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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Aug;111(2):335-42. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00565.2011. Epub 2011 Jun 2.

Giant sucking sound: can physiology fill the intellectual void left by the reductionists?

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Department of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Molecular reductionism has so far failed to deliver the broad-based therapeutic insights that were initially hoped for. This form of reductionism is now being replaced by so-called "systems biology." This is a nebulously defined approach and/or discipline, with some versions of it relying excessively on hypothesis-neutral approaches and only minimally informed by key physiological concepts such as homeostasis and regulation. In this context, physiology is uniquely positioned to continue to provide impressive levels of both biological and therapeutic insight by using hypothesis-driven "classical" approaches and concepts to help frame what might be described as the "pieces of the puzzle" that emerge from molecular reductionism. The strength of physiology as a "bridge" between reductionism and epidemiology, along with its unparalleled ability to generate therapeutic insights and opportunities justifies increased attention and emphasis on our discipline into the future. Arguments relevant to this set of assertions are advanced and this paper, which was based on the 2011 Adolph Lecture, represents an effort to fill the intellectual void left by reductionism and improve scientific progress.

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