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A Physicist Looks at Biology

Max Delbruk a leading physicist who alters converted to biology attempted to describe the transition. This was during the Connecticut Academy of Arts and sciences 1000th meeting. Delbruk observed that modern scientist acquainting themselves for the first time with biological issues is puzzled by the fact that there are no absolute phenomena. Most scientists get confused by the fact that the organism or the micro-organism that they are working on is a small link to a much greater link of an evolutionary chain.

As evolution continues, most organism and micro-organisms experience chemical and biological reactions with regards to their evolutionary stages. A scientist working on an organism should know that the organism being worked on is not an ideal organism but just a small form in a finite evolutionary system. However, Delbruk observed that all the organism were interrelated and interdependent in the course of their life (Delbruk, 1949).

Delbruk who was previously a physicist was attracted to biology after being a student of Niels Bohr who was a strong proponent of biology and biological theories. Delbruk was able to attract many other physicist to biology through the help of Bohr's book Light and Life. The essence of combining physics with biology is that the approach brought in an analytical and quantitative approach in solving biological problems. This is one of the factors that led to the creation of molecular biology as a result of seeking the physics aspect of heredity.


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Delbruck based his research on the physical form in which heredity information is stored. Another main issue with regards to his research is how cells divide and produce. The conclusive research basis was to find the information change during reproduction as well as the occurrence of mutation. All these processes occurred during the reproductive states of a cell.

To answer these questions, Delbruck came out with what is referred to as the phage school. The phage school was a group of former physicist as well as some biologists who concentrated on revealing the mystery behind heredity as well as studying the replication and genetic behavior of living things and micro-organisms. The revelations from the research by the phage school are the mother of modern molecular micro-biology.

The study produced in-depth analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as a genetic material and its physical and chemical characteristics. The phage school was important by laying a foundation that linked physics with the modern world of molecular biology. The birth of modern molecular genetics was a result of physics contribution with the contributors not even having to consult their tools like many biologists do. Delbruck and his companions even went to the extent of counting virus infections by hand.

In his speech, Delbruck describes his amazement regarding the complex nature of biology. Delbruck stated that the closer one looks or analyzes biology, the more impressive living organisms become in terms of their physical and chemical characteristics. Delbruck however warned that biology is a vast subject that cannot be covered by any theoretical or practical research. This nature of biology lead some scientist into futility hence can be frustrating.

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Delbruck sought to explain the radical physical explanation of cell behavior especially the chemical elements such as the genes and the cell proteins. Most of the cell properties and functions were identified as a result of this but the question was how these functions integrate to allow cells manifest their physiological traits.

Recent research has provided methods for close examination on both the physical and chemical properties of macromolecules. This is important in the context that it eliminates the need to collect or gather physiological properties of molecules in order to determine their functions. Some of the methods for close analysis of organism are reviewed in the issue of Science, 12 March 1999 issue in which one of the method used is the laser traps that aid the study of molecular transport on both contraction and flagella motion.

Laser traps were also found to be useful in the determination of enzyme complex force. The enzyme complex force can be found in such processes such as the copying of the DNA sequence into the RNA. The visualization of the collision process is made possible through the use of fluorescent spectroscopy as well as scanning tunnel microscopy. However, recent developments in science and specifically biology may soon be able to determine the order of single bases of long DNA molecules (Cairns, 2000).

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Another computational or need for physical scientists in biology is that their help in the interpretation of complex data especially in the process of gene expression. This provides an opportunity to understand the difference in development of cells for example why some cells develop into tissues. The third and final goal by Delbruck was developing a radical physical explanation for various cell functions. This has led to the link between molecular interactions at the cell surface and the gene expression in the nucleus.

Eric Kendal was born in Austria in the year 1929.He was initially driven out of Europe by the German Nazi. In 2000, he won the Nobel Prize for his extensive research on the physiological aspect of memory storage in neurons. Kandel is the pioneer behind the revelation on the importance of unconscious neural processes. Some of the questions surrounding the functions of the brain were how the brain is able to capture and sustain memory. Despite these questions seeming simple, complex biological evidence is required to explain the same (Koertge, 2008).

