Biology: No Place for the KISS (Keep it Simple, Sam) Principal

November 15 2007

Reductionism or "the idea that things can best be understood by reducing them to their smallest components" has its place in physics and chemistry, but in biology - that's a different story - as explained in an Economist article.

I guess the dangers are similar to the questions I raised in the blog article "Do Hyperactive Immune Systems Protect Against Cancer...or Does Cancer Suppress Immune Systems and thus Cause Allergies?" where one can leap to completely erroneous conclusions based on incomplete information.  Reductio ad absurdum?

The Economist article goes on to discuss the value of a systems approach to biology, particularly in drug testing: about 40% of the compounds that drug companies test cause arrhythmia. The challenges are truly immense, given that four major drug firms (Roche, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca) have gotten together to figure out how new drugs may affect the heart. And environmental factors may also come into play, multiplying the amount of data that need to be considered in the systems-biology model.

What's the cost of all this number-crunching? The Economist reports it costs a billion dollars for a computer capable of performing ten thousand trillion calculations a second.

But that is only about 25% of the cost of the Human Genome Project (a triumph of reductionism, says the Economist).

Category: Words to the Wise
Filed under: Allergies, Cancer, Software/IT