Tribune. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how disaster can befall our species, but also how, thanks to science, it can be fought. Pioneering developments, such as the messenger RNA vaccine, have provided vital solutions. Let us not forget, moreover, that the human lifespan has doubled in one hundred years thanks to pasteurization, antibiotics, vaccinations and other scientific advances. The current pandemic has also underscored the need for long-term support for basic research, open science and research infrastructures that host scientists from Europe and around the world.
“Let us not forget also that due to the impact of man on the planet only 3% of the world’s ecosystems remain intact, even though they are essential to our survival”
As the fight against this virus continues, the news of COP26, which is currently being held in Glasgow (Scotland), reminds us of humanity’s greatest current challenge: the fight against climate change. But let us not forget also that due to the impact of man on the planet only 3% of the world’s ecosystems remain intact, even though they are essential to our survival. The United Nations has declared the decade 2021-2030 to be the decade of ecosystem restoration, and scientists must help find solutions.
What contribution can molecular biology make in the fight against global warming and the vertiginous loss of biodiversity? Basic research in these areas is essential to deliver in-depth knowledge of the current state of life on Earth and of critical phenomena such as ecosystem tipping points. Combined with advanced genomics and imaging techniques, artificial intelligence or other advanced technologies, it allows a better understanding of the dynamics of living matter in real time and on multiple biological scales, from the nested components within a cell to whole organisms and ecosystems.
“Accelerate the green recovery”
The pooling of advances in these different fields offers enormous potential to the life sciences. To take just one example, structural biology, which is the area of expertise of the French site (in Grenoble) of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), has undergone a real revolution in recent decades with the development of electronic cryomicroscopy or even more recently the AlphaFold tool for predicting protein structures using artificial intelligence techniques. Thanks to close collaboration with its designer, the company DeepMind (a subsidiary of Google), EMBL can be proud of having made this unique tool for understanding living things immediately accessible to everyone.
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“Molecular biology, an underestimated weapon in the fight for the climate”