THE ART OF SCIENCE

is making complexity simple

Philosophy noun
1. a particular set or system of beliefs resulting from the search for knowledge about life and the universe
2. a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour
The philosophy of our research is simple 
"a particular set or system of beliefs resulting from the search for knowledge about life and the universe"

When studying complex biological systems, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that they self-assemble from very simple beginnings. The blueprints for life are laid down by a 4-letter code that is somehow able to create unfathomable order out of chaos. How do thousands of molecular machines work together to build a cell, keep it alive and allow it to duplicate? How do these cells spontaneously assemble into a living structure that contains trillions of interconnected parts? How do these parts cooperate to keep the body alive and output higher-level behaviours, such as consciousness? By attempting to answer these questions we will be best placed to understand how this remarkable order breaks down to give rise to disease. The question is, how can we best attempt to answer these questions?

​​​In the Saurin Lab we are guided by one overarching principle – to understand complex biological phenomena we must search for their simplest governing rules. The origins of complexity. This may seem like a rather obvious point, considering this concept has guided scientists for thousands of years. However, science has changed dramatically in just the last few decades, and it is my belief that the technological innovation that has driven progress also comes at a cost.

​There is a general belief that if you look long and hard enough, and you uncover enough of the details, then the answers will present themselves. However, I worry that if we spend too much time submersed in all the details then we risk losing sight of the simple truths. It is important to stress that I do not mean that the details will not contain incredibly important answers. The human genome project was undoubtedly transformational and the 100,000 genomes project will probably revolutionise our understanding of disease. I simply mean that there are enough people following that path already. After all, new data is a temptation that is incredibly hard to resist. Why just sit and think about old problems when there are so many opportunities to go out and discover new ones? The great scientists from Galileo to Einstein were not afforded such luxuries. They were forced instead to just sit and contemplate. To muse over the evidence they had and to distil that into some very simple ideas. And what amazing things they discovered. Were these discoveries just low hanging fruits that have long since dried up or did everybody simply flood out of the gates in search of a promised land only to leave the orchard to blossom? It’s difficult to answer that question, at least at this current time. However, there is one thing that we can say with some certainty. You will never know if the orchard is blossoming if you follow the rest out through the gate.

​Below are 2-minute video clips that explain our research in simple terms. We focus on a major mechanism of cell regulation: protein phosphorylation. This process has been exhaustively studied for decades and, as a result, we have mapped over half a million phosphorylation sites, across different species and different disease states. We are well on the way to functionally characterising these sites and together this data has allowed us to understand how our bodies work and why they fail in diseases such as cancer. ​However, in spite of this extensive knowledge, we still lack a fundamental understanding of some very simple rules that govern all phosphorylation events (see video clips 1 and 2). In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that without this knowledge we do not truly understand how cells use phosphorylation networks to process information (this idea is explained fully in video clip 3). Have these concepts simply been forgotten, or perhaps missed or neglected in a rush to delve into the details and characterise this process fully? Whatever the reasons, we believe it is critical to readdress these issues if we are to uncover the true origins of complexity...

In 2 The Science: 2-minute video clips to illustrate our research questions

The philosophy of the lab is equality
"a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour"

A culture is critical because it is the framework in which everybody must live, work and perform. If we label others with preconceived ideas about what they can and will achieve then we place imaginary constraints, which nevertheless have very real consequences. How can we reach to the limits of our knowledge if we are placed inside an imaginary box? The truth is, there are no bounds to our potential, and we are only limited by our own internal monologues which, sadly, provide very real constraints. And here is the critical point. It is incredibly difficult to free ourselves from these shackles if we live in a culture that judges, labels and then provides us with our "own" imaginary box. 

In the Saurin Lab we live by one guiding principle for behaviour - everybody starts from the same level and all opinions, ideas and beliefs are equally valued. It doesn't matter whether you are an undergraduate student, a senior postdoc or the PI. Only what you say and do matters, not who you are, where you come from or what you believe in. As part of this ethos, the PI tries (and hopes!) to be just like everybody else. All papers and grants are sent around everybody in the lab for feedback. All voices are worth listening to and everybody can have big ideas and make a difference from the start. That is the reality, and if anybody feels different then just remember this: it is society that creates this illusion. It doesn't have to be that way.