Moreover, have we been doing that incorrectly? Excuse the double negative – but I do have reason.
It is no secret that the promise of the genomic age has yet to materialise. It was one of the great scientific journeys of our time. From Watson, Crick and Frankin’s elucidation of the DNA double helix right through to the human genome project, it was a hell of an intellectual ride. Yet it has become clear that the distance from the genome to the phenome was harder to bridge than the fervour of the genomic age made us think.
We now know how to read the book of life, but we still don’t really understand what it says. We know the notes, but we can’t quite see how they mesh to form the symphony. Whatever your metaphor of choice... it is clear that simply knowing the code hasn’t given us the incredible breakthroughs in understanding or even medicine that we once thought.
Does this, in fact, reflect a wider problem with our approach to biology? Have we become addicted to reductionism?
Hard to kick Breaking down biological systems into ever smaller ‘parts’ gave us an insight unimaginable to a previous generation of scientists. And it is a habit that is hard to kick – which is understandable, after all, it has given us so much. But in the race to the genomic bedrock have we missed something vital? Professor John S. Torday thinks so – and this month in 'Beyond the code' tells us that not only has practical implications about how we might tackle disease, but also that a course correction may lead us to some profound biological understanding.
But can we get there? Even if you disagree with Torday’s analysis, it is hard to avoid the idea that the reproducibility crisis in biological science is making it hard to know if we have even got it wrong correctly – as it were.
As if the colossal complexity of biological science weren’t hard enough, clearly there is also the issue of how we are to study it – it is becoming clear that the application of empiricism itself is harder then we assumed. Which really is something of a shock – the scientific method is rightly held as sacrosanct.
Yet, the mists are beginning to clear on the underlying factors of the reproducibility crisis to some extent, and in our cover story this month we will delve into two main areas which promise a potential solution.