Archive by category | Biological approaches

SciFoo: scientific fireworks

SciFoo: scientific fireworks

In his list of eight ‘generative’ values (Better Than Free), Kevin Kelly includes ’embodiment’–the actual physical realization of an item or event which could be otherwise freely distributed over the web. While we are all ‘hyperlinked’ on the Internet, the value of those unique qualities that cannot be generated or “copied” on the web is dramatically increased. The type of intense emulation and shared excitement sparked at the recent Science Foo Camp (SciFoo 2008), organized by Nature, Google and O’Reilly, gave a wonderful example of the unique value of direct human exchange during an exclusive event bringing together roughly 200 top scientists, ‘geeks’ and other technologists at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.  Read more

ISMB 2008: micro-blogging at its best

Probably like many others, I have often been puzzled by the phenomenon of ‘micro-blogging’, which consists in posting very short messages on the web (typically via sites such as Twitter) with the goal of providing an instantaneous description of the activity, state of mind or thoughts of the writer. The last few days, a small group of bloggers attending the ISMB 2008 Conference in Toronto used a form of collective micro-blogging on FriendFeed in an intensive way to cover many of the talks held at the conference.  Read more

Fascinating correlations or elegant theories?

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired , wrote a few weeks ago a provocative piece “”http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory”>The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete“, arguing that in our Google-driven data-rich era (”The Petabyte Age”) the good old “approach to science —hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete”, leaving place to a purely correlative vision of the world. There is a good dose of provocation in the essay and it was quite successful in spurring a flurry of skeptical reactions in the blogosphere, FriendFeed-land and lately in Edge’s Reality Club.  Read more

Google Health, Biomedical Mutual Organizations and Open Consent

Google Health, Biomedical Mutual Organizations and Open Consent

Google Health, the new service offered by Google is now online (via bbgm, Life as a Healthcare CIO, GTO). This service helps users to store, organize and share their health profile and medical records, to use a variety of health-related online services and to search for medical information. Understandably, Google places great emphasis on data security and confidentiality. In this regard, I thought it might be worth highlighting several recent and thought-provoking discussions around the issues of data privacy and participative medical investigations. In a provocative editorial (Bains, 2007, see also Nature Medicine News article), William Bains advocates that collectives  … Read more

Rewiring E. coli transcriptional network

Rewiring E. coli transcriptional network

Research highlight by Kazuharu Arakawa and Masaru Tomita, Institute for Advanced Biosciences, Keio University, Japan Gene duplications and mutations are central driving forces in the evolution of genomes. Genomes must be robust to such changes in order to be evolvable, and many studies have probed genome robustness using systematic gene knockouts or overexpression experiments. In a recent paper, Isalan et al. (2008) took a new approach to test the robustness of Escherichia coli gene circuitry by reconstructing gene duplication events by shuffling the promoter-ORF pairs for about 300 transcription factors and introducing 598 recombined pairs one-by-one into E. coli to  … Read more

Contrasts: Craig Venter and NSABB on synthetic biology

Contrasts: Craig Venter and NSABB on synthetic biology

Two rather contrasting videos on synthetic biology this month. In the first videocast, released by TED, Craig Venter exposes his grand vision of synthetic genomics. He insists on the notion of ‘combinatorial genomics’, that will combine the power of large scale DNA synthesis (‘robots that can make a million chromosomes a day’) with a database of 20 million genes, ‘the design components of the future’. This approach, a pragmatic mixture of rational function-oriented design and empirical large-scale selection, is envisioned to prepare a modern ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new synthetic species. It is good to see Craig Venter laughing when announcing  … Read more

A refreshing model: peppermint terpenoids

A refreshing model: peppermint terpenoids

Research highlight by Doron Lancet, Crown Human Genome Center, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel Living cells are typically asymmetric, having tens of thousands different biopolymers (proteins and polynucleotides), but merely <1000 types of small molecules, such as amino acids and lipids. An exception is certain plant cells that harbor members of ~40,000 strong group of low molecular weight terpenoids, often displaying a complex compositional balance essential for plant growth and survival (Aharoni et al, 2005). Understanding the intricacies of biosynthesis and interconversion of such unusual cellular components appears to require the full power of Systems  … Read more

EGFR and c-Met core signaling network

EGFR and c-Met core signaling network

Research highlight by Jeongah Yoon and Thomas S. Deisboeck, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA Targeting receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) is currently thought to be a promising anti-cancer strategy (Baselga, 2006). However, clinical trials with RTK inhibitors demonstrated that some solid tumors are sensitive to these drugs while others are not. For instance, only a subset of non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors with EGFR-activating mutations seems to respond to EGFR inhibitors (Lynch et al, 2004). The recent study by Guo et al (2008) aims to shed more light on the causes for such selective drug sensitivity by investigating the  … Read more

Top-down mapping of gene regulatory pathways

Top-down mapping of gene regulatory pathways

In a very recent lecture (see full video from NIH VideoCasting) given for the NIH Systems Biology Special Interest Group, Trey Ideker presents a great overview of the various strategies his group has been developing in the recent years in order to integrate multiple types of large scale datasets. While one of the most pervasive ‘meme’ about high-throughput measurement is that they are “notoriously unreliable” (see Hakes et al, 2008, for a recent example), Trey beautifully illustrates how predictive computational models and novel biological insights can be generated by sophisticated data integration strategies. Three types of applications are presented in his talk:  … Read more