Werner Arber on Complexity of System Biology
  Werner Arber     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2012

Of course, system biology, I mentioned already that besides common origin we may have common future, and that all living beings are a large system. You know, if I say when the human genome was published some twelve years ago for the first time, one of the articles said interestingly, 120 sequences were quite good homologies to bacterial genes. Therefore, they concluded that bacteria had transferred their genes into human genome. But, if you think, we are full of bacteria, our bodies, and living together for long periods of time occasionally you may exchange a gene from human genome into bacteria. Therefore, we do not know whether these 120 sequences are all of bacterial origin, or whether some time ago one of the more or less animal genes jumped over into bacteria which was living in that animal.

Right, yes. And, of course, then the complex systems depend also on the environments according to Darwin natural selection. That means principally, how did living organisms deal with their environment? And, we do know that the physical chemical environment terrestrial evolution changes, and can change. The atmosphere changes and then you have, if you want to have good life, you have to adapt. That’s evolution. It’s a slow process, but it functions. And, therefore, we not only all interdepend on the evolutionary tree, but also with regard to our environment for natural selection. So, the whole world is like one big system.

Werner Arber, (born June 3, 1929, Gränichen, Switz.), Swiss microbiologist, corecipient with Daniel Nathans and Hamilton Othanel Smith of the United States of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 1978. All three were cited for their work in molecular genetics, specifically the discovery and application of enzymes that break the giant molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) into manageable pieces, small enough to be separated for individual study but large enough to retain bits of the genetic information inherent in the sequence of units that make up the original substance. Arber studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, the University of Geneva, and the University of Southern California. He served on the faculty at Geneva from 1960 to 1970, when he became professor of microbiology at the University of Basel. During the late 1950s and early ’60s Arber and several others extended the work of an earlier Nobel laureate, Salvador Luria, who had observed that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) not only induce hereditary mutations in their bacterial hosts but at the same time undergo hereditary mutations themselves. Arber’s research was concentrated on the action of protective enzymes present in the bacteria, which modify the DNA of the infecting virus—e.g., the restriction enzyme, so-called for its ability to restrict the growth of the bacteriophage by cutting the molecule of its DNA to pieces.