A scientist celebrates randomness

Published 20 August 2009

randomDespite the spectacular advances in our knowledge of genetics over the past 20-25 years, says Professor Anatoly Ruvinsky, such knowledge and its future development will always be limited by the underlying randomness of nature.

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Alan Pettigrew, will launch Professor Ruvinsky’s book Genetics and Randomness at the University at 4 pm on the 26th of August in the Wright Lecture Theatre.

Ruvinsky, Professor of Genetics at the University of New England, emphasises that living organisms are – at the subatomic level – subject to the same randomness as that observed by physicists at the quantum level.

This randomness would never allow – for example – even a complete genetic blueprint of an individual to be an accurate predictor of that individual’s appearance or behaviour. “Randomness is very important for life,” Professor Ruvinsky says, “but it sometimes makes the life of scientists a little uncomfortable.”

Professor Ruvinsky’s book Genetics and Randomness, published last month in the United States, argues that it is crucially important for geneticists to recognise the underlying limitations of scientific prediction. “There are enormous opportunities for the further development of science,” he says, “but, like all human endeavours, science has its limits.”

Genetics and Randomness discusses subatomic randomness in relation to spontaneous mutations and long-term macroscopic changes in living organisms, and the multitude of random events that occur during an individual’s development.

“‘Organised randomness’ is the essence of biological systems,” Professor Ruvinsky says. “Randomness ensures the survival of life by allowing endless variation. Randomness is the very ‘essence’ of life, not a ‘nuisance’ that occasionally causes deviations from fundamentally rigid laws.”

The publishers of Genetics and Randomness, CRC Press, say the book “navigates the complex nature of genetic uncertainty from different points of view and at various levels of biological organisation”.