Watch live as Nobel winners ponder the future of biology at Schrödinger at 75

Five Nobel Prize-winners and some of the world’s most brilliant science minds are speaking at the Schrödinger at 75 – the Future of Biology meeting, organised by Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday September 5 and Thursday September 6This stellar international meeting honours and takes its inspiration from an iconic moment in history that changed the course of science when Erwin Schrödinger delivered his paradigm-shifting What is Life? lectures in Trinity in 1943.

You can watch the whole event live (from 9:00 am to 6:15 pm on both days) by tuning in here: https://youtu.be/d1oG3dSfnRE

Back in 1943, the basis of heredity was the urgent unsolved question of its day. But after speaking of an ‘aperiodic crystal’ to describe what genes are made of, Schrödinger’s lectures had a tremendous influence on the development of molecular biology, including a major influence on James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double helical structure. That opened the door to huge scientific progress, with a billion and one secrets slowly prised from DNA and the genes that had previously been shrouded.

A letter from Francis Crick, outlining the impact that Erwin Schrödinger’s 'What if life?' lectures had on his paradigm-shifting DNA-based discovery. Image credit: Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies archives.

Fast-forward 75 years and the burning issues of science today are on the agenda, with the world-leading scientists whose work will shape its future set to outline their personal thoughts of what the future may hold across a suite of sub-disciplines within the field of biology. Among the topics to be addressed are the basis of the mind and consciousness, ageing, gene editing, synthetic biology, bioenergetics and the origin of life.

Chair of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, Professor Luke O’Neill, is one of the organisers of this unique event.

He said: “We are delighted to be marking the 75th anniversary of the famous ‘What is Life?’ lectures given by Erwin Schrödinger in Trinity College Dublin in 1943, and have gathered together some of the brightest minds working on some of the biggest questions to stir the scientific melting pot. We are excited to hear the personal thoughts of so many modern-day scientific luminaries, and It is our great hope that this meeting and the seeds it sows will ensure Dublin will once again be remembered for shaping future work on that most important of all questions: What is Life?”

Professor Luke O'Neill opens the meeting.

Over 20 talks will take place across the two days, featuring Nobel Prize-winners Bernard Feringa (The Future of Chemistry), John O’Keefe (The Future of the Brain), Michael Rosbash (The Future of Fruit Fly and Circadian Biology), Susumu Tonegawa (The Future of Learning and Memory) and Ada Yonath (The Future of Structural Biology).

Professor John O'Keeffe, Nobel Prize winner, delivers his talk on The Future of the Brain.

Professor Ada Yonath, Weizmann Institute of Science, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009 with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz, for work on the structure and function of the ribosome.

Looking ahead to Schrödinger at 75 – the Future of Biology, she said: “Attempts to shed light on the physicochemical basis of life, were reported in a course given 75 years ago, during the 2nd World War, yet attracting ~400 listeners. These partially successful studies provoked more questions, which triggered sophisticated research that progressed us significantly towards this aim, but so far did not reach the final answers. Some of these studies and their take-home lessons are being addressed in the meeting dedicated to this subject.”

Professor Susumu Tonegawa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1987 for discovering the genetic mechanism that produces antibody diversity. He now focuses on the rapidly developing field of neuroscience. Looking ahead to Schrödinger at 75 – the Future of Biology, he said: “The discovery of memory engrams, and engram-bearing brain cells, is revolutionising the neuroscience of learning and memory. Not only are we learning a great deal about how memory is formed, stored, and retrieved but also we can now engineer memory, emotion and behaviour.”

The keynote speaker, Professor Daniel Dennett (Tufts University), is a philosopher and author who specialises in the philosophy of the mind. Appropriately, with the title and focus of Schrödinger’s 1943 lectures in mind, he will share his thoughts for The Future of Life, while Professor Christoph Koch (Allen Institute for Brain Science), a neuroscientist, will explore The Future of Consciousness when he delivers the Schrödinger Lecture.

In addition, other speakers will address the most pertinent questions involving The Future of: Emotion; Complex Systems; Extinction; Ancient DNA; Gene Editing; Brain Editing; Artificial Intelligence; Biological Engineering; Science Communication; Bioenergetics; Infectious Disease; Plant Life; Ageing; Immunology; Cognitive Neuroscience.  

In addition to the meeting next week, the Library of Trinity College Dublin has curated a stunning exhibition, which celebrates Erwin Schrödinger and the science collections of the library. The exhibition is being held in the Long Room, Old Library, and runs until October 31st. The content can also be viewed online at: http://www.tcd.ie/library/exhibitions/what-is-life/

The Schrödinger at 75 – the Future of Biology meeting has been supported by main partners, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Accenture, and by additional partners, AbbVie, Genomics Medicine Ireland, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Company of Biologists, Novartis, Takeda and Wellcome.

More information about the conference is at: https://www.tcd.ie/biosciences/whatislife/

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685