Illustration: A. Canamucio
The ethos of our science was articulated by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago: "A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law." This replaced the medieval mystical view that it was the soul of the bird that embodied the nature of flight.

How beautifully the work honored recently by the Lasker Awards mirrors that transition.1 The work of Peter C. Nowell, Janet D. Rowley, and Alfred G. Knudson replaced the mystical soul of the cancer cell with the instrument of physical changes in DNA--a molecule whose structure we know. The many disparate observed causes of cancer--chemicals, viruses, radiation, heredity--causes unconnected by mechanism to the disease--are all comprehensible through the crucible of actual alterations in the DNA. A phenomenon turned into an instrument, obeying rules and becoming not just known but comprehensible.

The work of Paul Nurse, Lee Hartwell, and Yoshio Masui told us that...

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