A Biology for development

Publié par : EDP Sciences

Where will humanity stand at the dawn of the 22nd century? The answer depends on our determination to control the powerful transformations that accompany the beginning of the 21st: unprecedented demographic growth, ageing of populations, irrepressible migratory flows, dramatic reduction of some natural resources, disruption of millennial climatic cycles, rapid spread of new pathologies... A number of these transformations are part of the generally complex, often inevitable evolution of our planet, not only geo-ecologically, but also in economics, politics, society... However, many of them present a challenge to development, that unique ability of human societies to improve their condition. To cope with these evolutions and threats, the resources offered by science have never seemed so crucial, even if science alone cannot provide the answer. Nothing less than a scientific revolution is needed, a revolution that will give us more durable control of our destiny, leading to a world of greater solidarity and respect of our environment. All, or almost all, scientific disciplines are concerned. But the life sciences are more than any other, already engaged as they are today in a process of profound change in their concepts, exploratory techniques and applications.


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To improve understanding of embryonic stem cells, researchers in Great Britain recently received authorisation to produce embryos of indeterminate status, since these embryos are obtained by the insertion of an adult somatic cell nucleus into an animal oocyte, thus carrying a human genetic inheritance without however qualifying as human ones. By making it possible to overturn one of the most fundamental divisions of the ordering of organisms elaborated by evolution, the scientific exploration of life cannot offer better proof that it has well and truly crossed the frontier of a new territory, the limits of which remain impossible to determine today.


If biology is consequently also one of these scientific fields where the need to take stock of its progress is most pressing, clearly no-one is in a better position to perform this arduous task than biologists themselves, at least those who can fully appreciate the extent of the transformations affecting their discipline as well as master its main theoretical foundations.


Such is precisely the task that a renowned geneticist addresses in this book, even as he emphasizes the benefits that this blossoming of biological knowledge might bring for the resolution of the challenges raised by the development of contemporary society, and also the perspective offered by genetics which is his field of expertise. Few people are indeed better qualified for this undertaking. Not only was François Gros a key player in the molecular biology revolution, through his work on messenger RNAs in particular. He is also one of its most accomplished analysts and historians. From Secrets du gène (1969) to his Mémoires scientifiques (2003), via La Civilisation du gène (1989) and Regards sur la biologie contemporaine (1983), he has repeatedly strived to bring to light the theoretical significance as well as the societal implications of this dramatic transformation in biological knowledge, in which he was both an actor and a privileged witness at the side of Jacques Monod and François Jacob. Nearly thirty years after the report he wrote with Jacob and Pierre Royer for the French President about "the consequences that the discoveries of modern biology might have on the organization and functioning of society" ( Sciences de la vie et société, 1989), he offers in this new book his latest analyses on how the most recent advances of biological investigation may, and within what limits, lead to significant progress in the domains of health protection, food production and energy supply, three essential areas of social development. Furthermore, by first recalling the main episodes of the scientific adventure which led to these advances, he sheds light on the relation between the trials and errors of basic research and the applications that they ultimately make possible, the way in which basic research fosters potentialities that applications only gradually delineate, at times so unpredictably that the original discoveries from which they derive appear even more fabulous.


François Gros' reflections are not only of interest with regard to the actual state of biological knowledge today, but naturally also to the issue of development and the means of resolving it. From this point of view, their significance is even greater when we read them in the light of the new relationships being built between science and development.


Indeed, these relationships have changed. Society no longer asks science simply to help it develop, but also to help it develop differently. Society no longer expects from science only more development, but also another type of development, thus granting to scientific knowledge a more essential role than ever in the quest for a better future, and increasing in similar proportions the responsibility of scientists. To fully appreciate the extent of this new responsability requires one to briefly examine the close relationship that has always united development to science, and the unprecedented crisis in which this relationship unquestionably foundered over the last quarter of the 20th century.


Although it is now recognised as the subject of a specific discipline known as development theory, with its own research centres and training courses, as well as a myriad of national and international institutions with a more practical aim, this notion is still seldom defined. Even if it clearly refers in all its uses to a process of transformation, it is not unequivocal, and when applied to societies, its meaning is rather specific. It would be particularly inappropriate to take it as synonymous for growth in such a context. For even if an increasing population is admittedly a population which in a certain sense of the word is developing, this growth is often a factor of under-development. Similarly, a transport system perfectly identical to another one in terms of geographical points connected, number of vehicles in circulation and amount of people transported, but much more advantageous in terms of energy consumption and toxic emissions, would clearly be considered by development theory as more developed than the other one. The concept on which this theory is based is therefore also, and even primarily, qualitative. It seems reasonable to suggest that, at its most general level, this concept refers to the process by which a society improves its global capacity to satisfy the needs and desires of its population. And, consequently, that a difference in degree of development corresponds to a difference in state of such a capacity.


This definition is particularly recommended for its aptitude, through the idea of global capacity, to explain the fact that a society considered as having reached a certain degree of development may, in reality, display major differences in its capacity to meet each one of the different needs of its population, for example between those of health and those of transport.



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Informations
Date :

11/07/2011


Langue :

Anglais


Pages :

250


Consultations :

5082


Note :
Format :

PDF / EPUB


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Résumé

Auteur : François Gros


Editeur : EDP Sciences


Parution : 2009

ISBN : 9782759808946

Tags : Ebook, biology, development, ebook scientifique
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