Can We “Solve” a Whole Organism?

June 2015

The role of physicists in biology has expanded significantly in the last decade. No longer limited to the molecular level, physicists have become interested in biological organization at many scales. These new interfaces of physics and biology go hand-in-hand with the emergence of systems biology and the realization that many biological phenomena emerge from the many-body interactions among biological entities such as molecules, genes, and neurons. While the focus so far has been at the level of single cells or isolated processes, biological phenomena are symphonies of signals and responses, coordinated on many scales and by a variety of mechanisms. The purpose of this seminar is to identify possible approaches to bring emerging concepts and methodologies together to address organismic biology as a whole. The objectives of this seminar are: a) to formulate key conceptual question for whole-organism physical biology, b) to identify opportunities for making progress, for example by ascertaining promising model organisms or biological processes considering recently emerging tools and technologies, and c) to draw a practical plan for moving forward. Participants are mostly physicists who work in different areas of system biophysics and neuroscience. Perhaps surprisingly, these two groups rarely meet and the exchange of information and ideas between them is rather limited. In addition, seminar leaders have invited biologists, applied mathematicians, and computer scientists who will have a catalytic effect on the discussion.