Kampf der Kulturen in der Biologie

Im letzten Sommer trafen sich einige Duzend Physiker nahe bei Aspen, Colorado. Sie wollten etwas feiern, was die Zeitschrift Nature als das "wachsende Gefühl" bezeichnete, ,,dass die geistigen Grundlagen ihrer Disziplin dafür entscheidend sein werden, die Ernte der Ära nach dem Genom einzufahren". Da sich die Genetik tatsächlich anschickt, alles von der menschlichen Gesundheit bis hin zur Landwirtschaft zu verbessern, drängen sich überall in der Welt Physiker und Mathematiker in die biologischen Wissenschaften. Die Biologie wird es sein, wohin im nächsten Jahrhundert die wissenschaftliche Aktivität - und die Forschungsgelder - hinfließen werden.

Doch ist dies nicht das erste Mal, dass Physiker und Mathematiker in der Biologie nach neuen Arbeitsfeldern Ausschau halten. Aber die Geschichte dieser Bemühungen sah bisher ziemlich trübe aus. Biologen und Physiker haben unterschiedliche Ziele und Traditionen und suchen nach recht verschiedenen Antworten, weil sie Fragen ganz anderer Art stellen.

Ich bekam vor vielen Jahren den ersten Eindruck von der Trennungslinie zwischen den Disziplinen. Damals gab ich einen Kurs über mathematische Methoden in der Biologie. Nachdem ich ein biologisches Problem mit 11 Variablen eingeführt hatte, benutzte ich eine einfache Methode - die so genannte dimensionale Analyse - um zu zeigen, dass nur drei der Variablen empirisch untersucht werden mussten; auf die Beziehungen zu den restlichen Variablen konnte mit Hilfe der Logik geschlossen werden. "Aber Sie haben doch keine Versuche gemacht", beklagten sich die Studenten, "wie können Sie es dann wissen"?

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