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Physiology moves back onto Centre Stage
IUPS is formed by many societies and academies within the physiological sciences worldwide. We define physiology very liberally, just like the Nobel Prize Committee with its prize for “Medicine and Physiology”. The winner of one of those prizes, Paul Nurse, put the matter very succinctly at our 2013 World Congress when he claimed to be a physiologist himself. His prize was for work on the cell cycle, which is one of the most important functions in any organism. ‘Function’ is the key. That is what physiology is about. The word means the logic of living systems. Working that out is what we do.
During the first years of the twenty-first century we learnt something very important indeed. That logic is not to be found in genomes, or at least not in genomes alone. To say that life is DNA would be as meaningless as saying that knowing the letters of an alphabet is sufficient to read and understand great literature. Meaning and function depend on context. Organisms can be seen therefore rather like those Russian dolls, hiding one inside another. As we drill down from one level to another, we encounter the same problem. Whether dealing with molecular networks, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, systems or the whole organism, each level acts as the container – the context – within which the inner ‘doll’ can be understood. Work at all levels, and particularly work that spans the levels, is essential to unravel the logic of living systems.
IUPS is therefore proud of its discipline, central as it is to all the medical and biological sciences. Our last Congress, Birmingham 2013, showed that brilliantly, as speaker after speaker claimed that they were not really ‘physiologists’ but honoured to have been asked to take part in such an exciting celebration of advances in our discipline. The truth, for them, as much as for Paul Nurse, is that they had just as much claim to be a physiologist as the rest of us. As I said at the beginning of my lecture to the Congress “if it was ever true that physiology had moved off centre stage, it is now coming back with a vengeance”. If you doubt those words, revisit some of the highlights of the Congress in the videos posted by The Physiological Society (on physocTV: IUPS 2013 Lectures on YouTube. ) and by IUPS through Voices from Oxford (on voicesfromoxford: http://www.voicesfromoxford.org/news/the-peaks-of-physiology/358 ).
And never forget, physiology is the essential link between molecular biology and clinical care.
Denis Noble, Julie Chan, Penny Hansen, Walter Boron, Peter Wagner
Fifteen years into the 21st century, the landscape of opportunities for the physiological sciences within biology and medicine has become much clearer, and thankfully it is much brighter. This is an important development since, by contrast, the last 30 years of the previous century had become a pretty bleak environment for the more integrative fields of biology as university departments of physiology in various parts of the world changed name and focus, were absorbed into more basic departments, or even closed. Funding followed fashion, or was it the other way round? The fashion was that all would be revealed once we had read the “book of life,” the complete human genome. It took a mere decade of the present century for it to become clear that the “book” is an almost illegible “database” rather than a readable “program of life” that would automatically lead to advances in physiology and medicine. Ten years on, the leaders of the human genome project admitted that the outcome for human health is disappointing:
“But for all the intellectual ferment of the past decade, has human health truly benefited from the sequencing of the human genome? A startlingly honest response can be found on pages 674 and 676, where the leaders of the public and private efforts, Francis Collins and Craig Venter, both say ‘not much’”.
A central theme of the IUPS mission worldwide is that the physiological sciences are returning to centre stage. This was the theme of the opening of the IUPS 2013 Congress in the UK [URL Link], and of a special issue of the Journal of Physiology on the integration of physiology into evolutionary biology, published in June 2014 [URL link]. These initiatives have now been followed up with an exciting and often humorous ‘Conversation’ sponsored by the Journal of Physiology and given to a packed audience at EB 2015 in Boston. The video of this event can be viewed here.
On Friday 6th March the Royal Society celebrated 350 years of the world's first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions. The celebration included special issues of Phil Trans A and Phil Trans B which have published commentaries on a highly selected set of papers from the whole 350 year history:
On behalf of the International Scientific Programming Committee (ISPC) it is our pleasure to announce the 38th Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS-2017). This will be a historical meeting of physiologists from all over the world in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Society of Physiology (SBFis) is the official host of the Congress, which will take place in the Riocentro Convention Center in the period from August 1 to August 5, 2017. The theme for the 38th Congress of IUPS is “Rhythms of Life”.
Denis Noble, Julie Chan, Penny Hansen, Walter Boron, Peter Wagner
At the closing ceremony of the Congress in Kyoto, Japan, in 2009, the President of IUPS made a clear promise on behalf of the whole of Council:
What on earth does IUPS exist for? We need to give back to you, to the young and upcoming physiologists the conviction that we are creating the environment in which our subject can flourish, and flourish effectively. What we are going to do with regard to the activities of IUPS is to greatly expand the outreach to the community, not only to our fellow physiologists but also to the general public, and for that reason, we have taken decisions at Council meetings here to see how we can expand our membership. It would be good to target to ensure that at least half of those we have lost in recent years are back in the fold by the time of the next Congress and that at least some of the countries that have never interacted with us come to the next Congress. We are working on ways in which that might be done.
Walter Boron, MD, PhD, has won election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM), one of the United State’s most prestigious societies for health and medicine.
The Institute of Medicine on Monday named Dr. Boron among 70 new members and 10 foreign associates announced as part of the 2014 class. The individuals are chosen by active IOM members, using criteria that include significant contributions to medical sciences, health care and/or public health. As the IOM explains, membership “recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service."
Dr. Boron has been the IUPS Secretary General since 2009.
A Special Issue of The Journal of Physiology has appeared as a follow-up from the IUPS President’s Lecture at the 2013 Birmingham Congress. 35 leading physiologists, evolutionary biologists and clinicians have contributed articles describing the great opportunities developments in evolutionary biology have created for the Physiological Sciences. The Special issue of 200 pages can be accessed at: