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Denis Noble
mathematical model systems biology cardiovascular

1. Introduction

Denis Noble CBE FRS FMedSci MAE[1] (born 16 November 1936) is a United Kingdom biologist who held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2004 and was appointed Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology. He is one of the pioneers of systems biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.[2][3][4][5][6]

2. Education

Noble was educated at Emanuel School and University College London (UCL).[2][7] In 1958 he began his investigations into the mechanisms of heartbeat. This led to two seminal papers in Nature in 1960[8][9] giving the first proper simulation of the heart. From this work it became clear that there was not a single oscillator which controlled heartbeat, but rather this was an emergent property of the feedback loops in the various channels. In 1961 he obtained his PhD working under the supervision of Otto Hutter at UCL.[10][11]

3. Research

Noble's research focuses on using computer models of biological organs and organ systems to interpret function from the molecular level to the whole organism. Together with international collaborators, his team has used supercomputers to create the first virtual organ, the virtual heart.[12][13]

As secretary-general of the International Union of Physiological Sciences 1993–2001, he played a major role in launching the Physiome Project, an international project to use computer simulations to create the quantitative physiological models necessary to interpret the genome, and he was elected president of the IUPS at its world congress in Kyoto in 2009.[14]

Noble is also a philosopher of biology, and his books The Music of Life and Dance to the Tune of Life challenge the foundations of current biological sciences, question the central dogma, its unidirectional view of information flow, and its imposition of a bottom-up methodology for research in the life sciences[15]

3.1. Reductionism

His 2006 book The Music of Life examines some of the basic aspects of systems biology, and is critical of the ideas of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. He points out that there are many examples of feedback loops and "downward causation" in biology, and that it is not reasonable to privilege one level of understanding over all others. He also explains that genes in fact work in groups and systems, so that the genome is more like a set of organ pipes than a "blueprint for life". His 2016 book Dance to the Tune of Life sets these ideas out in a broad sweep from the general principle of relativity applied to biology, through to the role of purpose in evolution and to the relativity of epistemology.

He contrasts Dawkins's famous statement in The Selfish Gene ("Now they [genes] swarm ... safe inside gigantic lumbering robots ... they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence") with an alternative view: "Now they [genes] are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence". He then suggests that there is no empirical difference between these statements, and says that they differ in "metaphor" and "sociological or polemical viewpoint".[16]

He argues that "the paradigms for genetic causality in biological systems are seriously confused" and that "The metaphors that served us well during the molecular biological phase of recent decades have limited or even misleading impacts in the multilevel world of systems biology. New paradigms are needed if we are to succeed in unravelling multifactorial genetic causation at higher levels of physiological function and so to explain the phenomena that genetics was originally about."[17]

3.2. Evolution

Noble has called for an extended evolutionary synthesis, and more controversially a replacement for the modern synthesis.[18][19]

He has argued that from research in epigenetics, acquired characteristics can be inherited and in contrast to the modern synthesis, genetic change is "far from random" and not always gradual. He has also claimed that the central dogma of molecular biology has been broken as an "embodiment of the Weismann Barrier",[20] and a new synthesis will integrate research from physiology with evolutionary biology.[21][22][23]

3.3. Principles of Systems Biology

Denis Noble at a meeting on Systems Biology at Chicheley Hall, August 2013

Noble has proposed Ten Principles of Systems Biology:[24][25]

  1. Biological functionality is multi-level
  2. Transmission of information is not one way
  3. DNA is not the sole transmitter of inheritance
  4. The theory of biological relativity: there is no privileged level of causality
  5. Gene ontology will fail without higher-level insight
  6. There is no genetic program
  7. There are no programs at any other level
  8. There are no programs in the brain
  9. The self is not an object
  10. There are many more to be discovered; a genuine ‘theory of biology’ does not yet exist

3.4. Career

  • 1961–1963 – Assistant lecturer in Physiology, University College London
  • 1961–1963 – Vice-warden of Connaught Hall] (University of London)[26]
  • 1963–1984 – Fellow and tutor, Balliol College, Oxford. University Lecturer in Physiology
  • From 1967 – Editor of Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology[27]
  • 1969–1970 – Visiting professor and visiting scientist of the Canadian MRC
  • 1971–1989 – Head (praefectus) of the Balliol College Graduate Centre at Holywell Manor
  • 1975–1985 – Leader of MRC Programme Grant team
  • 1983–1985 – Vice-master of Balliol College
  • 1986 – co-founder of Save British Science, now the Campaign for Science and Engineering
  • 1984–2004 – Burdon Sanderson Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology, Oxford University
  • 1984–2004 – Professorial fellow, Balliol College
  • From 2004 – Emeritus professor of Cardiovascular Physiology, Oxford University
  • From 2004 – Emeritus fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
  • From 2004 – Director of Computational Physiology, Oxford
  • 2003–2007 – Adjunct professor, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Shaanxi province, China
  • From 2005 – Visiting professor, Osaka University, Japan
  • 2009–2017 – President, International Union of Physiological Sciences [28]
  • From 2009 – Co-founder and editor of Voices from Oxford[29]
  • 2011–2017 – Editor in chief of Interface Focus[30][31][32]
  • From 2014 – Member and co-founder of The Third Way Of Evolution[33]

