Periodic Reporting for period 4 - IDEM (Immunity, DEvelopment and Microbiota: Understanding the Continuous Construction of Biological Identity)
Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2020-12-31
This issue is of great interest for society, as recent work on the microbiota may lead us to re-think significantly our conception of what a human being is. The topic of the microbiota is also fascinating for anyone interested in building a fruitful dialogue between the biomedical sciences and the social sciences.
IDEM is a fundamentally interdisciplinary project at the crossroads of philosophy and biology. The main objectives of the project are:
(i) assessing from a conceptual and historical point of view the reality of the proclaimed “revolution of the microbiota” in today’s biology;
(ii) understanding the exact mechanisms by which developmental processes in organisms depend on microbial symbionts;
(iii) asking whether the role of the immune system (usually seen as a system that rejects genetically foreign elements from the body) in the maintenance of the organism needs to be reevaluated;
(iv) determining how traditional conceptions of biological individuality may be modified by current research on the microbiota.
Overall, this project is unique in providing a new understanding of the way living things are continuously constructed through time and interact with their biotic environment.
The five postdoctoral researchers who worked on the project in the past have found excellent positions after leaving our lab. Leonardo BICH is Full Professor in San Sebastian (Spain), Derek SKILLINGS is Associate Professor in Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Greensboro (USA), Lynn Chiu is Science Communicator at the School of Biology, University of St. Andrews (UK), Gregor Greslehner is a University Assistant/Postdoc at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna (Austria), and Jonathan Sholl is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bordeaux (France), working with Mael Lemoine.
In the final phase of the project, we did exciting research on the microbiome-immune-cancer connection, a fascinating emerging issue in the biomedical sciences. We teamed up with two of the best experts in the world, both at UCSD (California) and respectively first and last authors on a paper published in the journal Nature in 2020.
Overall, what we are most proud of is this constant, intimate and fruitful interaction with scientists and MDs. We have the feeling that such a degree of cross-fertilization between scientific and philosophical work is rare, and that this achievement has been perfectly recognized by our community. The IDEM project allowed our group to really be on the world map from this point of view.