Previously, various theories had been developed to explain learning and the school of thought. The psychoanalysis theory involved an elaborate study on one person. The main analytical method used by Freud was case studies. The case studies were meant to analyze and find the key factors that initiate the general behavior of an individual .The main assumption is that one case study can be generalized and be applicable to many others.

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However, case studies tend to be highly subjective meaning that their application may not be applicable to other .Critics argue that this theory is merely concentrated on personal past experiences that cannot be generalized. Moreover, many of the concepts in this theory are not quantifiable or measurable. The strengths of the theory are that it included experimental psychology and is still influential in psychology today.

The theory on behaviorism which is also known as behavioral psychology is based on the assumption that most individual behavior is acquired through conditioning. This is as a result of the daily interaction of an individual with the general environment. Conditioning occurs in two parts that are the classical conditioning where a stimulus is paired with response and operant conditioning where this type of conditioning tries to relate behavior to reward and punishment .The main critics of this theory is that the theory has a single approach to behavior and that behavioral theories are not entirely responsible for changes in moods, feelings and thoughts. The strength of this theory is that it has its basis on the observable behavior hence easily quantifiable and easy to collect data (Gardner, 1960)

The humanistic approach on the other hand is focused on individual potential hence creates an emphasis on self actualization methods. This tries to explain the general assumption that individuals are innately good and that social problems are the causes of deviations from this nature of being good. This theory has shortcomings in that it is seen as generally being subjective since we cannot really tell when an individual is fully actualized since the actualization is dependent on the individual's own assessment.

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Moreover, the method is seen as not measurable or quantifiable. This theory has its strongpoint's on the fact that it has an individual approach hence an individual is the main determining factor on the state of mind. This theory also tries to relate the influence from the general environment to individual behavior and experiences and research has also established that this approach has eliminated the stigma that is often attached to therapy (Sudbery 2009).

With regards to the psychoanalysis theory, a 26 year old mother who has 3 years old twins may feel guilty as a result of her predicament. This is because, she will concentrate on the unconscious mind hence she will apply thought and feelings that are outside her conscious awareness. In the behaviorism theory, the mother will feel guilty with regards to the daily interaction that she has with the environment. However, the humanistic approach would make the woman feel empowered depending on her own assessment whether she has fully actualized her goals and objectives.

Kandel began his studies on memory by conducting research on the sea slug Alyssa which according to him was a perfect research component to conduct cellular bases research. The sea slug has an estimated 20,000 nerve cells as compared to an estimated a thousand billion in humans. Humans have also the advantage of having a well delineated neural circuitry. With regards t memory, Alyssa was found to have the capability to modify reflex a process that requires memory (Kandel, 2008).

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According to Kandel, the cellular basis of memory depends on persistent changes in synapses. Synapses are the connections between the nerve cells. The difference in strength of the synapses largely depends on learning. Kandel observed that the gills of the Alyssa reacted to touch by simultaneously activating the sensory of both the sensory and the motor nerve cell. In connection to this, the sea slug was found to have weakened the connection between the sensory nerve cell and the motor nerve cell when reacting to a harmless touch.

Late in his research, Kendal found out that the short term memory is somehow linked to the modulation of synapses hence one can be led to the conclusion that long-term memory is only sustainable with the activation of genes. According to Kandel, the memory formation process is as a result of biochemical changes in the synapses. Short term memories require the alteration chemical alteration of the nexus nerve cell by the addition of a phosphate group.

In order for memories to last longer, new connections are made in the synapses by the addition of proteins. Kandel however shifted his focus in the 90s to concentrate on more complex life forms. His first research in this context was the genetically modified mice where he used the mice to show the similarity of his previous hypothesis on short and long term memory.

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As a result of kandel's research, modern science has been shaped in such a way that we can now understand the cellar process that occur during learning. Kandel used animals in his research as a result of the fact that in animals, simple behavior could be modified by learning. This behavior cold is controlled by either a small number or a large number of nerve cells. This resulted to animals having their behavior response being controlled form the cell.

Kandel defined learning as the ability to acquire new ideas from a past occurrence and be able to retain these ideas in memory. Kandel focused on procedural memory such as habitation or conditional skills. He however shifted his research methodology to cover complex life forms where he made further discoveries in the molecular composition in memory of organisms (Squire & Kandel, 2009).

