It is thought that the next great advances in biology and medicine will be discovered with mathematics. As biology stands on the brink of becoming a theoretical science, Thomas Fink asks if there is more to this collaboration than maths acting as biology's newest microscope. Will theoretical biology lead to new and exciting maths, just as theoretical physics did in the last two centuries? And is there a mathematically elegant story behind life?
This article is part of a series of two articles exploring two ways in which mathematics comes into food, and especially into food safety and health. In this article we will take a dive into the rather smelly business of digesting food, and how a crazy application of chaos theory shows the best way to digest a medicinal drug.
This article is part of a two-part series exploring ways in which mathematics comes into food, and especially into food safety and health. In this part we'll look at how maths can tell us the safest way to cook food.
London, September, 1853. A cholera outbreak has decimated Soho, killing 10% of the population and wiping out entire families in days. Current medical theories assert that the disease is spread by "bad air" emanating from the stinking open sewers. But one physician, John Snow, has a different theory: that cholera is spread through contaminated water. And he is just about to use mathematics to prove that he is right.
Researchers have unveiled the first prototypes of robots that can
develop emotions and express them too.
If you treat these robots
well, they'll form an attachment to you, looking for hugs when they
feel sad and responding to reassuring strokes when they are
distressed. But how do you get emotions
into machines that only understand the language of maths?
How do you judge the risks and benefits of new medical treatments, or of lifestyle choices? With a finite health care budget, how do you decide which treatments should be made freely available on the NHS? Historically, decisions like these have been made on the basis of doctors' individual experiences with how these treatments perform, but over recent decades the approach to answering these
questions has become increasingly rational.
Infectious diseases hardly ever disappear from the headlines — swine flu is only the last in a long list containing SARS, bird flu, HIV, and childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. If it's not the disease itself that hits the news, then it's the vaccines with their potential side effects. It can be hard to tell the difference between scare mongering and responsible reporting,
because media coverage rarely provides a look behind the scenes. So how do scientists reach the conclusions they do?
One of the greatest advances in the biomedical sciences has been the unravelling of our genetic code. This new understanding sheds light on what makes organisms function and how they are related to each other, helps to combat diseases, and to convict criminals. But it also poses great mathematical challenges: the genetic revolution is an information explosion which can only be tamed using mathematical methods.
Comparing and communicating small lethal risks is a tricky business, yet this is what many of us are faced with in our daily lives. One way of measuring these risks is to use a quantity called the micromort. David Spiegelhalter and Mike Pearson investigate.