Tufts University School of Medicine, United Stated of America

Fellowship : October 2021 to March 2022

Discipline(s) : Biology

Pays : United Stated of America / Argentina

Research project: Building bridges between natural and social sciences through the prism of a theory of organisms.

Theories organize knowledge and construct objectivity by framing observations and experiments. Biology needs a theory of organisms to guide biological research out of the dead end where it was driven by the metaphoric use of information theory. Central to this theory of organisms is the historicity and relentless change of the living, their normative agency and their goal-oriented behavior.  So far, Soto and her collaborators identified three principles: (i) the default state of cells, constitutive proliferation with variation and motility, equivalent to the principle of inertia in classic mechanics ii) variation and iii) organization. The first two principles link this theory to that of evolution, and the first and last to the normative agency of organisms. 

This work also has implications for society at large, namely 1) how to render biological knowledge useful to society and how to overcome the impoverishment of scientific thought brought about by the misuse of the concept of information and by computer-driven automatisation, and 2) how this theoretical proposal could mitigate the environmental crisis in the 21st century. Developing these subjects will take place by organizing seminars, symposia and workshops with regional, national and international experts and by formal and informal interactions with IAS-Nantes fellows.


Ana Soto is a theoretical and experimental biologist. She graduated as a Medical Doctor at the School of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. She is a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, and a Foreign Correspondent Member at the Centre Cavaillès, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), in Paris. Her research interests include the control of cell proliferation, morphogenesis, the developmental origins of adult disease, and theoretical and epistemological topics pertaining to biological autonomy and organization.

In partnership with Professor Carlos Sonnenschein, they posited that the default state of cells in all organisms is proliferation and proposed the Tissue Organization Field Theory of Carcinogenesis, in which cancer is viewed as development gone awry.  As the Blaise Pascal Chair at the ENS (2013-5) she coordinated a multidisciplinary working group devoted to the elaboration of a theory of organisms.

She is an elected member of the Collegium Ramazzini, Carpi, Italy since 2011. She is the recipient of several honors, including the 1995 Marla Frazin Award, presented by the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition; the 2012 Gabbay Biotechnology & Medicine Award of Brandeis University, presented to her and her colleagues, for their contributions to public health; and in 2019, she was awarded the Grand Vermeil Medal, from the City of Paris for her pioneering role in the discovery of endocrine disruptors.


♦ SONNENSCHEIN, Carlos, SOTO, Ana M: The Society of Cells, Bios-Springer-Verlag, 1999

♦ SOTO Ana M, LONGO Giuseppe, MIQUEL Paul-Antoine, MONTEVIL Maël, MOSSIO Matteo, PERRET Nicole, POCHEVILLE Arnaud, SONNENSCHEIN Carlos.

♦ Toward a theory of organisms: Three founding principles in search of a useful integration. Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2016 Oct;122(1):77-82, in SOTO, Ana M, LONGO, Giuseppe, NOBLE, Denis, editors: From the century of the genome to the century of the organism: New theoretical approaches. Prog. Biophys. Mol. Biol, 122:1-86, 2016).

♦ BARNES, Clifford., SPERONI, Lucia., QUINN, Kyle., MONTEVIL, Maël, SAETZLER, Kurt., BODE-ANIMASHAUN, Gbemisola, McKERR, George, GEORGAKOUDI, Irene, DOWNES, Stephen, SONNENSCHEIN, Carlos, HOWARD, C. Vyvyan, and SOTO, Ana M. From single cells to tissues: interactions between the matrix and human breast cells in real time.  PLoS One.  2014, 9(4):e93325

♦ SOTO, Ana M. and SONNENSCHEIN, Carlos. Reductionism, Organicism, and Causality in the Biomedical Sciences: A Critique. Perspect Biol Med. 2018;61(4):489-502.

♦ SOTO, Ana M. and SONNENSCHEIN, Carlos. Information, programme, signal: dead metaphors that negate the agency of organisms Interdiscip Sci Rev. 2020;45(3):331-343. doi: 10.1080/03080188.2020.1794389


Ana Soto’s residency seminar was held on Monday, November 22, 2021: Bridging the Natural and Social Sciences through the lens of a Theory of Organisms.

Suggestions for the week:

Film: TRASHED by Candida Brady, 2012, follows Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons’ journey around the world to study the damage waste is doing to the environment and our health. From Iceland to Indonesia to France to Lebanon, he meets scientists, politicians and ordinary people whose health and lifestyles have been profoundly affected by this pollution. Terrible and beautiful at the same time, this documentary also delivers a message of hope and shows that there are alternative approaches to solve the problem.

Reading: The Proletarianization of Biological Thought, Ana Soto and Carlos Sonenschein

Unlike the proletarianization of artisans, the proletarianization of biologists did
not start by a technique driven simplification of laboratory work, but by the way
of theory. This conceptual impoverishment started with the idea that biology
could be reduced to chemistry and physics, and that cells and organisms are
analogous to machines, including computers. Proletarianization was further
achieved by simplified laboratory practices introduced by commercial assay kits
producing numerical outputs. As a consequence, scientists concentrated their
efforts on generating immense amounts of data. Now, they willingly transfer the
task of generating hypotheses to computers and “data scientists”. We posit that
this theoretical impoverishment can be corrected using an organicist perspective
for the construction of relevant and precise biological theories.
Additional sources of proletarianization are current managerial practices that
restrict scientific judgement like the use of bibliometrics to evaluate scientific
output and the acceleration of work under pressure to publish massively and
rapidly for the sake of personal career advancement. A critical engagement
towards theory construction may lead scientists to overcome and eliminate these
proletarianizing factors.