Researchers address the meaning of the genomic revolution

October 11, 2005

International researchers in history and philosophy of science will join leading Queensland bioscientists to discuss the meaning of the genomic revolution at a conference to be held at The University of Queensland (UQ) on October 14-15.

The Conceptual Impact of the Genomic Revolution conference is being organised by Australia's first research centre in 'biohumanities', the Biohumanities Project, which is part of UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics.

Biohumanties is a new field in which philosophers, historians and social scientists work together with biologists to digest the extraordinary advances of recent bioscience.

UQ Federation Fellow and director of the Biohumanities Project, Professor Paul Griffiths, said the conference would look at the definition of human nature, which is once again being rewritten.

"What 'genetics' did for the 1970s, 'genomics' did for the 1990s and we are now beginning to assess the impact of this new revolution," Professor Griffiths said.

"The genome is far more than a collection of genes, but what new picture of the genome will replace the idea that individual genes are the 'agents of life'?

"How will biological influences on human behaviour be studied in the 'post-genomic era'?

"These are some of the issues the conference will be addressing."

Professor Griffiths said biohumanities aimed to mediate between researchers, the broader academic community and the community at large.

"Across fields as diverse as genomics, evolutionary biology and ecology, the biosciences are generating claims that society needs to analyse and understand," Professor Griffiths said.

"This means more than reflecting on the moral and technological implications of certain biological facts.

"We need to understand how specific experimental findings come together to create a larger picture - what is it that has really been discovered?"

Professor Griffiths said the importance of such research has been recognized in the United Kingdom by the establishment of a £10 million (A$23.5m) research network.

One part of that network is the ESRC Center for Genomics in Society (Egenis) and director Professor John Dupré will be a presenter at the conference.

"Genomics no longer casts genes as the blueprint that determines traits of humans, animals or plants," Professor Dupré said.

"Rather genes are seen as "contextual" or as part of an interactive network that encompasses the genome, the cell, the organism and the natural and social environment."

The proceedings of the conference will be podcast from the Biohumanities website.

Media inquiries: Lori Grantham (+61 733 652 646 or email

Keynote speakers:

Professor Kenneth F Schaffner MD
University Professor of Medical Humanities, George Washington University, author of Behaving: What's Genetic and What's Not, and Why Should We Care? (Oxford 2006)

Professor John Dupré
Director of the ESRC Center for Genomics in Society, author of Darwin's Legacy: What Evolution Means Today (Oxford 2003)

Professor Paul E Griffiths
ARC Federation Fellow, University of Queensland, co-author of Sex and Death: An introduction to the philosophy of biology (Chicago 2001)

Other speakers include:
Dr Jon Kaplan, author of The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic Research (Routledge 2001);
Dr Lenny Moss, philosopher and former cell biologist, author of What Genes Can't Do (MIT 2003);
Professor John Mattick, ARC Federation Fellow and Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland;
Professor John McGrath MD, Queensland Institute for Mental Health Research, winner of the Premier's Award for Medical Research;
Professor Mark Ragan, Research Group Leader, Comparative and Computational Genomics, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ.

Research Australia

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