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Professor Brian J Ford
biologist, microscopist and science writer/broadcaster

The great challenge - as yet unrecognised by bioscience - is to appreciate the phenomenal capacity that exists within the living cell. Individual cells show marked ingenuity; they are far from being machines. They take decisions. They construct homes. They show refined senses and preferences. They communicate with their fellows.

We have been seduced by the decoding of DNA, wrongly believing that it explains everything. Just because you decoded the digital code within a computer, you would not expect to be able to compose great music or construct great art, would you? So it is with the cell. We know much of its minutiae; little about its behaviour. 

The current view (expounded by Susan Greenfield and others) is that the brain, ultimately, controls everything in the body. My view is the converse - apart from movement and cognition, the brain controls almost nothing that matters. The maintenance of the body, our health, sustenance, nutrition, repair and development - these are what keeps us alive and none of this realm is controlled by the brain. Decision-making within single cells is what matters and understanding this is our great challenge.

Apart from the complexity of cellular life, the only central preoccupation has to be coping with CO2 excess. Kyoto came too late; the atmosphere is heating up steadily even if we were to switch off every engine and every power station at midnight tonight. How can human societies survive in an overheated world? That’s our only major concern; it must be.

Brian Ford is author of books including The Secret Language of Life: How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and The Future of Food (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.

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