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Johnson Matthey Technol. Rev., 2020, 64, (4), 394

doi:10.1595/205651320x15954136194837

客座社论:打破行业壁垒,向生物学取经

我们人类似乎很依赖用结构、关系和规律来理解这个宇宙。我们可以通过不断提高认识和增加理解,解决我们所发觉的问题和挑战。这个方法和输出体系具有科学性。在最好的情况下,科学提供了卓越的见解、改变生命的解决方案或者两者兼而有之。

我们所利用的结构与规则的缺点在于,它们可能造成思想上的惰性。因为结构或规则针对的是过去的目的,我们可能更情愿盲目地支持它,而不是公开寻找我们真正想要的认知或解决方案;我们在自然和社会科学中都可以看到这种动态,它们揭示的人性问题远比宇宙奥秘更多。科学内部各学科的结构就属于这种情况。我们应该自问,我们究竟为什么要遵从任何结构的设定,并做好相应的准备,清除前进过程中的任何障碍。其中一个例子就是发现了跨学科研究的沃土。近年的跨学科研究在各科学领域中的重要性与日俱增。《庄信万丰技术评论》(Johnson Matthey Technology Review)第 64 卷通过探讨化学与物理学相结合的历史(1)来颂扬跨学科时代,我们将在本期探讨生物学与其他领域的跨学科贡献。

这个广泛的话题包括:在不寻常的环境中,我们可以通过生物体得到什么启发;我们如何在人工环境中利用生物学;甚至包括我们如何管理人工控制系统与外部世界之间的接触。关于工业应用的话题尤为引人注目。某些是庄信万丰及本期刊经常探讨的话题,例如精细化学合成,而其他话题(例如皮革和纺织品)则表明,由于各科学领域之间的界限被消除,之前看似互不相关的行业之间的关系将变得更加紧密。

Guest Editorial: Breaking Down Barriers and Borrowing from Biology

  • Tom Sturgeon
  • Immaterial Ltd, 25 Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 0FW, UK
  • Email: t.sturgeon@immaterial.com
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Introduction

As humans, we seem to desire structure, relationships and laws to understand the universe. Through increased understanding, we can solve the problems and challenges that we perceive. This method and the output are given the label of science. At its best, science provides exquisite understanding, life-changing solutions or sometimes both.

The downside of the structures and rules we impose is that they can create inertia. Because the structure or rule served a purpose in the past, we can be more willing to stand by it blindly than openly seek the understanding or solutions we truly desire; a dynamic seen in the natural and social sciences alike and revealing more about human nature than the universe. One such structure is that of the disciplines within science. We should challenge ourselves to be very clear on the purpose of any structures we adhere to and be ready to remove barriers that get in the way of progress. One such example is uncovering the fertile ground of interdisciplinary research. In recent years interdisciplinary research has been of increasing importance across the sciences. Volume 64 of the Johnson Matthey Technology Review started a celebration of interdisciplinary science by looking at when chemistry collaborates with physics (1) and in this issue, we will celebrate the cross-disciplinary contributions of biology with other fields.

This wide-ranging issue explores topics such as: what we can continue to learn from organisms in unusual environments; how we might leverage biology in artificial situations; and even how we manage the interface between human-made, controlled systems and the outside world. In particular, the diversity of industrial applications is striking. Some are familiar to Johnson Matthey and this journal such as fine chemical synthesis, while others, such as hides and textiles, show that as boundaries within science are removed, previously distant industries will have much to learn from one another.

Themes on Interdisciplinary Science

I have reflected on three themes as this issue has come together. There are numerous examples on each theme and I would challenge the reader to think “what next?” for each:

  1. Interdisciplinary understanding coming into biology; for example, computational methods and coding which go hand-in-hand with the biological understanding required for directed evolution of proteins

  2. Interdisciplinary understanding coming from biology; for example, improved understanding of biochemical pathways and the relevant biological structures being coupled with synthetic chemistry understanding to allow much more targeted small molecule therapeutics to be designed

  3. Platform technologies; for example, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9 (CRISPR-Cas9) genome editing where you can custom design the edit while following standardised procedures.

This third theme is perhaps the most important as it turns niche expertise into something accessible to scientists across fields. Understanding the technology may be beneficial but is not a prerequisite to accessing it. Biology follows favourably in the footsteps of computing in producing such platform technologies and it is an attribute that perhaps we should value and prioritise more in other fields. To expand on this theme, it is exciting to look both backwards and forwards to the contributions made possible by platform technologies from the field of biology. Often these point back to unlocking our understanding of the structure and function of DNA at a molecular level and have resulted in some of the most impactful scientific contributions of the last 50 years or so. Our health has been a significant beneficiary of these advances with cancer drugs providing an illustrative case study. Looking back, we can see recent classes of therapeutics that were significantly enabled by this flow of understanding and platform technologies such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors and antibody-based therapies (2). Most importantly, patient outcomes have improved substantially in part, thanks to these therapies (3).

Looking to the future, gene and cell therapies appear to be following a similar pattern and will hopefully deliver similar patient benefits. Outside of cancer treatments and healthcare, we can see many industries set to benefit from being able to access biological understanding and technologies. This is particularly as we seek to learn from biology and reduce our impact on the planet by using materials and energy in keeping with what Earth can sustain.

Conclusions

As you read through this issue, I hope you enjoy reading something outside of your current field. I would take you back to my earlier challenge and see if you can gain any greater insights by not seeing the separation between your field and those of the authors. Rather, question what you can leverage, what you can learn and what next?

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References

  1. 1.
    A. Smith, Johnson Matthey Technol. Rev., 2020, 64, (2), 101 LINK https://www.technology.matthey.com/article/64/2/101-102/
  2. 2.
    T. A. Baudino, Curr. Drug Discov. Technol., 2015, 12, (1), 3 LINK https://doi.org/10.2174/1570163812666150602144310
  3. 3.
    M. Quaresma, M. P. Coleman and B. Rachet, The Lancet, 2015, 385, (9974), 1206 LINK https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61396-9
 

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