The extensive research by this biologist has opened up a research pathways concerning the physiological operation of memory. This has gone further to provide means for cure of diseases such as Alzheimer. Understanding the concept of learning greatly improves the practice and its applicability.

Kandel's theory has another respect to it in which he tries to provide examples of neurobiological research. This is with respect to the previously developed theory on the same. In the assumption that Kandel's theory is true, it is hence appropriate to operate on the conclusion that Kandels account is not pure neurobiological. Kandels theory is a successful explanation of neurophysiology learning.

The radically reductive approach is successful in the essence that it offers complete account on the whole process of behaviors. It is hence able to integrate the process of behavior and that of response not only with cellular biology but also with chemical and molecular occurrences. The structure of adult neurons according to Kandel can be altered. Other neuroscience processes are what determine learning as well as memory with respect to response. Kandels' theory is viewed as the best possible explanation of behavior in fundamental neuroscientific terms.

In his article the early point is control, Nathaniel Comfort observed that when Barbara McClintock discovered genetic transposition, no one believed her. Everyone ignored here research hypothesis until 1970 when genetic transposition was rediscovered .Both the maize and bacterial genetics concurred with this theory on transposition. In the earlier years, this discovery was considered to be classical discovery but according to McClintock, movable elements in the genetic con text were part of a larger group of elaborate systems of genetic control (Comfort, 2003).

Through her theory, McClintock tried to explain development and differentiation in genetic mobility. Later discovery of transposition in micro-organism proved to be of phenomenal importance in the biomedicine field. McClintock had previously studied chromosomes in maize and their movement and change during reproduction. McClintock produced some sort of a genetic map that linked the physical characteristics of maize with the chromosomal traits.

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McClintock began her research on the mechanism of the inherent characteristics of maize seeds. She isolated two dominant interacting genetic loci and identified one as the dissocator while naming the other as the activator. The overall conclusion according to her was that the dissociator did not just dissociate but had various other effects on the neighboring genes at the presence of the activator. This was until she discovered that the two that is the dissociator and the activator could transpose or change position during reproduction.

McClintock observed that the transposition of the two greatly affected the chromosomal structure of the seed. She observed that the two opposing genetic formation are interrelated. between the years 1948 and 1950,she developed another theory in which she suggested that the two mobile elements that is the dissociator and the activator caused an inhibition to the genes therefore modulated the action of the genes. Both the activator and the dissociator were referred to as controlling elements.

Her work however, sparked controversy with critics arguing that her method of controlling elements as well as gene regulation was a difficult concept and could not be easily understood. Despite this, the idea of controlling elements was developed further and even led to the discovery of genetic substances known as suppressor mutator. This genetic element was found to display more complex behavior as compared to other genetic elements.

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McClintock received funding from the National science Foundation to sponsor her research on maize. Here, she concentrated on studying the evolution of maize. She carried out this in South America with the advantage that South America is the origin of maize. McClintock explored all the chromosomal, morphological and evolutionary characteristics in maize. The findings from the research by McClintock have been a huge boost to modern science in evolutionary botany.

The late 60s experienced the importance of McClintock's findings. As a result of the work by French geneticists François Jacob who described the genetic regulation as a genetic process occurring during the synthesis of proteins, McClintock demonstrated the concept of iac operon a concept which was later developed and advanced by other modern biologists and scientist. McClintock is however credited for initiating the discovery on transposition following her research proposal in bacteria and yeast a process which took place in the early 70s.

With reference to this, Nathaniel Comfort states that the debate behind transposable genes and chromosomal matter is as a result of misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Comfort argues that a traponson can produce a functional transposes in the aspect of movement within the genome. One important observation with regards to this is that dissociators cannot move with the absence of activators. The two hence require each other in transposition.

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Subsequent research also point out that traponsons basically is immobile unless the cell is placed under some sort of stress. Such stress causes the breakage, fusion or bridge cycle and this goes on to serve an s a source of genetic variation in evolution. Other researchers hence fail to grasp the concept of transposition an issue that McClintock was able to comprehend too well. The concept of transposition is used in modern plant biology such as the generation of mutant plants used for the general characterization of the gene function (Pasachoff, 2006).



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