We at the McDonnell Initiative @MBL are collaborating across disciplines on shared problems, to transform the discovery process. When historians, philosophers, and scientists work together, we begin to think differently about the world.

The McDonnell Initiative is based at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA, but our working groups are led by brilliant minds around the globe. These researchers in history, philosophy, and the life sciences, have come together to understand how regeneration works across the scales of complex living systems.

We argue that all living systems, from microbial communities, to organisms, to ecosystems, maintain some capacity to repair and to maintain themselves in the face of events that cause disturbances or damage. For example, microbial communities can regenerate to achieve the same function even as species composition changes, spinal neurons in a lamprey can regenerate function even though their cellular wiring changes, and ecosystems can maintain a level of resiliency in the face of changing conditions. In all instances, while these biological systems undergo stress and damage, their parts can coordinate responses to provide repair. But does the concept of regeneration mean the same thing in each case? How do the regenerating parts “know” how to cooperate to make the participating individuals and systems healthy and whole again? How does an understanding of one level inform the others? Is there an underlying logic of regeneration across complex living systems? We at the McDonnell Initiative seek to answer questions such as these and more.

Our funding, generously provided by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, supports these working groups in their research through funding workshops, travel, and other investigative activities. Our funding also supports McDonnell Scholars, whose short term stays at the MBL advance our mission: Transforming discovery through collaborations among historians, philosophers, and life scientists.