3.5. Publications

Noble has published over 600 articles in academic journals,[13][34] including Nature,[8][9][35][36][37][38] Science,[39][40] PNAS,[41] Journal of Physiology,[42][43][44][45][46] Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology;[47] Many articles in national press. He is the author or editor of 12 books, including:

  • The Initiation of the Heartbeat (OUP, 1975, 1979 and Japanese translation), sole author;
  • Electric Current Flow in Excitable Cells OUP, 1975. With J.J.B.Jack & R.W.Tsien
  • Electrophysiology of Single Cardiac Cells, Academic Press 1987, with T Powell
  • Goals, No Goals and Own Goals, Unwin Hyman 1989, with Alan Montefiore, and author
  • Sodium-Calcium Exchange, OUP, 1989, with T.J.A. Allen and H. Reuter, and author
  • Ionic Channels and the Effect of Taurine on the Heart, Springer, 1993, 2013, with Y.E. Earm
  • The Logic of Life (OUP 1993), co-editor with CAR Boyd, and author;
  • The Ethics of Life (UNESCO 1997) co-editor with J-D Vincent;
  • The Music of Life, Biology beyond the genome OUP, 2006 (9 translations), sole author
  • Dance to the Tune of Life. Biological Relativity CUP, 2016, sole author
  • Exosomes: A Clinical Compendium Academic Press, 2019, co-editor, and author

4. Awards and Honours

His major invited lectures include the Darwin Lecture for the British Association in 1966,[48] the Nahum Lecture at Yale in 1977 and the Ueda lecture at Tokyo University in 1985 and 1990. He was President of the Medical Section of the British Science Association 1991–92.

In 1979 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. His nomination for the Royal Society reads:

He was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1988 and an Honorary Fellow in 1994, an Honorary Member of the American Physiological Society in 1996 and of the Physiological Society of Japan in 1998. In 1989 he was elected a Member of the Academia Europaea. In 1998, he also became a founding Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.[49] In 1998 he was awarded a CBE.[50]

He has honorary doctorates from the University of Sheffield (2004),[51] the Université de Bordeaux (2005) and the University of Warwick (2008).[52]

He is an Honorary Foreign Member of the Académie Royale de Médecine de Belgique (1993),[53] of the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, and received the Pavlov Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2004).

5. Personal Life

He plays classical guitar and sings Occitan troubadour and folk songs (Oxford Trobadors[54]). In addition to English, he has lectured in French on YouTube, Italian on YouTube, Performance with Nadau & Peiraguda Occitan,[55] Japanese and Korean.[56]

Further Reading
In this part, we encourage you to list the link of papers wrote by the character, or published reviews/articles about his/her academic contributions. Edit


