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The new biology: beyond the Modern Synthesis

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license


The last third of the 20th Century featured an accumulation of research findings that severely challenged the assumptions of the "Modern Synthesis" which provided the foundations for most biological research during that century. The foundations of that "Modernist" biology had thus largely crumbled by the start of the 21st Century. This in turn raises the question of foundations for biology in the 21st Century.


Like the physical sciences in the first half of the 20th Century, biology at the start of the 21st Century is achieving a substantive maturity of theory, experimental tools, and fundamental findings thanks to relatively secure foundations in genomics. Genomics has also forced biologists to connect evolutionary and molecular biology, because these formerly Balkanized disciplines have been brought together as actors on the genomic stage. Biologists are now addressing the evolution of genetic systems using more than the concepts of population biology alone, and the problems of cell biology using more than the tools of biochemistry and molecular biology alone. It is becoming increasingly clear that solutions to such basic problems as aging, sex, development, and genome size potentially involve elements of biological science at every level of organization, from molecule to population. The new biology knits together genomics, bioinformatics, evolutionary genetics, and other such general-purpose tools to supply novel explanations for the paradoxes that undermined Modernist biology.

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This article was reviewed by W.F. Doolittle, E.V. Koonin, and J.M. Logsdon. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' Comments section.

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