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The Future of Biology -- Which will be new developments?

  1. Apr 26, 2015 #1
    Which branches of the Biological sciences are likely to undergo intense development in the next 10 to 20 years? Which branches of Biological sciences currently face important questions which biologists find very hard to answer? Could you please list some of these questions?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2015 #2

    Evo

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    Biology is a huge field, is this for homework?
     
  4. Apr 26, 2015 #3
    As Evo says, the whole field of biology is huge, and there are many areas in which significant advances are possible.
    I think many would agree though, that one of the big questions is abiogenesis.
    What could be the first self replicating process, here on Earth, and maybe elsewhere, and what prior conditions can lead to that?
    Another very hot topic is deeper research into DNA, what does all the coding really do?
    Are the parts presently considered to be 'junk' remnants really all junk, or do they serve a function of which we just don't yet have much clue?
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2015
  5. Apr 27, 2015 #4
    From a biophysical standpoint, protein folding and conformational change remain stubbornly resistant problems.
     
  6. Apr 27, 2015 #5

    Ygggdrasil

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    Here is a list of some important questions in biology that interest me:

    1) What is the role of protein dynamics in determining protein structure, function, folding, regulation and evolution? Can we use this knowledge to improve how we design new drugs? (see my post here for more info).

    2) To what extent is evolution deterministic? If we were to "replay the tape of life" (i.e. go back in the evolutionary history of an organism and let it evolve again under the same or similar circumstances), would you get the same result? To what extent can we predict how a system will evolve and use that knowledge to fight disease (e.g. pathogens or cancer)?(see my post here)

    3) Only 1% of the human genome codes for protein, and only ~ 10% appears to be evolutionarily conserved. What is the rest of our DNA doing? (see this thread for more info).

    4) How is our DNA organized spatially in the nucleus? What molecular mechanisms determine this organization and how does it impact gene expression and genome evolution? (here's a review article on the topic).

    5) Can we design new organisms from scratch in the lab? What is the "minimal" genome required for life? Is it possible to computationally model an entire organism? (see posts here and here)

    Of course, not all of these have a good chance of being even partially solved in the next 10-20 years, but there are people willing to take a shot at some of them. Note that I've completely ignored neuroscience (outside my expertise), which many would argue is the frontier for research in biology over the next few decades (or at least the major driver of https://www.whitehouse.gov/share/brain-initiative [Broken]).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. May 1, 2015 #6
    Metabolism, metabolism, metabolism......

    Genetic and protein expression changes are often the main focus of study, but gene expression and even protein expression may not (and many times this is the case) correlate at all with how a protein actually is physiologically behaving. Many events, such as post-translational modifications (300+ of which are known) of proteins, can profoundly alter how proteins physiologically function. Metabolomics, in contrast to Genomics and Proteomics data, is the closest type of -omics type data that correlates with overall cellular phenotype at any given moment at time because it captures a picture of exactly how proteins and networks of proteins are behaving at any given moment in time--the readout of their function is captured in the metabolites that they are producing.


    Metabolomic overlaps every other type of -omics field. Genetic expression and protein expression respond dynamically to changes in metabolic fluxes within networks of metabolic enzymes. Think of enzymes that are involved in metabolism as a circuit and instead of pushing electrons through a circuit, biochemistry pushes around metabolites. Major events that regulate genetic expression such a all epigenetic modifications not only require enzymes to do it--they also require the raw materials to perform their biochemical transformations which descend from metabolite pools. Epigenetic modifications, for instance, are quite sensitive to methyl donating metabolites, Acetyl-CoA concentrations, etc. etc.


    In fact, you'll see some papers being published if you dig enough that go against the grain and are starting to claim that metabolism should dethrone DNA as the primary director of cellular behavior:

    http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmolb.2015.00016/abstract# (for example)

    Metabolomics looks to understand life and how cells work at a holistic level, and it is an intense area of research. There's a lot of information that's encoded outside of DNA.
     
  8. May 1, 2015 #7

    Evo

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    I think that it's time the OP posted and explained what he's doing and tell us what he's found himself and not expect us to play the role of his gophers with no hint or thanks on his part.
     
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