Finding Genius Podcast
Breaking into Biology – Denis Noble, CBE, PhD, FRS, Celebrated and Outspoken British Biologist, Physiologist, and Prolific Author – Concepts in Genetics and the Level of Causation in Biology
Feb 19, 2020 · 51 min
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Denis Noble, CBE, Ph.D., FRS, the celebrated and outspoken British biologist, physiologist, and prolific author, discusses his incredible, noteworthy career in biology, exciting concepts in genetics, and the level of causation in biology. 

Podcast Points:

  • What is the current state of evolutionary theory?
  • What do we know about cells and how they work?
  • Issues regarding the genome and how diseases might originate

British biologist, Noble has long been a major voice in modern biology. Dr. Noble was the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford for more than two decades. He was later named Professor Emeritus. Additionally, Dr. Noble was appointed the Co-Director of Computational Physiology.

Dr. Noble is one of the earliest researchers in systems biology and he played an integral role in the development of the first mathematical model of the human heart. His thoughts on evolutionary theory have been part of a growing movement, a sort of revolution in evolutionary biology.

Dr. Noble discusses his background and talks about what got him interested in his areas of research and study. As a self-described ‘card-carrying reductionist scientist,’ Dr. Noble was interested in the concept of a privileged level of causation. And as he states, it was really always about, and is about, simply molecules. He recounts some early experiments he engaged in, attempts to reproduce the rhythm of the heart, with differential equations representing the molecular event.

Which molecules are involved? This was an important question for the research. After much experimentation and study, he came to the conclusion that the cell itself is partially causing what happens. Rhythm only occurs by something that is constrained by the cell membrane. He explains the complex details of how the process works and how differential equations will not lead to answers unless the appropriate information is added into the mix. 

The research scientist discusses how DNA is produced, and how cells have mechanisms for controlling errors. Cells, in short, have great control over what happens within systems. Dr. Noble goes on to discuss other important experiments, in the nervous system and other systems such as the immune system. Continuing, the Ph.D. expert talks about the genome.

He discusses the origin of diseases and the fact that we know very little about biology above the level of the genome, in contrast to what we know about molecular biology in general. But remarkably, we still don’t know exactly how cells work. 

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