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“We must move from a paradigm of competition to one of collaboration”

“We must move from a paradigm of competition to one of collaboration”

A childhood marked by his love of reading and his subsequent fascination with Jacques Cousteau were the first steps of Francisco Bozinovic’s scientific curiosity, winner of the 2020 National Prize for Natural Sciences for his contribution to the paradigm of integrative biology, a science that allows unraveling relationships between organisms and their environments. In the following interview, we talk to Dr. Bozinovic about integrative biology, the role of philosophy in science, and his newfound passion of writing books for children and young adults.

By Celeste Skewes, Science in Chile.-In 2020 he received the National Prize for Natural Sciences for his career in the development of the scientific approach to integrative biology. Could you comment on what it is about?

Integrative biology tries to look at the complete biological phenomena. For example, I have a bird, I have a plant, and there is an interaction. The bird eats the fruit and the plant gains a service from the bird that eats the fruit, flies away, defecates the seed further and aids in dispersal. This interaction depends on processes that occur at lower levels of organization – at the cellular level, at the molecular level -, and at higher levels – at the community, population and ecosystem levels. Integrative biology is looking at biological phenomena in their entirety.

Francisco Bozinovic holds a Doctorate in Science from the University of Chile and a Postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Museum of National History, Pittsburgh, United States.

Obviously you can’t do this alone, so you have to convince your colleagues. For example, I know little about molecular biology, so I convince a molecular biologist, and I say ‘look how interesting this is’. This collaboration forces us to change the chip. Many of my generation were raised on the subject of competitiveness, ‘you have to compete because competition is good’, and I don’t think so. I believe that the paradigm of competition must be put aside and changed to the paradigm of collaboration, I believe that it is the way for this world to change. We can’t keep competing.

This way of understanding the world as a network of interactions is especially relevant in the face of climate change. In this sense, what have been your main findings?

Several things. One that we have seen and that is interesting to me is that when one thinks of climate change, one normally thinks of the increase in the average temperature of the planet. However, what matters a lot and what we have discovered working with the fruit fly –Drosophila melanogaster -, is that when measuring the survival or mortality of these we see that what they like least is the variability.

The organisms we study can read the environment and can change, adapt or acclimatize to the change in average temperature from generation to generation, especially organisms with short generations. But variability – that the environment is unpredictable – is when they have problems. So climate change is not only a change in average temperature, but also and perhaps more importantly, it is climate variability.

You have also stood out for your work on the ecology and evolution of endemic organisms, such as the monito del monte. Can you comment on this research?

All my life I have worked with endemic organisms. We work with mice octodon degus which is a species that is only found in Chile and is interesting to study because it is diurnal, mice generally are not diurnal, but these mice have the same cycle as us, which helps a lot in practical terms. This species has some diseases that are very similar to ours, such as Alzheimer’s. If one sequence beta amyloid – protein that produces Alzheimer’s- of the degu has 2 amino acids that are different from those of humans, that is, it is the model organism that most resembles the human to study Alzheimer’s.

We have also worked with hummingbirds and endemic marsupials. And mainly, now with Roberto Nespolo from the Austral University of Chile and director of the LILI Millennium Nucleuswe are working with the monito de monte (Dromiciops gliroides).

Previously it was thought that there was only one species of Dromiciopswhat was it Dromiciops gliroides until Guillermo D’Elía and his team discovered two more species, and one was Dromiciops bozinovici. Many people think that I put it, but no, it would be very stupid to give a species the surname of one. They named it that way because in the 1980s, together with my mentor, Dr. Mario Rosenmann, we discovered that this species hibernated and up to that time no species that hibernated in South America had been described or known. Today we have continued doing work with Roberto Nespolo and his team at Lili.

He has mentioned in other spaces that interdiscipline is essential for the development of his field of study, referring to various areas, including the philosophy of science. Regarding this he has pointed out that it is the one that gives the substrate to science, in what way has it been and what is the contribution of philosophy to the development of science?

In most of the world doctorates in science carry the letters PhD. And Ph this is the abbreviation for philosophy, so PhD means doctor of philosophy. This is something old and today not necessarily all doctors know about philosophy, but the idea in its origin and its weight in history is because philosophy is considered as the basis of science as a way of thinking, as a way of reasoning and knowing. what one is doing.

I ask my students, did the cell exist before the microscope? I also ask them how many planets are there? and why isn’t there one more? It’s because they haven’t discovered it, but there may be one more. that’s the famous reality in parentheses Humberto Maturana said, in which ‘everything said is said by an observer’ and which later grew to ‘everything said is said by an observer to another observer’. There is an interaction of language.

