Unsolved problems in biology—The state of current thinking
Sukhendu B. Dev, 1,
Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford University, 45-47 Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 6PE, England, United Kingdom
Available online 14 February 2015
Many outstanding problems have been solved in biology and medicine for which scientists have been awarded prestigious prizes including the Nobel Prize, Lasker Award and Breakthrough Prizes in life sciences. These have been the fruits of years of basic research. From time to time, publications have appeared listing “unsolved” problems in biology. In this article, I ask the question whether it is possible to have such a list, if not a unique one, at least one that is analogous to the Millennium Prize in mathematics. My approach to finding an answer to this question was to gather views of leading biologists. I have also included my own views. Analysis of all the responses received over several years has convinced me that it is difficult, but not impossible, to have such a prize. Biology is complex and very interdisciplinary these days at times involving large numbers of teams, unlike mathematics, where Andrew Wiles spent seven years in complete isolation and secrecy solving Fermat's last theorem. Such an approach is simply not possible in biology. Still I would like to suggest that a similar prize can be established by a panel of distinguished scientists. It would be awarded to those who solved one of the listed problems in biology that warrant a verifiable solution. Despite many different opinions, I found that there is some commonality in the responses I received – I go on to discuss what these are and how they may impact future thinking.
Unsolved biological problems; Millennium Prize; Origin of life
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