, 7:S1,
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Date: 30 Oct 2006

The scientific challenge of the 21st century: from a reductionist to a holistic approach via systems biology

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In the 20th century the study of life was generally approached with a reductionistic approach: analysing the simple and extrapolating to more complex systems. Thanks to this strategy the most important functions of a living organism have been dissected and elucidated: the structure of DNA, the complex machinery subserving the synthesis of proteins, the mechanism for the utilization of food and the generation of energy. On the therapeutic side, the discovery of sulphamides and antibiotics, of specific vaccines directed against the most dangerous diseases or the synthesis of tranquillizers and anti-psychotics in the field of neurology and psychiatry, provided the basis for a modern, socially oriented medicine. The paradigm for such a strategic approach to biology was the "dogma" proposed by Tatum and Beadle: one gene, one protein, one function.

In the twenty first century we know that this, as well as many other biological dogmas, are obsolete or are doomed to die. Thus, for instance, it