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In this article we continue our exploration of the historical roots of systems biology by considering the work of William Harvey. Central arguments in his work on the movement of the heart and the circulation of the blood can be shown to presage the concepts and methods of integrative systems biology. These include: (a) the analysis of the level of biological organization at which a function (e.g. cardiac rhythm) can be said to occur; (b) the use of quantitative mathematical modelling to generate testable hypotheses and deduce a fundamental physiological principle (the circulation of the blood) and (c) the iterative submission of his predictions to an experimental test. This article is the result of a tri-lingual study: as Harvey's masterpiece was published in Latin in 1628, we have checked the original edition and compared it with and between the English and French translations, some of which are given as notes to inform the reader of differences in interpretation.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Mol Sci

Publication Date





1658 - 1669


William Harvey, circulation of the blood, heart rhythm, mathematical deduction: experimental verification, systems biology, Animals, Blood Circulation, Heart, History, 17th Century, Models, Theoretical, Systems Biology