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Where are the biological sciences going?

Roma Meeting - Preliminary Program:

Wednesday 25 – Friday 27, October 2017


Honorary presidents of the Meeting: Carlos Sonnenschein, Ana Soto.

Organizing Committee: Systems Biology Group Lab, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.
Mariano Bizzarri

Marta Bertolaso, Alessandro Giuliani.

Conference secretariat: Simona Dinicola, Sara Proietti, Virginia Todde, Maria Grazia Masiello, Andrea Pensotti

Organized by: VINCERE association for Scientific Research and ORGANISMS Journal of Biological Sciences

Sponsorship: Sapienza University, Rome.

Location: Urbaniana University, Rome

Organization and accommodation: CG MKT, Via Cassia 1110, 00189 Roma. Tel. (+39)06 30090020, fax (+39)06 30360133.

Click here to read the Vision
  • The natural world consists of hierarchical levels of complexity that range from subatomic particles and molecules to ecosystems and beyond. This implies that, in order to explain the features and behavior of a whole system, a theory might be required that would operate at the corresponding hierarchical level, where self-organization processes take place. Historically, biological research has (mostly) focused on questions that could be answered by a reductionist program of genetics. The organism (and its development) was considered an epiphenomenon of its genes. However, the awareness of the limits reached by the strictly reductionist approach in biological sciences became almost a common place in scientific community and a profound rethinking of the biological paradigm is now underway.
  • Still controversial is the nature of the strategies to get rid of this bottleneck. Some are confident that the brute force of big data can give the solution 'for free' by the simple 'rational organization’ of raw information. Yet, besides the relevance of new computer-based tools, it is unlikely that mere technological improvement could give any relevant solution. Indeed, what we need is a conceptual revolution.
  • This ‘paradigm change’ will have profound scientific and philosophical consequences, given that it implies the search for general principles on which a cogent theory of biology might rely.
  • Because much of the logic of living systems is located at higher levels, it is imperative to focus on them. Indeed, both evolution and physiology work on these levels. A Systems Biology approach is needed to catch such a complexity. Accordingly, this new perspective will entail epistemological and methodological issues as well. Thereby, Systems Biology cannot be considered a ‘simple’ ‘gradual’ extension of Molecular Biology. In this light the explanatory import of experiments and simulations should be reconsidered too for the biological sciences.
  • This is the ‘vision’ underlying the upcoming meeting “Where are the biological sciences going”. In these three Roman days, physicians, biologists, physicists, mathematicians and philosophers will share their ideas on this 'organism centered' biology to come.

General topics

  • Why are we here? Are the Biological Sciences stuck in a bottleneck?
  • Discussion of theories, perspectives and strategies.


A meeting report will be published in ORGANISMS.



Wednesday 25 October

08.30 Welcoming addresses:

Eugenio Gaudio – Sapienza University, Dean

Cataldo Zuccaro – Urbaniana University

Mariano Bizzarri – Sapienza University: Rethinking Science

09.00 Session I – State of the art in biology

Chairpersons: Y. Soen and Y. Lazebnik

- Manfred Drack: Organisms versus machines: the role of reductionism
- Erez Braun: Universality, complexity and the praxis of biology

10.00 - 11.00 Discussion

11.00 - 11.30 Coffee break

11.30 Session II - On living organisms: a foundational perspective

Chairpersons: S. Koutrofinis and I. Licata

- Raphael Vicuňa: Current thoughts on the origin of the organismic life

12.00 - 12.30 Discussion

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

13.30 – 15.00 Session IV – Poster discussion

Chairpersons: R. Taramelli and A. Colosimo

Short Communications: A. Laffranchi – N. Cherdyntseva – O. Naimark – C. Rauch – R. Taramelli – J. Brabek – A. Pensotti - G. Gorga - S. Melino.

15.00 - 18.30 Visit to Fori Imperiali (Christine Balzamonti – Tour Guide)

19.45 – 22.00 Social Dinner “Al Colosseo”

Thursday 26 October

8.30 Session III – The meaning of Systems Biology

Chairpersons: S. Filippi and O. Naimark

- Kumar Selvarajoo: Microscopic and Macroscopic Insights from Dynamic Cell Behavior
- Olaf Wolkenhauer: Where are the biological sciences heading? Not in my direction
- Giuseppe Longo: Emergence and reduction in physics and biology

10.00 - 10.40 Discussion

10.40 - 11.00 Coffee break

11.00 - 12.00

- Alessandro Giuliani: Where to look for interesting biological facts
- Lilia Alberghina: Complex biological functions: Systems Biology approach

12.00 - 12.40 Discussion

12.40 - 13.15 Lunch


14.15 Session IV – On living organisms: a foundational perspective

Chairpersons: M. Montévil and R. Negri

- Scott Gilbert: A Biology of Relationships and Composite Individuals
- Ana Soto: From the century of the genome to the century of the organism: New theoretical approaches

15.15 - 16.15 Discussion

19.00 - 20.00 Welcoming cocktail - light dinner ( del Popolo, Roma Investment Foundation)

Friday 27 October

08.30 Session IV – Re-thinking carcinogenesis from an organismic perspective

Chairpersons: E. Jablonka and B. Rosslenbroich

- Fojo Antonio T.
- Carlos Sonnenschein: Crisis in biology. Its impact on development and carcinogenesis

09.30 -10.00 Discussion

10.00 -10.30 Coffee break


10.30 – 11.30 Session V - Epistemological aspects of integrative biology.

Chairpersons: A. Paldi and M. Mossio

- Silvia Caianello Robustness and Organismic Levels
- Marta Bertolaso Biological Complexity and Scientific Practice in Cancer Research

11.30 - 12.00 Discussion

12.00 - Concluding remarks – Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana Soto

Wednesday 25 October:


Listening to one another: why theologians and scientists should engage in a fruitful conversation.

Lecture: G. Tanzella-Nitti.

Discussants: Scott F. Gilbert, Y. Lazebnik, N. Cherdyntseva, A. Giuliani.

Chairperson: P. Ramellini.

Location map