  1. "EC/1979/28: Noble, Denis". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. 
  2. Biography , Denis Noble homepage.
  3. Music of Life lecture in Maribor 2012 on YouTube
  4. Lecture on Evolution IUPS Opening plenary 2013 on YouTube
  5. Noble, D. (2013). "Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology". Experimental Physiology 98 (8): 1235–1243. doi:10.1113/expphysiol.2012.071134. PMID 23585325.
  6. Ten Tusscher, K. H. W. J. (2003). "A model for human ventricular tissue". AJP: Heart and Circulatory Physiology 286 (4): H1573–H1589. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00794.2003. PMID 14656705.
  7. Anon (2014). "Noble, Prof. Denis". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U29605.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  8. Noble, Denis (1960). "Cardiac action and pacemaker potentials based on the Hodgkin-Huxley equations". Nature 188 (4749): 495–7. doi:10.1038/188495b0. PMID 13729365. Bibcode: 1960Natur.188..495N.
  9. Hutter, Otto F.; Noble, Denis (1960). "Rectifying properties of heart muscle". Nature 188 (4749): 495. doi:10.1038/188495a0. PMID 13717088. Bibcode: 1960Natur.188..495H.
  10. Noble, Denis (1962). Ion conductance of cardiac muscle (PhD thesis). University College London.(Subscription content?)
  11. Dennis Noble (2006). The Music of Life, ISBN:0-19-929573-5
  12. All systems go article in The Economist 25-Oct-2007 discussing Noble's work
  13. Denis Noble's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (Subscription content?)
  14. "Auckland Bioengineering Institute - The University of Auckland". 
  15. Werner, E. (2007). "SYSTEMS BIOLOGY: How Central is the Genome?". Science 317 (5839): 753–754. doi:10.1126/science.1141807.
  16. The Music of Life, pp. 12-14
  17. Noble, D. (Sep 2008). "Genes and causation". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences 366 (1878): 3001–3015. doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0086. ISSN 1364-503X. PMID 18559318. Bibcode: 2008RSPTA.366.3001N.
  18. "The theory of evolution has evolved". The Physiological Society.
  19. "Replace the Modern Synthesis (Neo-Darwinism): An Interview With Denis Noble". Huffington Post.
  20. Noble, Denis (2018). "Central Dogma or Central Debate?". Physiology 33 (4): 246–249. doi:10.1152/physiol.00017.2018. ISSN 1548-9213. PMID 29873598.
  21. Noble, Denis (2013). "Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology". Experimental Physiology 98 (8): 1235–1243. doi:10.1113/expphysiol.2012.071134. PMID 23585325.
  22. "Physiology and the revolution in Evolutionary Biology". Voices from Oxford.
  23. Noble, D; Jablonka, E; Joyner, MJ; Müller, GB; Omholt, SW (2014). "Evolution evolves: physiology returns to centre stage". Journal of Experimental Biology 592 (11): 2237–44. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2014.273151. PMID 24882808.
  24. Noble, D (2008). "Claude Bernard, the first systems biologist, and the future of physiology". Experimental Physiology 93 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1113/expphysiol.2007.038695. PMID 17951329.
  25. "Principle of Systems Biology illustrated using the Virtual Heart". 
  26. "Archived copy". 
  27. "Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology". 
  28. IUPS
  29. "Voices From Oxford". 
  30. Noble, D. (2011). "A theory of biological relativity: No privileged level of causation". Interface Focus 2 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2011.0067. PMID 23386960.
  31. Noble, D (2011). "Differential and integral views of genetics in computational systems biology". Interface Focus 1 (1): 7–15. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2010.0444. PMID 22419970.
  32. Noble, D (2011). "Editorial". Interface Focus 1 (1): 1–2. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2010.0385. PMID 22419969.
  33. "Home - The Third Way of Evolution". 
  34. Denis Noble publications indexed by Google Scholar
  35. Blakemore, C; Dawkins, R; Noble, D; Yudkin, M (2003). "Is a scientific boycott ever justified?". Nature 421 (6921): 314. doi:10.1038/421314b. PMID 12540875.
  36. Egan, T. M.; Noble, D; Noble, S. J.; Powell, T; Twist, V. W. (1987). "An isoprenaline activated sodium-dependent inward current in ventricular myocytes". Nature 328 (6131): 634–7. doi:10.1038/328634a0. PMID 2441262.
  37. Cohen, I; Giles, W; Noble, D (1976). "Cellular basis for the T wave of the electrocardiogram". Nature 262 (5570): 657–61. doi:10.1038/262657a0. PMID 958437. Bibcode: 1976Natur.262..657C.
  38. Hall, A. E.; Noble, D (1963). "Transient Responses of Purkinje Fibres to Non-Uniform Currents". Nature 199 (4900): 1294–5. doi:10.1038/1991294a0. PMID 14074602. Bibcode: 1963Natur.199.1294H.
  39. Noble, D (2002). "Modeling the heart--from genes to cells to the whole organ". Science 295 (5560): 1678–82. doi:10.1126/science.1069881. PMID 11872832. Bibcode: 2002Sci...295.1678N.
  40. Hauswirth, O; Noble, D; Tsien, R. W. (1968). "Adrenaline: Mechanism of action on the pacemaker potential in cardiac Purkinje fibers". Science 162 (3856): 916–7. doi:10.1126/science.162.3856.916. PMID 4386717. Bibcode: 1968Sci...162..916H.
  41. Noble, D (2002). "Unraveling the genetics and mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmia". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (9): 5755–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.102171699. PMID 11983875. Bibcode: 2002PNAS...99.5755N.
  42. Noble, D (1962). "A modification of the Hodgkin--Huxley equations applicable to Purkinje fibre action and pace-maker potentials". The Journal of Physiology 160 (2): 317–52. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1962.sp006849. PMID 14480151.
  43. McAllister, R. E.; Noble, D; Tsien, R. W. (1975). "Reconstruction of the electrical activity of cardiac Purkinje fibres". The Journal of Physiology 251 (1): 1–59. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1975.sp011080. PMID 1185607.
  44. Noble, D; Tsien, R. W. (1969). "Outward membrane currents activated in the plateau range of potentials in cardiac Purkinje fibres". The Journal of Physiology 200 (1): 205–31. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1969.sp008689. PMID 5761944.
  45. Noble, D; Tsien, R. W. (1968). "The kinetics and rectifier properties of the slow potassium current in cardiac Purkinje fibres". The Journal of Physiology 195 (1): 185–214. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1968.sp008454. PMID 5639799.
  46. Noble, D (1984). "The surprising heart: A review of recent progress in cardiac electrophysiology". The Journal of Physiology 353: 1–50. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1984.sp015320. PMID 6090637.
  47. Noble, D. (2013). "Systems biology and reproduction". Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 113 (3): 355. doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2013.11.004. PMID 24314295.
  48. Noble, D (1966). "The Initiation of the Heart Beat. (Darwin Lecture, British Association)". The Advancement of Science 23: 412–418. 
  49. "Professor Denis Noble | the Academy of Medical Sciences". 
  50. "Queen's Birthday honours 1998". 1998-06-12. 
  54. "Oxford Trobadors". 
  55. "Oxford Trobadors". 
  56. "Biovision Conference Programme". 
Name: Denis Noble
Born: Jan 1911
Title: Biologist
Affiliation: University of Oxford
Honor: Unknown
Subjects: Others
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Update Date: 22 Nov 2022
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