Music of Life:  Denis Noble

Biology Beyond Genes

Denis Noble

Is the selfish gene metaphor radically misguided? Should we give up the idea that the gene is the foundation of life? Oxford biologist Denis Noble maps out the future for biology beyond the genome.

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    Denis Noble

    Oxford Professor and one of the pioneers of Systems Biology


About the Course

Richard Dawkins popularised the view that organisms are merely vehicles built by ‘selfish genes’ for their own survival and reproduction. But the genome is inert: it does nothing without the directing activity of the organism. Is the organism using the genes, or are the genes creating the organism?

In this highly personal talk, Denis Noble takes us on a journey from tropical islands to imagined aliens on Jupiter, to show us that we need to shake off simple reductionism and realise, instead, that life is the outcome of complex, interactive processes. Rather than drivers of biological systems, genes emerge as organs of the cell, whose influence is shaped by context and culture.

By the end of this course, you will have learned:

  • Why looking for the secrets of life purely in the genome is misguided
  • Why genes are best understood as templates rather than programmes
  • How Lamarck was right
  • How life emerges from interactions at multiple levels
  • Why the ‘self’ is best understood as a process, not an object in the brain


About the Instructor

  • Denis Noble

    Oxford Professor and one of the pioneers of Systems Biology, Noble developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.

Course Syllabus

  • Part One: The Trouble with Genes
    Noble explores how the music of life is not directed by genes, but in a sense, plays itself
  • Part Two: Beyond the Genome
    Noble investigates how life is generated and explores the nature of the self.

Suggested Further Readings

Nobe, D. (2006) The Music of Life, Oxford University Press