What do genes mean?

Eric Werner

Talk to the Trinity College Science Society, University of Cambridge, Feb 8, 2007


Some think the genome is a passive database that contains information used by the cell when it needs it. Others view the genome as active. For them the genome is the regulatory control center of all life. This active view sees the genome as a program that systematically constructs the body of the organism and regulates its processes. We will contrast the active and passive views by going deeper into the meaning of genomes and their genes. Gene networks link genes. But even networks must be interpreted by the cell to give them meaning. How do cells give meaning? How do cells control their activity? How do embryos grow and organize themselves? Multicellular systems biology uses computer modeling and simulation to give us a deeper understanding of the roles played by genes and genomes in living systems. These roles include embryo development, tissue regeneration, wound healing, and evolution. Even diseases such as cancer can be understood as pathological developmental and evolutionary processes. The meaning of genes and genomes begins to emerge in this wider context.