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At the interface of biology and physics: what life is not? Interview of Prof. Karsten Kruse

In March 2022, Karsten Kruse, Professor of Physics and Biochemistry at the University of Geneva, will give a public course (in French) at the interface of biology and physics. During 4 consecutive Thursdays, he will offer a new insight on the principle of self-organisation of matter challenging our perception of what life is not. This theme goes far beyond physics and biology confronting questions of philosophy and our understanding of our position among all living beings.

Interview with Prof. Karsten Kruse



Why is it important to organise a public course on life and on the principle of self-organisation of matter?

All living beings are part of our material world and thus obey the laws of physics. Like any other form of matter, living beings consist of interacting atoms and molecules. And yet, living matter is different from the forms of matter usually studied in physics as it continuously transforms chemical energy to maintain its structure and to perform vital tasks. What exactly makes living matter special? How does Life emerge from physical interactions? How are chemical reactions coupled to mechanical processes? These are fundamental questions about Life.


Why is this theme important to you ?

I would like to highlight two aspects. First, I am fascinated by the emergence of new features from interactions between ‘agents’. For example, how do the components of a cell are orchestrated – or rather orchestrate themselves – to generate cell migration towards food sources. How do cells arrange to form the organs of an animal? Second, by understanding the organisational principles of Life we might better assess our position among all living beings.


How did you become an expert on this theme ?

Being a physicist by training, I have worked since my PhD in the field of dynamic systems. I have been applying its concepts and tools to biological systems for more than 20 years now. During this time span, I have participated in the development of new approaches for studying living matter and helped to decipher mechanisms underlying biological self-organization in a variety of molecular, cellular, and multicellular systems.


Why is this topic relevant today ?

We understand now that humans are part of an ecosystem that is largely affected by us. Changes in this ecosystem feed back on us. A profound understanding of the mechanisms underlying the self-organisation of living matter will also shed light on the impact of our actions on the Earth’s biosphere.


What people will learn during this public course ?

My aim is to make people understand how the interaction between non-living molecules can give rise to processes in living organisms.


This public course entitled “At the interface of biology and physics: life and the principle of self-organisation of matter” will be offered in French, at the University of Geneva, in March 2022.


Copyright picture: Katerina Pavlyuchkova (Unsplash)

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