I think that those of us in the academy are privileged because we have degrees of freedom within our institutions to think and reason. That’s where the idea of ​​the philosophy of science as a base comes from because it allows you to question what you do, why you do it and how you do it. The important thing is to never abandon self-criticism.

In addition to his vast scientific career, he has also written books for children and young people. How has this experience been?

I am not a writer so it was a great challenge, but it has been an impressive success and I did not expect it. First, Eco questions for curious children, I wrote it with Luz Valeria Oppliger and the impact has been impressive. Then I got excited and wrote another: Biodiversity for diverse youth: Approaches to global change.

Recently I was invited to give a talk to 6th graders at a school and it was such a beautiful thing, I think I was happier than the students. It was very entertaining, all the inquisitive children, I signed the books, they were happy. I think that’s the key because they are the ones who are going to make the difference. Writing children’s books has served to educate me and, truthfully, to educate myself and to be able to have these interactions that have been very rewarding for me.

in his book Biodiversity for diverse youth: approaches to global changeaddresses the vital importance, richness and beauty of diversity. How does diversity contribute to the survival of life on the planet?

The Biodiversity it is life on the planet, without biodiversity there is no life. Biodiversity is the diversity of living systems that all interact as a network that collaborates with each other and if one destroys it, in the end what one is doing is destroying one’s own house. Not realizing that is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.

In short, they don’t know what they are doing when, for example, they burn the Amazon, they don’t know what they are burning. One sees that they burn trees but it is more than that, they are burning a number of microorganisms, bacteria, fungi and, perhaps, how do they know if there is no cure for cancer, perhaps there is a remedy in that biodiversity and one does not he knows.

There is Einstein’s famous phrase ‘if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its life believing that it is an idiot’, but the idiots are us who ask the fish to climb a tree. Basically let’s see diversity, but let’s see it in context and within things that are comparable.

And also this is important in cultural as well as human terms as well. I have a girl who has Down syndrome and I am not going to ask my girl to solve differential equations, that is to say, the idiot in this case is me, I can ask her for other things that are in accordance with her abilities, one asks things according to the capabilities of the people or biological systems you are looking at. This is a network of interactions.

As National Prize for Natural Sciences, how do you imagine science in the future and how should the country prepare to respond to this challenge?

Countries are developed because they invest in science and not the other way around. Economists generally think that when they have money they invest in science and not, the countries that have achieved development such as Korea, New Zealand, Israel, were not rich countries, and what did they do? they invested in science and in children above all. It is important to win them from a young age and have good teachers too, well paid, because sometimes teachers are poorly paid, they have to teach in more than one school, they are devastated, they are tired.

And deep down, if we want to get out, we have to invest in science. The point is to say ‘well either we all agree or we don’t go out’. And this is difficult because I believe that in the case of our honorable people they are not always going to understand, they think that science is going to be bought and science cannot be bought, that is more than proven. There are things that yes, you can buy the vaccine, but there are things that are local, that you have to develop here.

I don’t know what the future will be like, but I do tell you that as long as we don’t put in the resources and don’t talk to each other, we’re not going to get out. In the latter, science communicators have played a fundamental role, they are people who were prepared for this. Ten years from now is a world of difference, before one never saw a scientist on television and that has been more merit of the journalists than of the scientists.

We must also overcome stereotypes and stop seeing scientists as weirdos. When they go to the lab to take pictures of us they tell us ‘now, teacher, put on your apron’, and I don’t have an apron, I had to get an apron for the photo, and where did they sit me? Next to the microscope and I said ‘I don’t even know how to use this microscope’, why don’t they put me next to an instrument that helps me show what it really is like? But no, because the stereotype of the scientist is with his apron and next to his microscope. It is important to overcome these stereotypes and realize that scientists are not weirdos.

About Francisco Bozinovic Kuscevic

Francisco Bozinovic holds a Doctorate in Sciences from the University of Chile and a Postdoctorate at the Carnegie Museum of National History, Pittsburgh, United States. In 2020 he was named the National Prize for Natural Sciences for his contribution to the development of the scientific approach of Integrative Biology. He is currently Professor at the Faculty of Biological Sciences of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile; Principal investigator and Deputy Director of the Center for Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CAPES), and Deputy Director of the UC-Down Syndrome Center.

He is the author and co-author of more than 300 scientific publications and books, among which “Ecoquestions for Curious Children” and “Biodiversity for diverse youth: Approaches to global change” stand out. He is a member of the Chilean Academy of Sciences and among his more than 20 distinctions, his recent appointment as Doctor Honoris Causa from the Austral University of Chile stands out.

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