[Research highlight] Multicellular computers

Elaborate computation tasks can be performed by distributing the work across interconnected elementary information processing units. This principle underlies not only the operation of integrated electronic circuits, but also of many biological processes including development and, of course, the activity of the brain.  Read more

[Research highlight] Mycoplasma rebooted

Upshot of a series of four papers published over the last years (Gibson et al, 2010, Lartigue et al, 2009, Gibson et al, 2008, Lartigue et al, 2007), J. Craig Venter’s team now reports the successful transplantation of a chemically synthesized genome into a host bacterial cell (Gibson et al, 2010). As proof of principle, a slightly altered Mycoplasma mycoides genome (JCVI-syn1.0) was synthesized, assembled and transplanted into M. capricolum recipient cells.  Read more

The end of news, the end of reason

Aside from what Waldorf & Statler make of the internet, it is the greatest source of information humanity has ever created; larger than the Vatican Archives, the Library of Congress and all public and university libraries combined. And it’s fast. I don’t have to wait for the news on TV or the daily newspaper to tell me about the US government’s latest reaction to AIG’s bonus payments: the internet, in particular the blogosphere or that latest spawn of it, twittering, gives me real-time news, 24 hours a day. Why then, would we still need news on paper, on TV or on the radio?  Read more

Keystone Symposium – Omics Meets Cell Biology (II)

Keystone Symposium - Omics Meets Cell Biology (II)

Before I carry on with a summary of the second part of the Keystone Symposium ‘Omics Meets Cell Biology’, I should clarify that this post and the previous one dedicated to this conference are not intended to provide an comprehensive account of all the talks but rather to communicate some general (and subjective) impressions of the meeting. To keep these posts reasonably short (and sometimes due to a lack of memory…), I had to omit several of the excellent presentations given at this meeting. The full program and complete list of speakers is available at the Keystone Symposium website.  Read more

Keystone Symposium – Omics Meets Cell Biology (I)

Keystone Symposium - Omics Meets Cell Biology (I)

At the Keystone Symposium ‘OMICS Meets Cell Biology’, held this week in Breckenridge, Colorado, attendees had initially to face two major challenges: the first was to survive the cocktail mixing jet lag and altitude sickness and the second one—oh, it hurts!— was to resist the temptation to just forget all about science and focus exclusively on the concepts revolving around snow, slopes and fun sports…  … Read more

The role of neutral mutations in the evolution of phenotypes

The role of neutral mutations in the evolution of phenotypes

In a recent opinion piece, Andreas Wagner tries to reconcile the tension between proponents of neutral evolution and selectionism (Wagner 2008). He argues that “neutral mutations prepare the ground for later evolutionary innovation”. Wagner illustrates this point using a network model of genotype-phenotype relationships (Wagner 2005). In a so-called ‘neutral network’, nodes correspond to distinct genotypes associated with the same phenotype and are connected by an edge if the respective genotypes differ only by a single mutation event (eg point mutation). Examples of neutral networks include different genotypes coding for RNA or protein structures. In this representation, highly connected networks correspond to robust phenotypes that are not very sensitive to changes in genotype. Wagner notes the zinc finger fold as an impressive example of a highly connected neutral network as its structure remains essentially the same even after mutating all but seven of its 26 residues to alanine.  Read more

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

Soon Sci Foo!

A last very quick post before going on vacation (Swiss Alps…). In two weeks I will have the great privilege to attend the mythic SciFoo ‘un-conference’ at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Many ideas of exciting sessions are already circulating. I would just like to add my support to Cameron Neylon’s proposal for a discussion around the issue of building a ‘Science Data Commons’. The availability and ‘integrability’ of scientific data represent probably some of the major challenges in scientific communication and, obviously, I would be excited to see if, from the discussions at Sci Foo, some ideas will emerge on how scientific journals can take concrete and pragmatic steps to help making scientific data readily available in a useful form.  Read more