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‘In 10 years we will be at a completely different level’

Biology is seen by many as the science of the future. What is your insider experience of this revolution? It is true that great strides are being made in biology around the world. It has become the fastest-growing area of science, from being a relatively provincial area of knowledge, divided into small fields that have now been unified, fueled by technology and driven by molecular biology, but not only. Also, it has opened up to other sciences, such as chemistry and physics. You know, the boundaries between the sciences are the most interesting and productive areas, there where original knowledge is being created. Today there can be no medicine without biology, while bioinformatics has shown the possibilities for interaction. What should the public expect from developments in biology? For example, has there been much discussion of personalized medication? Certainly molecular medicine, personalized medicine, the combination of genetics with the manufacture of drugs, the possibility of genetic diagnosis, not of the disease but of a tendency toward a disease, changes the way medicine is practiced. The same thing is happening with the use of biology in animal and plant production. Protecting biodiversity is also part of biological research into ecosystems. For example, we have now understood that the viruses and microorganisms that we knew are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more organisms that we are just beginning to discover. Another example is that today there are suggestions to reproduce endangered species by transplanting nuclei with genetic material into cells. One thing is certain – if you interview me again in 10 years time we will be at a completely different level. The public’s attitude to biology and genetics is one of great hope and great fear. Issues such as cloning and genetic engineering have caused great controversy. I don’t want to speak in slogans. It is the duty of all scientists to address the public seriously and responsibly. Not only to speak, but to listen, not just to speak in order to be heard. Do you think that social conscience can impose boundaries on research? Science as a concept means discovering the world and that is a major element of our civilization. On the other hand, the question is to change things by applying new knowledge. Research and discovery, even in unknown areas, is something valuable that we should never abandon. Prejudices should not be an obstacle in the laboratory. On the other hand, whether and how these discoveries should be used is an issue for society to resolve.