22 September 2009

Steen on mathematics and biology

Here's a fascinating article on what math is good for in biology: The "Gift" Of Mathematics in the Era of Biology, by Lynn Arthur Steen. Steen gives lots of examples about what math is good for in biology. Somewhat surprisingly to me, he doesn't really mention one of the first things that came to mind, namely the use of combinatorial techniques to study the genome, which is nothing but a word on a four-letter alphabet. It's possible that he subsumes this in "statistics", though; to take a simple example, one might want to know how many times a certain sequence of bases would appear in a "random" genome in order to determine whether the fact that such a pattern appears often is signal or noise. Still, he makes the point that while the traditional mathematics curriculum (with lots of calculus and differential equations) takes its scientific inspiration from physics, biology is ascending.

A shorter version of this article is available at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

(How did I find this? Steen was one of the authors of Counterexamples in Topology, which I mentioned yesterday, so I went over to his web site.)


mathphy said...

What a nice combination!

Vadim said...

I guess he does not mention knot theory either as an application to biology.