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Philosophy of Immunology by Thomas Pradeu


Immunology is central to contemporary biology and medicine, but it also provides novel philosophical insights. Its most significant contribution to philosophy concerns the understanding of biological individuality: what a biological individual is, what makes it unique, how its boundaries are established and what ensures its identity through time. Immunology also offers answers to some of the most interesting philosophical questions. What is the definition of life? How are bodily systems delineated? How do the mind and the body interact? In this Element, Thomas Pradeu considers the ways in which immunology can shed light on these and other important philosophical issues. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
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Philosophy of Biology: Characterizing causality in cancer by E. Rondeau, T. Pradeu and al.


Philosophers have explored the concept of causality for centuries. Here we argue that ideas about causality from philosophy can help scientists to better understand how cancerous tumors grow and spread in the body. After outlining six characteristics of causality that are relevant to cancer, we emphasize the importance of feedback loops and interactions between tumor-cell-intrinsic and tumor-cell-extrinsic factors for explaining the formation and dissemination of tumors.
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Frontiers in Physiology: Understanding Multicellularity – The Functional Organization of the Intercellular Space

Multicellularity exists in all domains of life, spanning from microbial biofilms to plans and metazoans. Clearly multicellularity offers many advantages (increase in size, division of labor, increased complexity), but also comes with a number of challenges (control and coordination of cells, availability of nutrients and signaling molecules,…).

A number of publications have looked at the solutions found by living organisms to counter the problems of multicellularity. Practically all of those studies have taken a cell-center point of view in their analysis. The authors of this article argue that seeing cells as the only actors in multicellularity has led to the omission of some fundamental features. In order to fully understand multicellular forms of life, the authors claim that the intercellular space has to be taken into account. By this they mean not only considering the space in which cells operate, and how they specify it, but also how the organization of space, in turn, has a direct influence on cell fate and behavior. Read more here.

International Journal of Cancer: Beyond the tumour microenvironment by Laplane et al.

For decades cancer research had focused exclusively on the tumor. Later the vision was broadend to the tumor microenvironment (TME). Today five researchers – both philosophers and scientists – call for a look beyond the tumor microenvironment. In the minireview they show the crucial importance of the tumor organismal environment (TOE).
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Philosophy of Biology: The challenges of big data biology by Sabina Leonelli



The availability of big data has the potential to transform many areas of the life sciences and usher in new ways of doing research. Sabina Leonelli argues that big data biology also raises fundamental questions in the philosophy of science: for example, what is a good dataset, and how can reliable knowledge be extracted from big data? Collaborations between biologists, data scientists and philosophers of science will help us to answer these and other questions. Read more here.

Philosophy of Biology: Immunology and individuality by Thomas Pradeu


What do philosophers say about immunology, and to what extent can this be useful to immunologists? Immunology and philosophy have a rich history of dialogue. Immunologists have long been influenced by ideas from philosophy, notably the concept of 'self', and many philosophers have explored the conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations of immunology. This article discusses two aspects of this dialogue: biological individuality and immunogenicity. Read more here.



Philosophy of Biology: Understanding regeneration at different scales by K. MacCord and J. Maienschein



Regeneration occurs at many different levels in nature, from individual organisms (notably earthworms and hydra), through communities of microbes, to ecosystems such as forests. Researchers in the life sciences and the history and philosophy of science are collaborating to explore how the processes of repair and recovery observed at these different scales are related. Read more here.

Philosophy of Biology: Towards a classification of stem cells by L. Laplane and E. Solary



The characteristic properties of stem cells – notably their ability to self-renew and to differentiate – have meant that they have traditionally been viewed as distinct from most other types of cells. However, recent research has blurred the line between stem cells and other cells by showing that the former display a range of behaviors in different tissues and at different stages of development. The authors use the tools of metaphysics to describe a classification scheme for stem cells, and to highlight what their inherent diversity means for cancer treatment. Read more here.

Why science needs philosophy – new article in PNAS

The latest edition of PNAS features an article co-written by philosophers and scientist pleading for a closer collaboration between their respective disciplines. The article entitled "Why science needs philosophy" argues that despite tight historical links between science and philosophy, present-day scientists often perceive philosophy as completely different from, and even antagonistic to, science. However philosophy can have an important and productive impact on science.

The authors give three examples taken from various fields of the contemporary life sciences. Each bears on cutting-edge scientific research, and each has been explicitly acknowledged by practicing researchers as a useful contribution to science. From there the authors develop in what forms philosphy can help advance science. Read the full article here.

CRISPR-Cas immunity: beyond nonself and defence by T. Pradeu and J.-F. Moreau


The journal Biology & Philosophy has published a special issue on the philosophy of CRISPR-Cas. Thomas Pradeu has written the introduction and together with Jean-François Moreau he presents a commentary to Eugene Koonin's target paper.

In the commentary Pradeu and Moreau defend an extended view of CRISPR-Cas immunity by arguing that CRISPR-Cas includes, but cannot be reduced to, defence against nonself. CRISPR-Cas systems can target endogenous elements (for example in DNA repair) and tolerate exogenous elements (for example some phages). They conclude that the vocabulary of “defence” and “nonself” might be misleading when describing CRISPR-Cas systems (PDF of final draft).