The scientific challenge of the 21st century: from a reductionist to a holistic approach via systems biology
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
- Levi Montalcini R: Effects of mouse tumor transplantation on the nervous system. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1952, 55:330–344. CrossRef
- Levi Montalcini R, Cohen S: In vitro and in vivo effects of a nerve growth stimulating agent isolated from snake venom. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1956, 42:695–699. CrossRef
- Levi Montalcini R: The nerve growth factor 35 years later. The Nobel lecture. Science 1987, 237:1154–1162. CrossRef
- Levi Montalcini R, Calissano P: The nerve growth factor. Sci. Am 1979, 240:68–77. CrossRef
- Levi Montalcini R, Calissano P: Nerve growth factor as a paradigm of polypeptide growth factor. TINS 1979, 473–477.
- Calissano P, Levi Montalcini R: Is NGF an enzyme? Nature 1979, 280:359–360. CrossRef
- Chao MV: Neurotrophins and their receptors: a convergence point for many signalling pathways. Nat Rev Neurosci 2003, 4:299–309. CrossRef
- Kalb R: The protean actions of neurotrophins and their receptors on the life and death of neurons. TINS 2005., 28:
- Levi Montalcini R, Aloe L, Alleva B: A role for nerve growth factor in nervous, endocrine and immune system. Progr Neuroendocrinimmunology 1990, 3:1–10.
- The scientific challenge of the 21st century: from a reductionist to a holistic approach via systems biology
- Open Access
- Available under Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
- Online Date
- October 2006
- Online ISSN
- BioMed Central
- Additional Links