I love living things, both as a scientist and as a lay person. In Biohistory, I would like to join the knowledge in science and wisdom in every life about living creatures including humans not only in myself but also in society.
Biohistory is a novel wisdom or a new form of comprehensive knowledge that observes the livingness of various forms of life, including humans, and asks "How shall we live?"
In order to understand living creatures, we have to pursuit their universality and diversity. By the discovery of DNA as the entity of genes, vital process in the body became to be explained as functions of proteins synthesized under instructions from DNA. The pursuit of universality in living organism proceeded steadily in the latter half of the 20th century.
In the course of the study, however, it became clear that life cannot be reduced to genes and the interest in diversity returned to the mind of biologists. And we noticed that the genome (Total DNA in the nucleus of a cell and contains all the genetic information needed to form an individual) can unite universality and diversity. In biohistory, the genome is a powerful tool to understand life.
"Genome" has the face of universality because its DNA constituent is present in every living thing, and at the same time, it has the face of diversity because it differs from organism to organism. Moreover, genome can symbolize life from the levels of molecules, cells, individuals and species. Because, the genome is made up of DNA molecules and the information contained in the genome can form cells and individuals. Moreover, genome symbolizes species.
Using the genome, we can regain a close watch on living creatures which were forgotten during the early years of DNA research. To promote research in this direction, it is necessary to clarify what the "genome" is. The genome of a given living organism is passed from its parent or parents (in the case of asexual reproduction, the genome of the parent is passed intact, and in the case of sexual reproduction, each parent contributes one half of its genome). When traced back in this manner, the origins of the genomes of all living organisms should lead back to the origin of life. When genomes are analyzed, we can reveal, for example, how humans became human and how Escherichia coli became Escherichia coli. Moreover, both similarity and difference between humans and Escherichia coli will be found. In this way, we will be able to see the history of life and the relationship of all living creatures on the earth.
There are two ways by which one can examine the history of life and the relationships of living creatures through genome analysis. One is to elucidate the process of evolution and the other is to examine the process of development. To examine the history of living organisms (evolution) and the process of forming individuals (development) is to see living organisms in their entirety and to pay attention to their diversity. At the same time, it places great significance on the concept of "time," which has largely been neglected in science that was based on reductionism and determinism. Although biohistory relies on modern biological techniques such as DNA analysis, it is not restricted to "science" in a narrow sense. In biohistory, we emphasize broad aspects of biology, such as the art contained within it. One can find many interesting "stories" of life in biology. To reconstruct these fascinating stories using research results is one of the most important activities of biohistory. Fortunately, in the front ranks of biological research, investigation into the function of genes in developmental processes (including apoptosis), cell division, signaling, etc. is becoming popular. As such studies continue to advance and to reveal the involvement of genome activity in more phenomena of life, we will get closer to elucidation of the magnificent history of all living creatures.
Almost 20years have passed since we started the field of biohistory (the Biohistory Research Hall was opened in 1993). During this time, many biologists have demonstrated their support and cooperation. Strong interest was shown by specialists in other fields of science and the arts, and by the general public. Many stated "I am thinking the same thing." Biohistory is a comprehensive approach to the questions of life, such as what we are and why such diversity exists among living creatures. The constant support we have received has given us the confidence to continue pursuing the young field of biohistory.
In the society of the future, the understanding of "what is life" will become more important than ever. To ensure quality of life, we must solve many problems concerning environment, population, food, medicine, and education, among others. Finding solutions will require a solid understanding of the meaning of "life."
Biohistory attempts to establish a way of thought that comprehends "life." in its entirety. We are convinced that biohistory has the potential to unite science and humanities, involving both academic and lay persons. We hope that biohistory will take root and contribute to the formation of the future society.
Keiko Nakamura graduated from the University of Tokyo and obtained her Ph.D. in molecular biology. In 1971, she became Chief of the Laboratory for Social Life Science and in 1981, became Director of the Department of Natural and Social Environmental Science at the Mitsubishi-Kasei Institute of Life Sciences. She became a professor at the School of Human Science, Waseda University in 1989. She was a visiting professor at the Center for the Advanced Research in Science and Technology of the University of Tokyo (1995-96), and Osaka University (1996-2005). She was Deputy Director General of BRH from 1993 to 2001. She is the author of many books and also well-known for her translations of such important books as the Double Helix and Molecular Biology of the Cell into Japanese.