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Beyond reductionism – systems biology gets dynamic

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Is biology just complicated physics? Can we understand living things as complex machines, with different parts dedicated to specific functions? Or can we finally move to investigating them as complex, integrative, and dynamic systems?
For many decades, mechanistic and reductionist approaches have dominated biology, for a number of compelling reasons. First, they seem more legitimately scientific than holistic alternatives – more precise, more rigorous, closer to the pure objectivity of physics. Second, they work, up to a point at least – they have given us powerful insights into the logic of biological systems, yielding new power to predict and manipulate. And third, they were all we had – studying entire systems was just too difficult. All of that is changing, as illustrated by a flurry of recent papers that are using new technology to revive some old theories and neglected philosophies.
The central method of biological reductionism is to use controlled manipulation of individual comp…