Bio-Complexity: Challenging Reductionism

  • Henry H. Q. Heng


Based on the popular reductionist tradition, the advancement of molecular medicine has generated a great deal of promise. In reality, however, much of the promise will not be realized due to high levels of system complexity. The conventional wisdom is that, if we try harder, and dissect the system further by pushing new technologies, we should be able to solve most challenging heath issues, as we have overcome so much in the past. Is this belief solid and realistic? In this chapter, by introducing some typical and yet surprising cases of current medical complexity, I briefly describe key features of bio-complexity and its impact on bio-medical issues. Specifically, I will discuss the relationship between parts and the whole, the issue of system heterogeneity and stochasticity, and the importance of treating many health issues with regard to the evolutionary concept. Following the analyses of some successful and unsuccessful approaches, the key appears to be how the system status can be improved without triggering system chaos, as all medical intervention has the potential to generate system stress. Finally I call upon the need to develop more comprehensive and holistic strategies for the future of medicine, which will require a more balanced medical intervention approach.


Magic Bullet Mendelian Disease Genome Theory Common Complex Disease Successful Medical Intervention 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This chapter is part of a series of studies entitled, “The mechanisms of somatic cell and organismal evolution”. I would like to thank Barbara Spyropoulos and Steve Bremer for their help in editing. Thanks also go to Drs. Gloria Heppner, Markku Kurkinen and Christine J Ye for discussions, and Dr. Joshua Stevens for help with the diagrams. This work was partially supported by grants from SeeDNA Biotech Inc., the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the DOD (GW093028), from National CFIDS foundation, and The Nancy Taylor Foundation for Chronic Diseases.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Molecular Medicine and GeneticsWayne State University School of MedicineDetroitUSA
  2. 2.Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of MedicineDetroitUSA
  3. 3.Department of PathologyWayne State University School of MedicineDetroitUSA

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