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Restarting Civilisation – Episode 9


Richard Feynman once said: ‘If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms-little particles that that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.’

So, we asked the people featured in this app what scientific idea they would like in their back pocket in the event we had to restart civilisation.

 The thing that is so complicated about biology is nothing does one job.

So I’m a biologist, so I’m concerned with the way cells work and how molecules within cells talk to each other and how proteins are made and why they fold  in certain ways and how the folding of them can give them a different function as to whether they fold a different way.  So there’s…the thing that is so complicated about biology is, nothing is, nothing does one job. There’s always two or three different things that will do the same job.  So, when you’re trying to design drugs or you’re trying to find a cure for a disease, you’ll stop one thing and something over here will pick up that role and do it for you, because the body has a lot of redundancies – except for the fact that we’ve only got one heart – most things we can sort of pick up and compensate for.  So the thing that would be really nice to understand is the communication between cells: how it is that if you stop one thing, something else picks something else up.    There’s so much we don’t know about the brain; if we were just given a map of the brain telling us everything about what happens there, that would be a really good start, because whilst we can understand the way chemicals control proteins and how proteins fold and what their functions are, in terms of the big picture, in looking at the brain we don’t understand very much at all. And that would be nice, if we could have just a blueprint, just with all the things that tell us how it works, where things are stored, where are memories stored, how our neural networks work together, all that stuff that…I mean, we do know quite a lot about the brain but there’s so much we don’t know and that’s the most complex thing that we have and that would be great to have which…we would never get because we don’t know, but that would be fantastic.