Introduced: Rana Dajani

December 2023

Rana Dajani is a molecular biologist and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of We Love Reading, a grassroots initiative that empowers changemakers in underserved communities. During her fellowship, she explores patterns between society and biology.

Rana Dajani
David Ausserhofer / Robert Bosch Academy

What do you work on as a Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy?

I explore German society at the intersections of its complexity, where there are tensions. I want to understand how over time Germans have dealt with these complexities. I do so by interviewing people across society. I then reflect on these perspectives and use them to challenge other perspectives.

The underlying objective is to identify patterns of dealing with tension and complexity that may shed light on understanding hitherto un-resolved or explained biological mechanisms/phenomena at the cellular and molecular level. I believe that biological mechanisms can advise how to address and deal with complex societal challenges.  The basis of this approach is evolutionary biology from the molecular level all the way up to the societal level.

 

What are the most relevant issues in your field?

Biology is complex. There are so many cellular and molecular mechanisms that we don't understand yet. My proposal is that we try to identify societal patterns that can shed light on biological mechanisms, and vice versa.  Well-understood biological mechanisms can help inform and perhaps even solve societal challenges.

 

Where do you see similarities and patterns between societal and biological mechanisms? How do you bring their patterns together? 

This is about pattern recognition and modeling, then projecting and superimposing to see what outcomes can be predicted and what they mean in both biology and society.

For example, when multiple duplicate pairs of chromosomes separate during cell division to create two new cells, for each pair the duplicated individual chromosomes are pulled away from each other where the pair is connected to each other and not at the pole. This happens in a decentralized fashion rather than a centralized way to ensure the least loss since if one pair does not separate for any reason the rest of the pairs will separate and not be lost.

Another example is the concept of unity and diversity in biology. DNA is the molecule that makes up the blueprint for all life in all its diversity. DNA is made of four units arranged in long sequences. What makes the difference between each species and individuals within a species is how the units of DNA are ordered. What can we learn from this balance in nature to understand the balance between global and local, consistent, and specific, unity and diversity. There is a lot we can learn from DNA and its forms of diversity. If we are to create a movement and have diversity at the core, we need to understand and grapple with how to be consistent. Because if we are too general and consistent, we lose the diversity. What can we learn from nature on how to achieve that balance? Are the frameworks we’re using to frame this problem in themselves creating the challenge? Perhaps we can identify them by studying nature.

 

What insights for your work are you expecting to gain during your fellowship?

During my fellowship, I will identify social patterns in German society that can inform biology and vice versa. For this, I will look at moments in German history and the present that influence society and social cohesion. For instance, I will look at the reconciliation between East and West Germany, and the response to the refugee and migrant crisis of the last years in comparison to other European countries. Another interesting point is the response of German society to the energy shortages since the start of the war in Ukraine.

 

What makes Berlin and Germany relevant for your work?

The complexity of German society provides an extremely interesting place to be. In general, I am fascinated by meeting new people to learn how they see the world, how much we are similar and how much we are different.  I can never have enough.  I am excited to meet the different humans of the world.  There are eight billion people on this Earth. Each one is unique. Wow! It is like a never-ending adventure of meeting amazing, wonderful, thought-provoking, and new people – to learn from, share with, bond with, laugh together and cry together. We can find our humanity even while we disagree. This is something I look forward to every day of my life. It is the same thrill that comes from being on a roller coaster.

Podcast Cover_Think. Debate. Inspire

 

Listen also to the episode of our podcast “Think. Debate. Inspire” with Rana Dajani and Dennis Shirley, where they talk about different aspects of education and the connection between reading, identity and wellbeing.

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