Denis Noble 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.[
Noble was educated at Emanuel School and University College London (UCL). In 1958 he began his investigations into the mechanisms of heartbeat. This led to two seminal papers in Nature in 1960 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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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."
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", and a new synthesis will integrate research from physiology with evolutionary biology.
Noble has published over 600 articles in academic journals, including Nature, Science, PNAS, Journal of Physiology, Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology; Many articles in national press. He is the author or editor of 12 books, including:
His major invited lectures include the Darwin Lecture for the British Association in 1966, 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:
|“||Distinguished for the discovery of slowly activated potassium currents in the heart and a quantitative analysis of their role in controlling repolarization and pacemaker activity; the discovery of the ionic mechanisms by which adrenaline increases heart rate. He has shown that therapeutic levels of cardiac glycosides may increase, rather than decrease, potassium gradients in the heart, and has published an analytical treatment of membrane excitation theory and cable theory that provides a modern basis for the concepts of safety factor, liminal length, excitation time constants and the phenomenon of repetitive firing.||”|
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. In 1998 he was awarded a CBE.
He is an Honorary Foreign Member of the Académie Royale de Médecine de Belgique (1993), of the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, and received the Pavlov Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2004).
He plays classical guitar and sings Occitan troubadour and folk songs (Oxford Trobadors). In addition to English, he has lectured in on YouTube, on YouTube, Performance with Nadau & Peiraguda Occitan, Japanese and Korean.