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Mol Biol Cell. 2012 Jul;23(13):2403-6. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E11-06-0571.

A journey from reductionist to systemic cell biology aboard the schooner Tara.

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  • 1European Molecular Biology Laboratory, D69117 Heidelberg, Germany.


In this essay I describe my personal journey from reductionist to systems cell biology and describe how this in turn led to a 3-year sea voyage to explore complex ocean communities. In describing this journey, I hope to convey some important principles that I gleaned along the way. I realized that cellular functions emerge from multiple molecular interactions and that new approaches borrowed from statistical physics are required to understand the emergence of such complex systems. Then I wondered how such interaction networks developed during evolution. Because life first evolved in the oceans, it became a natural thing to start looking at the small organisms that compose the plankton in the world's oceans, of which 98% are … individual cells-hence the Tara Oceans voyage, which finished on 31 March 2012 in Lorient, France, after a 60,000-mile around-the-world journey that collected more than 30,000 samples from 153 sampling stations.

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