The BEDROCK Project
National Science Foundation
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Thammasat University

“Ten Equations that Changed Biology
(and that Should Change Biology and Mathematics Education)”
Interactive Mathematical Biology's Role in Curricular Reform:
BioQUEST Simulations and Mathematics for Problem-Solving

Abstract: Mathematics has played exceptionally important roles throughout the history of biology. In this century, at least five Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine involve direct contributions from mathematics. These mathematical contributions include (1) reworking complete trees of life with sequence alignment and phylogenetic tree algorithms as well as the assembly of huge genomes such as we saw in the release of the human genome a few years ago, (2) invention of three dimensional imaging that has transformed medical diagnosis through computer assisted tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, (3) development of epidemiological models of the spread of bacterial and viral infections, etc. More biology students take Calculus than any other single constituency. Too frequently, both biology and mathematics textbook authors have unappreciated mathematics in biology curricula because they assume that biology students have an inadequate mathematical preparation. This practice: (1) deskills many biology students and screens mathematics students from major applications of their field, (2) is inconsistent with our requirements for majors in both fields, (3) misrepresents contemporary biological and mathematical research, and, (4) underprepares students to read many articles or to contribute to many areas of biology and mathematics. However, the recent calculus and biology reform movements have empowered students to actively investigate the behavior of many famous mathematical models in biology. While numerous recent publications are replete with numerous models, there is a need to identify a succinct list of achievements that represent the power of mathematics in biology. Hence, “ten equations that changed biology” and a brief description of their historical importance are presented here with BioQUEST software instantiations in order to: first, draw attention to a variety of mathematical models that have been intrinsic to significant discoveries in biology and, second, to illustrate that the tools are currently available for engaging students in active investigation of biological phenomena and the development of systematic strategies for biological problem solving.                                 

Download the original article (pdf): Bioscene 23(1):11-36, 1997

Other Resources

BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists (2003)

Meeting the Challenges The Mathematical Association of America
    Review of the meeting by Victor Katz, MAA Visiting Mathematician from University of District of Columbia

Mathematics Is Biology's Next Microscope, Only Better; Biology Is Mathematics' Next Physics, Only Better A presentation by Joel Cohen (Rockefeller Institute and Columbia University)


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