Denis Noble

British biologist

Denis Noble CBE FRS FMedSci MAE (born 16 November 1936) is a British biologist who held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2004 and was appointed Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology. He is one of the pioneers of systems biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.

Denis Noble, Chicheley Hall
(August 2013)


  • [T]he music of life has no conductor.
    • OBC | The Music of Life (2012) Out of the Box Conference, Maribor Slavinia, Out of the box Seminar channel, YouTube.

The Music of Life (2006)Edit

:Biology Beyond Genes, Oxford University Press.

The CD of Life: the GenomeEdit

  • Every time a protein is needed, the appropriate chemical 'code' is 'read off' the gene; this gives the pattern of chemical elements that will make that protein what it is. Our genes encode the sequences of 100 000 or so proteins that make up the human body.
  • A living cell is a continuous action-packed drama. ...Complex chains of molecular interaction happen again and again. We call them 'pathways'... And proteins form the backbone of all these biochemical pathways.
  • The DNA causes the proteins, the proteins cause the cells, and so on. ...[T]he inside story, is that the information coded in the genes is being expressed. In biologist-speak, the phenotype is 'created by' the genotype. The story is seductive.
  • [W]hat does DNA do? As biological molecules go, not very much.
  • The real players in the action of life are the proteins. ...DNA is in comparison rather passive.
  • Proteins are produced in tiny factories inside the cells... Biologists call them ribosomes. ...A DNA sequence that corresponds to the relevant protein sequence is copied onto another molecule... called a 'messenger', which transmits a form of the sequence to the ribosomes. The messenger molecules, called messenger RNA... are another kind of nucleic acid sequence. The DNA sequences are... a kind of template... sequence of nucleotides... transcribed to produce the message... translated into an amino-acid sequence when the protein is made. (Amino acids are the units of which protein is made, just as nucleotides are the units of which DNA is composed).
  • DNA does nothing outside the context of a cell containing these protein systems, just as a CD can do nothing without a CD reader. So we have the paradox that proteins are required for the machinery to read the code to produce the proteins.
  • In higher animals, the bits of DNA code that we lump together and call... a 'gene' are... broken up into segments... called 'exons'... separated by non-coding stretches of DNA, called 'introns'. The exon codes can be combined in various orders to produce a full protein code.
  • [I]f a gene consists of three exons, a, b, and c, it could be read as a, b, c, ab, bc, ac, abc, and perhaps... as cba, ca, ba, each... code for a different protein. At present we do not know the rules...
  • [T]here is no one-to-one correspondence between genes and biological functions. Strictly... to speak of a 'gene for x' is always incorrect.
  • [T]he book of life is life itself. It cannot be reduced to just one of its databases. ...[T]he genome is only one of its databases. Function... depends also on... properties... not specified by genes.
  • In the Anglo-Saxon world the debate has been dominated by arguments between the gene-centered views of people like Richard Dawkins... and the multi-level selection views of people like Stephen Jay Gould... The gene-centered view... is a metaphorical polemic: the invention of a colourful metaphor to interpret scientific discovery. It is not a straightforward empirical scientific hypothesis.

Dance to the Tune of Life (2017)Edit

:Biological Relativity, Cambridge University Press.


  • [L]iving organisms are open systems. ...All the molecules, organs and systems dance to the tune of the organism and its social context. Those molecules include the sequences of DNA we now call genes.
  • If you already know a lot of science, you may need to relearn what you thought you knew. Because... the twentieth-century biology went up the wrong street in the interpretation and presentation of its many impressive discoveries.
  • [S]ome very influential twentieth-century biologists presented a simplistic gene-centered view...
  • [T]here are no genes 'for' anything. ...Genes are used. They are not active causes.
  • [T]here is no complete programme in our DNA. Programmes... are distributed across scales in the organism.
  • [T]here is no privileged level of causation, which is the central statement of the theory of Biological Relativity.
  • [W]e are far from certain what a gene is... many of the confusions and misrepresentations of biology arise from mixing up different definitions of genes and genetics.
  • [I]f genes dance, they have been doing so for... most of the period of the Earth's existence... about 4.5 billion years.
  • [E]ven in the most mathematical areas of science, and biology is rapidly becoming one of those, it is usually possible to explain the concepts in common language, once they have been distilled down from the abstract world of equations.
  • [L]ike the Bellman in The Hunting of the Snark... 'what I tell you three times is true'. I have deliberately included a certain amount of repetition... usually by expressing the same concept from a different angle or in a different context.
  • [T]he book begins with the fundamentals of physics and cosmology, yet ends with the fundamentals of biology and the limits to our knowledge. ...[T]here are many links between these various threads.

Quotes about Denis NobleEdit

  • He did his first degree at the University College London, then his PhD on ionic currents of the heart with Otto Hutter. It was there he produced the first computer simulation of the cardiac action potential, an area in which he's made massive contributions to ever since. ...[T]his work really makes him one of the founders and the fathers of the discipline of systems biology. Having done that he moved to Oxford where he's worked ever since. In a landmark series of papers he characterized the repolarizing potassium currents in the heart, and with this work established a framework for analysis of such data... still used to this day. ...[H]e's produced a series of models in the electrophysiology of the heart, and in this played a major role in the establishment of the Physiome Project with the eventual goal of modeling the whole of human physiology. ...Denis' interests ...aren't limited solely to physiology ...He's contributed greatly to the understading of genetics and evolutionary biology. He also is interested in philosophy, and all these combined with a talent for languages makes him a real renaissance man. ...Denis and colleagues founded the organization Save British Science, which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary under its new name, the Campaign for Science and Engineering

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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