisms. There might be many other ways of generating additional revenues. In essence, all actions that contribute to open science in this system should be free or rewarded accordingly, potentially financially in some cases.

Thus, sharing is subsidised by not sharing; in many cases for good reasons. I am an independent scientific advisor to EURETOS without any financial arrangements or other forms of participation in this initiative. Go back to the Special Issue: Uberisation of Science. If you would like to write guest posts in EuroScientist magazine, send us your suggestions of articles at office euroscientist. Your email address will not be published.


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In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences
In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences

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