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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
From Murphy Hall
The Next Wave
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Fall 2004
The Next Wave
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This brave new world will largely be powered by molecular biology and the information sciences, whose impact is likely to be as world-shattering as were the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. Molecular biology, which studies the simplest strata of life, and the information sciences have developed a close partnership since the 1980s, the decade that began with the revolution in microelectronics and went on to spawn the Information Age and the Gene Age. Today, we are in the era of integrative technologies and it’s not hard to understand why molecular biology and computer science have teamed up: The former, the handmaiden of the Human Genome Project and genetic engineering, generates a colossal amount of data that can be processed, understood and used only with the help of powerful computers.

This “silicon-life interface,” as the marriage of biology and computer science is sometimes called, has profound implications. “We have begun to breathe into inert sand — the silicon at our feet — a level of complexity rivaling life itself,” says Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at UCLA’s School of Public Health. “And our world will never be the same.”

YET FOR ALL THE PROMISE OF SCIENCE, skeptics and critics rightly point out, the fact remains that much human misery has yet to be alleviated. Poverty is endemic worldwide — more than 800 million people live with chronic hunger and nearly 9 million die every year from hunger-related causes. Disease is still rampant and the world continues to wait for a host of breakthroughs that have long seemed imminent, such as a general cure for cancer. “The big questions — how to control a cell’s function, how to interfere with a cell becoming a cancer, how to stop heart disease — are still out there to be answered,” says Mike Teitell ’85, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’91, M.D. ’93, chief of UCLA’s Division of Pediatric and Developmental Pathology. “The key is bringing fresh ideas along with new tools and technologies to the same old problems.”

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