Colloids and epigenetic marks: A comparison of two fashions, 1900 and 200o - Ute Deichmann

Abstract: At the beginning of the 20th century a fast-rising new area of research, biocolloidy, began to dominate biological chemistry. Biocolloidists replaced the 19th-century idea of macromolecules with that of colloidal aggregates of small molecules, which were influenced by inorganic ions. At the end of the 20th century another fast-rising area of research, epigenetics, began to call into question the view that the genetic information in the genome is the major cause of heredity and development. In what may be called an extended version of epigenetics, chromatin marks, i.e. small molecules bonded to DNA or histones, form another type of inheritance and are suitable for bringing about a “Lamarckian" kind of evolution. Based on historical sketches of biocolloidy, epigenetics, and extended epigenetics, I will demonstrate similarities in reasoning and attitudes across differences of time, as well as analyze the scientific and philosophical motivation behind them.

"Engineering" life, mechanistic biology, and basic biological principles - Ute Deichmanm

Abstract: This paper elucidates the scientific and philosophical origin and further development of the concept of 'engineering' life by focusing on the experimental biologist Jacques Loeb (1859-1924). I show, first, that Loeb's 'engineering' approach was strongly influenced by the philosophy of Ernst Mach; understanding life meant controlling life phenomena through physical or chemical means. I then analyse Loeb's transition from the positivist-'engineering' approach to a causal mechanistic one, based on a physicochemical concept of life. The ideas that biological specificity is based on protein diversity and that the synthesis of life must begin with the synthesis of the genetic material were central. Third, I argue that experimental control and prediction have recently been fruitfully combined with causal-mechanistic research in experimental systems biology, such as research on gene regulatory networks, and synthetic biology. ​

Interview Project: Scientific autonomy and values in science. Historical-philosophical analysis of the current debate and confrontation with case studies​

A series of interviews of former Soviet/Russian scientists emigrated in Israel, about their experience and conception of the relationship between science and (nonscientific) values, in the scope of Philippe Stamenkovic’s postdoctoral project at the Jacques Loeb Center for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Introduction to interviews

Anonymous, interviewed by Philippe Stamenkovic​

Alex Khenkin’s interview by Philippe Stamenkovic
Alex Khenkin is a organic chemist at theWeizmann Institute

David Danovich’s interview by Philippe Stamenkovic
David Danovich is a quantum chemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Micha​el Gedalin’s interview by Philippe Stamenkovic
Michael Gedalin is a theoretical physicist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Irena Efremenko’s interview by Philippe ​Stamenkovic
Irena Efremenko is a theoretical chemist at the Weizmann Institute