The concept of time in biology, and the unity of life | University of Oxford

The concept of time in biology, and the unity of life

Professor Brian J. Enquist
Event date
Event time
17:00 - 18:30
Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street
Venue details

34 Broad Street

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Disabled access?
Booking required

This is a joint event between the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests

One of our biggest technological innovations is that of time keeping. From the atomic to the astronomical scales, our technology has enabled us to precisely measure time. Our timekeeping uses clocks that all tick along the same time scale – a time scale that is also relative to how we perceive the passage of time.

For biology, the passage of time, however, is not only different but reveals deep truths about life. Across the diversity of life, the passage of time from bacteria to humans to giant Redwood trees is perceived differently. Instead of a constant ticking of a clock – the pace of life is reflected in scaling laws that characterise the variation in the cycles of heartbeats, metabolism, growth and reproduction.

In this lecture Professor Brian J. Enquist, Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow, will introduce a second concept of time - physiological time. Physiological time enables us to better understand why we age, the emergence of disease and cancer, the functioning of ecosystems, and the diversity of life. Physiological time is one of the most significant characteristics of life and helps unite the study of biology. A deeper question is what ultimately sets the pace of life.

As will be discussed, the search for a universal biological clock that unites life’s cycles is the most intriguing Holy Grail of biology.