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Physiology moves back onto Centre Stage
IUPS is formed by many societies and academies within the physiological sciences worldwide. We define physiology very liberally, just like the Nobel Prize Committee with its prize for “Medicine and Physiology”. The winner of one of those prizes, Paul Nurse, put the matter very succinctly at our 2013 World Congress when he claimed to be a physiologist himself. His prize was for work on the cell cycle, which is one of the most important functions in any organism. ‘Function’ is the key. That is what physiology is about. The word means the logic of living systems. Working that out is what we do.
During the first years of the twenty-first century we learnt something very important indeed. That logic is not to be found in genomes, or at least not in genomes alone. To say that life is DNA would be as meaningless as saying that knowing the letters of an alphabet is sufficient to read and understand great literature. Meaning and function depend on context. Organisms can be seen therefore rather like those Russian dolls, hiding one inside another. As we drill down from one level to another, we encounter the same problem. Whether dealing with molecular networks, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, systems or the whole organism, each level acts as the container – the context – within which the inner ‘doll’ can be understood. Work at all levels, and particularly work that spans the levels, is essential to unravel the logic of living systems.
IUPS is therefore proud of its discipline, central as it is to all the medical and biological sciences. Our last Congress, Birmingham 2013, showed that brilliantly, as speaker after speaker claimed that they were not really ‘physiologists’ but honoured to have been asked to take part in such an exciting celebration of advances in our discipline. The truth, for them, as much as for Paul Nurse, is that they had just as much claim to be a physiologist as the rest of us. As I said at the beginning of my lecture to the Congress “if it was ever true that physiology had moved off centre stage, it is now coming back with a vengeance”. If you doubt those words, revisit some of the highlights of the Congress in the videos posted by The Physiological Society (on physocTV: IUPS 2013 Lectures on YouTube. ) and by IUPS through Voices from Oxford (on voicesfromoxford: http://www.voicesfromoxford.org/news/the-peaks-of-physiology/358 ).
And never forget, physiology is the essential link between molecular biology and clinical care.