What kind of thing is the genome?

Department of Philosophy, Exeter University,  July 2006

Traditionally the genome is thought of variously as the CPU of the cell, or as some kind of molecular machine in which the genes encoded in the DNA are deployed to produce the phenotype or properties of the cell. However, the completion of the sequencing of the human genome suggests things are much more complicated. Read as pdf here

Issues in a SYSTEM approach to radiobiology

BfS, Munich, Germany November 2010

It has become very fashionable to believe that systems biology will rescue radiobiology from its present torpid state induced by the uncovering of genomic instability and the bystander effect in 1992, for which there are still no agreed mechanisms. But is systems biology the simple solution many believe it is and in any case what is meant by the term systems biology? These issues are addressed in this lecture the conclusion of which is that treating the cell as an open thermodynamic system could solve many problems. Read as a pdf here.



Only DNA, Really?

For most of the past 50 years biology has accepted the dogma that the information coded in the base sequence of genomic DNA, and only that, was the information required to produce the cellular phenotype from the genotype. This essay explores dome of the reasons why this cannot be the case and suggests an alternative. Read as a pdf here.


FP7 “NOTE” Workshop, Helsinki, Finland. June 2010

As someone with a long term interest in the processes that underlay genomic instability and the bystander effect I have been interested in the European Commission’s NOTE project. NOTE stands for “non-targeted effects” which is what GI and BE are generally believed to be. The project aims to identify a new paradigm that encompasses both these new effects and classical radiobiolgy. This workshop was billed a discussing that new paradigm. I agreed to be a rappoteur for part of the workshop. In my view it is very brave of the Commission to go seeking out new paradigms for the reasons discussed. Read as pdf here.

A Life Writ on Water

This essay was written in 1993 shortly after I had joined WHO and was living in Rome. The project to sequence the human genome project had just started. I was highly sceptical that it would have the benefits so lavishly claimed by its advocates, some of whom were to benefit handsomely from the “economic” collateral, for example, in terms of lab equipment etc.. I compared to genome sequence to a telephone directory suggesting that the sequence would tell us as much about how the genome works as do a telephone directory tells us about how a telephone works. In 2001 with the completion of the project this turned out to be not a bad prediction. Read the pdf here.

Book Reviews:

Book Review: Radiation and Reason by Wade Allison

I was invited to review this book with Hooshang Nikjoo of the Karolinska by the Lancet. We warned the editor that our review would be controversial but we were given the go-ahead. After submitting the completed review we heard nothing for several weeks and on prompting received the news that our review had been received but now it was no longer topical. I certainly expected better of the Lancet whose editor often lectures claims to espouse the importance of honesty. The most scientific description of Allison’s book I can think of is “wacky”. To read the review as a pdf go here







The Independent Attractor Model for Cell Regulation

Balliol College, Oxford, UK November 2011

This is a seminar presented in the series “Conceptual Foundations in System biology” on 24 November. It gives a broad outline of the independent attractor model for cell regulation. Read as a pdf here