Conceptual Biology & Medicine

The goal of our interdisciplinary group is to offer an enriched conceptualization, explanation, and modelling of biological processes, particularly through our ERC-funded IDEM project. We reach this aim through what we call  « Philosophy in biology »,  an innovative way to combine the contributions of philosophy of biology, experimental biology, and medical biology. We are focused first and foremost on immunology, but also work on conceptual issues related to microbiology, evolutionary biology, ecology, developmental biology, physiology, cancer biology, and the medical sciences.

Our group currently works on four main projects:

  • 1.1. Understanding the triggering of an immune response

    Our aim is to offer, through the articulation of conceptual, experimental, and medical perspectives, a better characterization of how the immune system is activated. What triggers an effector or a regulatory immune response? How can concepts, theories, and models help us understand how the immune system is activated? One aspect of this investigation is the assessment of the “discontinuity theory” Pradeu, Jaeger and Vivier 2013), which states that effector immune responses are triggered by sudden changes in the molecular patterns with which immune receptors interact.

    People involved: Julie Déchanet-Merville, Hannah Kaminsky, Maria Mamani, Jean-François Moreau, Thomas Pradeu, Marie-Elise Truchetet.

    Partners: Gérard Eberl, Eric Vivier.

  • 1.2. Immunity and the constant construction and maintenance of biological boundaries.

    Recent data show that the immune system is not just a system of elimination and defence, but is involved, much more broadly, in development, regulation, and repair. One key problem is to determine how the immune system constantly patrols and repairs biological boundaries, such as the epithelium and the endothelium. We are particularly interested in how innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) and gammadelta T cells are involved in this process. We are developing, with Patrick Blanco’s group, a translational program exploring the role of ILC2s in controlling and maintaining the endothelium, both in physiological and pathological conditions, including in fibrosis and systemic sclerosis.

    People involved: Patrick Blanco, Cécile Contin-Bordes, Julie Déchanet-Merville, Paôline Laurent (PhD student), Valérie Jolivel (postdoc), Pauline Manicki, Jean-François Moreau, Thomas Pradeu, Marie-Elise Truchetet.

    This project is funded by the IDEX programme of the University of Bordeaux.

  • 1.3. Immunity, mobility, and aging

    Initiated by Jean-François Moreau, this project is based on the idea that mobility is central to immunity. In the transition from unicellularity to multicellularity, all cells have mostly lost their mobility – except for the immune cells. We are interested in better characterizing this link between immunity and mobility, and the way it emerged through evolution. On this ground, we propose a novel hypothesis about aging and immunosenescence, based on the idea that the increasing stiffness and cross-linking of the senescent ECM lead to progressive immunodeficiency via an age-related decrease in T cell mobility and the death of these cells.

    People involved: Jean-François Moreau, Thomas Pradeu.

    Partners: Daniel Choquet, Claudio Franceschi.

    Within Thomas Pradeu’s ERC Starting Grant project (2015-2020), entitled “IDEM” (for “Immunology, Development, and the Microbiota: Understanding the Continuous Construction of the Organism”), we aim at understanding how the microbiota is involved in the construction and maintenance of the host organism.

    IDEM consists of four areas:

    • Identity, internalism and externalism in the biological sciences

      Lynn Chiu (Sept 2015-Sept 2017)

    • Disentangling the causes of development

      Leonardo Bich (Sept 2016-Sept 2018)

    • The “holobiont” and its construction through the integration of microbes

      Derek Skillings (Sept 2016-Sept 2019)

    • The role of the immune system in the maintenance and construction of the organism

      Lynn Chiu (Sept 2017-Sept 2019)

    People involved: Leonardo Bich (postdoc), Lynn Chiu (postdoc), Thomas Pradeu (PI), Derek Skillings (postdoc).

    In total, 5 to 6 postdocs will be hired in this project. For further information, please visit the ERC IDEM’s webpage.

    In collaboration with medical doctors of the Pellegrin Hospital, we formed two teams working on the microbiota: one works on immune-microbiota interactions; the other organizes meetings with internal and external speakers.

    We attempt to propose a refined definition of the notion of tumor microenvironment, at the interface between cancer biology, developmental biology, immunology, and studies on angiogenesis.

    We also explore the concept of cancer as a process of decohesion of the multicellular individual, an idea that combines cancer biology, immunology, developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and ecology. We investigate the role of the immune system as a system that maintains the cohesion of the biological individual, and how this process is disturbed in cancer.

    With Maël Lemoine, we are interested in the connection between aging and cancer.

    People involved: Dorothée Duluc, Nicolas Larmonier, Maël Lemoine, Thomas Pradeu, Elena Rondeau, Vanja Sissirak.

    People from other labs involved: Andreas Bikfalvi (Inserm), Lucie Laplane (IHPST & IGR).

    If one admits that disease is so widespread in nature to be a trait of the living in general, is there any scientifically informative description of this trait, or does it remain a purely commonsensical notion? What are the relations between this widespread phenomenon of nature, and immunity, also a phenomenon coextensive with the realm of the living? If a scientific description is possible, should disease be considered an irregularity in nature — an exception to laws of nature — or an event that will necessarily happen in the end, given the time? What are the consequences of both views on the conception of treatments, and reciprocally, how can understanding the mechanisms of treatment help answer the question? What are the consequences of both views on the conception of the relations between disease and aging?

    This project is coordinated by Maël Lemoine, Professor at the University of Bordeaux.

    Participants are Jean-François Moreau, Simon Okholm


    Our group is a pillar of the Institute for Philosophy in Biology and Medicine (PhilInBioMed), an interdisciplinary institute located at the University of Bordeaux, France, and a national and international network of interdisciplinary institutes. PhilInBioMed aims at promoting philosophy in the biological and medical sciences.



    Institute for Philosophy in Biology and Medicine (PhilInBioMed)

    PhilInBioMed is both an interdisciplinary institute located at the University of Bordeaux, France, and a national and international network of interdisciplinary institutes. PhilInBioMed aims at promoting philosophy in the biological and medical sciences, a co-production of knowledge by the direct interactions of philosophers, biologists, and medical doctors.

    More information here.

    Contact: Thomas Pradeu

    Philosophy and Biology Seminar in Bordeaux

    The Philosophy & Biology Seminar is held once a month at the University of Bordeaux. Details and Program.

    Contact: Thomas Pradeu

    Microbiota Seminar

    The Microbiota seminar explores conceptual, theoretical, experimental, and medical issues concerning research on the microbiota.

    Contact: Thomas Pradeu

    Pradeu Group Meetings

    Twice a month, a member of the group presents their work.

    Contact: Elena Rondeau


    > Leonardo BICH (Now Ramon y Cajal senior researcher at the University of the Basque Country, Spain)

    > Lynn CHIU (Now Associated Researcher of ImmunoConcept, University of Bordeaux/CNRS and Media and Communications Officer of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis research project, University of St. Andrews)

    > Katarzyna HOOKS (Now Postdoctoral researcher in Bordeaux)

    > Valérie JOLIVEL (Now Postdoctoral researcher in Strasbourg)

    > Paôline LAURENT (Now Postdoctoral researcher in Bordeaux)

    > Maureen O’MALLEY (Now Senior researcher at the University of Sydney)

    > Derek SKILLINGS (Now Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UNC Greensboro, USA)