Technology: the tools and methods to observe and to intervene in Nature

9 July 2016
In molecular life sciences, the incredible ingenuity of scientists and engineers such as those at VIB leads to increasingly accurate analytical methods. These are used to study the structure of the molecules that make up living matter, and to elucidate how these molecules interact in the self-propagating far-from-equilibrium steady state that essentially constitutes Life. Importantly, these methods are also those used to detect the molecular alterations that occur in diseases of plants, humans and other animals, and are the basis for the diagnostics that will progressively change medicine (and agriculture) as we know it.

Similarly, scientists are constructing increasingly sophisticated tools to intervene in Nature. This remains essential to counter the threats to our existence as the otherwise rather unremarkable primates that we are. In life sciences, methods are developed to manipulate and perturb processes in biological systems, which enable us to gain knowledge on the workings of these systems. These
very same biotechnological methods are allowing us to develop new molecules, cells and organisms that help us live our billions of lives. Agricultural methods such as breeding, use of fertilizers and pest control, and medical tools such as vaccines and antibiotics have tremendously improved the prospects of more and more humans to lead longer, healthier lives. And don’t forget the fermentation technology that has given us beer, wine, bread, chocolate and cheese to make those long lives more enjoyable!

Modern biotechnology is merely speeding up these long-standing human endeavors, by allowing for a much more specific, targeted approach to agriculture and medicine, most often not opposed to but synergistic with the methods of the past.

In summary, for its survival and development, humanity has had and continues to have a need to invent ways to analyze and manipulate our world (technology). Possibly because of this, humans have evolved a remarkable curiosity about how the world works. This curiosity has so far culminated in the systematic form of inquiry known as modern science. Humankind’s needs inspire scientific inquiry. Scientific results inspire new technology, which allows for new scientific inquiry. The two are aspects of one and the same deeply human cultural endeavor, to which we at VIB and its partner universities are proud to contribute.

Nico Callewaert
Department Director at the VIB Medical Biotechnology Center, UGent
©VIB-Valerie Clarysse