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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Tuesday January 29, 2002
12:56 PM

Biocon Monday

[ #2505 ]

Woke up at 8:13 for an 8:30 tutorial. Wet hair, apply deodorant, RUN RUN RUN! The tutorial went well, really well. I had been worried that I'd only have an hour of slides, but it ended up being about two to two and a half. I was giving an introduction to molecular biology (powerpoint tuturial) and had a blast interacting with the three scientists backing me up.

I had read in Scientific American that if you're cornered with an astrophysicist at a cocktail party, you can always keep the conversation going by asking "but what about the angular momentum?" It's apparently an issue in every part of astrophysics. It turns out that the same thing for biology is "yes, but surely that's species-dependent". Every time I'd state a simple fact, the biologists would trip over themselves to come up with freakish examples that disprove it.

Because biological systems evolve, and aren't designed in the classic Waterfall System, there's huge variation at almost every level. For example, peas and humans are diploid organisms--two copies of every chromosome, so genes can be recessive and dominant. Bacteria are haploid--only one copy, so every gene is dominant. Potatoes have SIX copies of every chromosome. Mendel was very wise to use peas to quantify inheritance rather than potatoes!

Mendel sent his papers to a very nasty professor who alternately ignored and dumped on him. The professor recommended that Mendel go use hawkweed. Hawkweed is apomictic, a wonderful word meaning that genes from pollen aren't incorporated into the child organisms. No amount of breeding by Mendel would make it work.

So all of this came out of the heckling. It's cool trivia (and, indeed, became questions in the quiz show) but it also shows the enormous problems that computer scientists face when they venture into bioinformatics. You can't do anything meaningful without understanding the data, and you can't just say "oh, this is strings, I'll just grep it".

I was amazed at how 'up' I was on so little sleep. I begin to understand how Damian does it, but I also felt knackered at the end. I'm amazed he can do it day in day out for weeks at a time. I'm also somewhat horrified. If I can, I think I'll try to make it part of his YAS grant that he does *not* self-combust this year :-)

Because I didn't have time for breakfast, I was famished. I went back to shower after the tutorial ended, then had lunch. Got to talk with a British guy teaching bioinformatics to people who know neither biology nor computer science (my reaction: "what are these people thinking?!") and then met the publisher, assistant publisher, and fancy technology guy from Nature magazine. They were fun--amazingly fun and open but still really sharp.

The rest of the day was spent writing questions for the quiz show. Jon was kind enough to rewrite a bunch of my incorrect and malformed questions into quiz show format, and that let me really get the hang of it. I finished the last question 10 minutes before the show was to start, printed them out, and ran. To a room with 45 people in it. Despite the low attendance we all had a huge amount of fun. I had to get Jennifer and Cynthia to write last-minute questions after there was a tie in the first round, which led to fun and hilarity.

Then a bunch of us went back to my suite and we all got wildly and powerfully trashed. There was hottubbing. Security was called. Tim fell off his chair with laughter. It was a *lot* of fun. To bed at 1:30.


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