The increasing place of evolutionary scenarios in functional biology is one of the major indicators of the present encounter between evolutionary biology and functional biology (such as physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology), the two branches of biology which remained separated throughout the twentieth century. Evolutionary scenarios were not absent from functional biology, but their places were limited, and they did not generate research programs. I compare two examples of these past scenarios with two present-day ones. At least three characteristics distinguish (...) present and past efforts: An excellent description of the systems under study, a rigorous use of the evolutionary models, and the possibility to experimentally test the evolutionary scenarios. These three criteria allow us to distinguish the domains in which the encounter is likely to be fruitful, and those where the obstacles to be overcome are high and in which the proposed scenarios have to be considered with considerable circumspection. (shrink)
In this second decade of the 21st century, we find the pervasive influence of synthetic biology everywhere, not only in research laboratories, but also in the discourses of politicians and ethicists. Despite its ubiquity, the precise meaning of the notions of "synthetic biology" and "synthetic life," as well as their history, potential, and risks, remain obscure not only to the layperson, but also to most biologists.The aim of this special issue is twofold. First, it is intended to help the reader (...) better appreciate what synthetic biology is all about and what are its roots. Second, once the overall picture has been expounded and made clearer, the questions of whether research in synthetic biology raises new and .. (shrink)
The construction of synthetic life might appear to be the natural objective of the emerging discipline of synthetic biology. The situation, though, is not that simple. Plans to synthesize life appeared quite early, at the beginning of the 20th century (Bensaude-Vincent 2009; Deichmann 2009; Fox Keller 2002; Pereto and Catala 2007). Nor can synthetic biology be identified with work on the origin of life. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that a new, more integrated approach to the origin of life appeared exactly (...) when synthetic biology was emerging (Szostak, Bartel, and Luisi 2001).Most synthetic biologists have the more limited ambition of modifying existing organisms by giving them new functionalities. Synthetic .. (shrink)
This special issue of Biological Theory is focused on development; it raises the problem of the temporal and spatial boundaries of development. From a temporal point of view, when does development start and stop? From a spatial point of view, what is it exactly that "develops", and is it possible to delineate clearly the developing entity? This issue explores the possible answers to these questions, and thus sheds light on the definition of development itself.
This Special Issue of Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres contains papers based on the contributions presented at the Conference "Defining Life" held in Paris (France) on 4-5 February, 2008. The main objective of this Conference was to confront speakers from several disciplines--chemists, biochemists, biologists, exo/astrobiologists, computer scientists, philosophers and historians of science--on the topic of the definition of life. Different viewpoints of the problem approached from different perspectives have been expounded and, as a result, common grounds as well (...) as remaining diverging arguments have been identified. In addition to individual talks, two large roundtables gave ample room for speakers to discuss their diverging viewpoints. This volume collects almost all the contributions presented during the Conference and provides a rich spectrum of renewed answers to the ever-standing question "What is Life?". Besides the arguments directly regarding this question, more philosophical or historical reflections are also proposed in this issue that were not presented during the Conference. This volume also offers a synthesis written by J. Gayon taking each contribution into account. To conclude this foreword, we would like to thank all the participants and speakers who made this Conference a most stimulating event. Each provided novel ideas to "Defining Life" while highlighting the extreme difficulty to reach a consensus on this topic. We are also very grateful to the French CNRS Interdisciplinary Program Origines des Planètes et de la Vie (Origins of Planets and Life) for its generous support, as well as to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris for hosting the Conference. We also thank Alan W. Schwartz for generously offering this space for publishing the Proceedings of the Conference. (shrink)
In this accessible and fascinating book, Michel Morange draws on recent advances in molecular genetics, evolutionary biology, astrobiology, and other disciplines to find today’s answers to the question of life.
It is frequently said that biology is emerging from a long phase of reductionism. It would be certainly more correct to say that biologists are abandoning a certain form of reductionism. We describe this past form, and the experiments which challenged the previous vision. To face the difficulties which were met, biologists use a series of concepts and metaphors - pleiotropy, tinkering, epigenetics - the ambiguity of which masks the difficulties, instead of solving them. In a similar way, the word (...) “post-genomics” has different meanings, depending upon who uses it. Which of these meanings will become dominant in the future is an open question. (shrink)