Report to the 2005 General Assembly for the period 2002-2005
C6. Commission on Biological Physics
Commission C6 had one meeting during the reported period: August
26th, 2004. in Goteborg, Sweden. Most members of the Commission were
present. At other occasions contact was kept via e-mail
The meeting was held during the 5th, International Conference on
Biological Physics held in Goteborg between August 23-27, 2004. This
is the principal conference of the field represented by the Commission.
The Conference had 540 participants, 430 from 43 foreign countries
in addition to those from Sweden. This number shows a steady increase
during the history of the conference, but it is expected to stabilize
around this value. It also shows the true international character of
A major point of discussion during the Commission meeting was the
evaluation of the status of this conference with respect to other biophysics
conferences. It is closely related to the issue concerning the area „biological
physics” and its relation to traditional biophysics. Fields are
largely determined by the topics, participants of the representative
conferences. It is noted that the number of conferences devoted to
biophysics is increasing: IUPAB (International Union for Pure and Applied
Biophysics) holds conferences every three years (~1000 participants),
EBSA (European Biophysical Societies Association) recently decided
to hold conferences every second year (~ 700 participants), the annual
Congress of the American Biophysical Society (> 1000 participants)
is in effect a most significant international general meeting, and
the presence of biological physics in the APS Meetings is also constantly
increasing. There is inevitably a certain overlap between these events.
Thus, it is important to find that reassuringly our meeting has stabilized
as a characteristic international meeting of scientists studying the
physics of living systems.
It was also concluded that the size of the conference (in the range
of about 5-600 participants) can be regarded as optimal. A larger size
is at the moment not recommended, since in this case the character
of the conference would be less focused and there would be a problem
of redundancy with other biophysical conferences.
It was decided that the next International Congress on Biological
Physics will be organized in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil in 2007,the organizing
headed by C6 Affiliated Member P.M. Bisch from Brasil.
The medical physics community, represented by the International Organisation
of Medical Physics (IOMP) and the International Union of Physical and
Engineering Sciences in Medicine (IUPESM) expressed interest in establishing
close connection with IUPAP to improve the links to academics in contrast
to the rather engineering oriented above organizations. Clearly, C6
has natural relation to medical physics, therefore C6 was involved
in the discussions with representatives of IUPAP to find an optimal
arrangement for the newly established contact. C6 delegated a member
as a contact person with related experience to the new Affiliated Commission.
Another new area considered that involved our Commission is the rapidly
growing and not clearly defined field of nanoscience. Nanoscience as
such is not separately present in IUPAP. In order to clarify the relevance
of “nano” in all areas represented by the different Commissions,
and to define the relation of IUPAP to nanoscience in general a Nanoscience
Working Group was organized with the participation of representatives
from various Commissions including C6 (the detailed activity of this
working group is reported separately). It was concluded that in physics
biological physics has possibly the most obvious “nano” character
(since biological macromolecules are of 1 to 100 nanometer characteristic
sizes), a move into the nano filed can be initiated by organizing a
nanobioscinece conference with very strong interdisciplinary character
and with the active collaboration of various other Commissions, and
an initial conference could be held in 2006 Szeged, Hungary. The detailed
proposal is in the report of the Nanoscience Working Group.
New developments in the field
The major directions, driving forces in the present development that
shape biological physics are the followings: a. New developments in
single particle manipulation. B. Vast amount of new data as a result
of the genomics approach: c. Improving ability to treat complex systems.
Single particle manipulation
Single particle manipulation remains a favorite and very popular
field of development, both the technology and width of applications.
With new approaches, continuously increasing sensitivity in practically
all areas the principle advantages of single particle observation are
more and more exploited. When in an ensemble of a large number of molecules
not all molecules explore exactly the same energy landscape, single
molecule approach yields information simply impossible to obtain by
the traditional techniques. In addition, the single particle observation
approach seems to especially excite scientists: presentations of experiments
showing biomolecules in action directly are most enjoyable, they attract
The methods are continuously developing in an evolutionary manner
in optical manipulation, scanning microscopy and fluorescence microscopy.
It is noteworthy that powerful new optical techniques are developed
where resolution far beyond the traditional “diffraction limit” is
achieved to yield detailed information at the single molecular level.
The consequences of genomics
It is a characteristic new phenomenon that in the genomics analysis
of different species new proteins are identified based on their genes.
Numerous proteins were found that would have been not found in the
traditional way. The newly discovered proteins in unexpected locations
and functions greatly expand the horizons and force us to reconsider
major old viewpoints, help make more generalized statements about structure,
function of proteins.
Protein structure and function
The structure-function relation of biomolecules remains a fundamental
problem of biological physics. In general, understanding the nature
and role of dynamics and function of proteins develops at a fast rate.
Especially noteworthy is the progress in the area of protein folding.
This has developed significantly recently based on the very large number
of new structural data. The newly available testing possibilities are
a strong driving force for the development of theories, and this is
augmented by the corresponding experimental techniques. fast structural
relaxations can be followed now with unprecedented resolution. While
a complete understanding of the folding problem is still not in reach,
major new insight is gained about the basic processes.
The function of proteins is intensively studied by computational
methods, molecular dynamics calculations. The development is this area
is immense: now very large, complex biological entities can be modeled
Significant progress is represented by the development in time resolved
structural studies: most impressive new data are generated to show
important motions of proteins at the atomic level with high time resolution.
Such data are crucial for the understanding of the function of proteins.
With the development of experimental methods and theoretical tools,
there is a strong tendency to move towards more and more complex systems.
It originates in our ability to collect and handle vast number of information
about biological objects of all sorts. This process is characteristic
of the era of genomics, where the available amount of information about
living systems is growing at an unprecedented rate. This approach covers
an even broader area: Dynamics of whole cells are now investigated
with neutron scattering experiments, previously used to test dynamics
of single proteins only. Interactions of proteins, metabolic pathways
are studied with special emphasis of numerous interrelations, networks.
Complex functions of the brain are modeled with newly developed theories.
It seems that this approach yields a very different picture and totally
new and unprecedented results are seen in biology. The new results
represent a totally new way of thinking, at all levels. For example,
when we consider the function of a single protein, it turns out that
it should be regarded as a dynamic entity, member of a possibly most
complex network and consequently the particular function that we can
observe is likely to be just determined by a set of parameters and
different parameters would establish surprisingly different roles.
The development in this direction requires a fundamental modification
of our picture.
The recent developments also show that the capabilities of physics
to treat living systems successfully are improving at a high rate,
and we expect the intensity of physical studies directed towards biological
objects to continuously grow in all areas.
Pal Ormos, Chair