A Little More Math in Your Biology

By Sean Cavanagh — August 03, 2009 1 min read

The study of biology will increasingly require skill in math, or “a toolbox of diverse mathematical approaches,” according to a new article published in the journal Science. I don’t know if biologists tend to fear and avoid math to the extent that much of the general population does, but the changing nature of their scientific field makes math knowledge more essential than ever, the authors argue.

The need for math training is becoming more crucial in areas such as systems biology, where math models have been successful in helping scientists understand molecular structure, they say. Moreover, algebraic models have become increasingly useful in the study of evolutionary biology, such as in examinations of RNA.

The paper, “Mathematical Biology Education: Beyond Calculus,” published by Raina Robeva of Sweet Briar College, in Virginia, and Reinhard Laubenbacher of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, requires a subscription, but here’s a summary of it. If this topic interests you, so might a second paper: “Computing Has Changed Biology—Biology Education Must Catch Up,” which is published in the same issue.

“Algebraic models should be considered critical for the professional development of biologists,” Robeva and Laubenbacher say. “Mathematics and biology educators must work together to determine the best way of including these in undergraduate curricula.”

What implications does the idea of mathematizing biology have for high school science, and the way that biology courses and math courses are taught?

Photo by Michael P. Farrell for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.