Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Physics meets Biology: Size!

Photo courtesy of Brendan Wood
One interesting thing about my new job is that my colleagues are not biologists, but physicists. To some extent, physics was quite absent from my biology curriculum; of course, as a freshman in biology I attended physics classes, but they were usually disconnected from the scope of biology (with some notable exceptions, such as mentioned in this post). If you think about it, there are reasons for this. Physics – and chemistry as well, for the matter – are fundamentally different from biology in the sense that each individual atom or molecule is undistinguishable from another one of the same kind, whereas in biology, in the words of Ernst Mayr, each individual is unique. The uniqueness of individuals stands at the core of evolution, since natural selection requires it to operate. 

Despite this observation, it is undeniable that biological organisms live and evolve in the physical world. In that respect, a lot of what organisms can or cannot do is under direct control of physical laws. If I want to jump, I’d better hope that my muscles can counteract the force of gravitation… Physics is thus intricately associated to biology, and when biologists forget this fact it can lead to absurd hypotheses or ideas that could be refuted by a wave of a hand.
With this in mind, I have decided to do some more reading about the influence of physics on biology. And one very savory topic is the one of size!