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Letter to Readers

Feature Article

From Mechanistic to Organismal Biology
by E. S. Russell

A book published by a marine biologist in 1930 contains some remarkably up-to-date understanding of what a whole-organism biology needs to look like. We publish an excerpt here, where the author begins by saying: “Biology occupies a unique and privileged position among the sciences in that its object, the living organism, is known to us not only objectively through sensory perception, but also in one case directly, as the subject of immediate experience. It is therefore possible, in this special case of one’s own personal life, to take an inside view of a living organism.”

Notes and Reviews

Shattering the Genome
by Stephen L. Talbott

A microorganism known as Deinococcus radiodurans can endure massive doses of radiation that fragment its genome into hundreds of pieces. Its proteins simply reassemble a whole genome from the fragments. It raises a question that turns out to be universally applicable: Where is wisdom stored in the organism? No place in particular — and certainly not only in the genome. We are forced to think of the organism in its totality as an active agent in the world. This article is part of The Nature Institute’s “Biology Worthy of Life” project (

Rebirth of the Type

A recent paper by whole-organism biologist, Mark Riegner, tackles the once-dismissed question whether organisms can be thought of as having an essential nature — that is, whether they exemplify a type or archetype. He suggests that the time is ripe for revival of this concept, if only it is understood correctly. And he turns to Goethe for such an understanding, arguing that recent developments in the biological and evolutionary sciences point toward a serious place for typological thinking of the sort Goethe advanced. We offer a few notes on the paper here. (To request a copy of Riegner's article, write him at

News from the Institute

Read about activities at The Nature Institute and by Nature Institute staff. Among the contents here, you will find some notes drawn from Craig’s talks on evolution during a course given this past summer.

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