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{bio,medical} informatics

Thursday, August 10, 2000

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BBC Genius of genes
"US researchers believe they have identified the parts of the human genome involved in developing a person's intelligence.

This means scientists could soon test the potential intelligence of new-born babies."

"The researchers, working for the US National Institutes of Health, analysed the DNA of 200 of the brightest kids in America and compared them with the genetic material from ordinary children.

The results are due out next year, but the BBC Newsnight programme has learned that key differences have been found. In other words, the scientists are homing in on the genes for genius."
redux [07.07.00]
UniSci Book Cites Dangers Of Misunderstanding Human Genetics
"Kaplan examines the roles genetic explanations for these types of differences play in our culture -- and how science has been used inappropriately to "medicalize" problems that should be more properly addressed as complex social issues.

Kaplan explores six specific areas -- intelligence (IQ), criminality and violence, homosexuality, depression, obesity, and the centrality of genetics in defining parenthood."

"He also explains the problems involved in "finding genes" for complex human behaviors by comparing the genomes of people who have a particular trait with the genomes of those who do not. The resulting medicalization centers the problem on the individual."

"... an emphasis on the biochemical and the genetic share the property that they make the condition out to be internal to the patient. Once a genetic explanation is offered, and any plausible sounding pathway proposed, the opportunities for claiming that there are other ways of approaching the problem are radically curtailed."

The problem becomes entirely that of personal biochemistry: the danger is in adopting easy solutions without looking at other reasons for the problem -- and without questioning the framework in which certain temperaments or sexual orientations become defined as problems."

redux [05.28.00]
Washington Post When Genes Tell the Story
"Suddenly, I'm picturing a new conclusion to "Casablanca," in which Rick walks up to the teary-faced Ilsa as she's about to board the plane with her husband and says: "I was gonna tell you that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But then I saw your BRCA-1 code. Baby, you're staring at the c-stuff. Let's just stay here and party to the bitter end."

"In the Brave New World ahead, are we (and the characters who reflect us) going to run dry of choice? Are we doomed to a movie-viewing future of genetically savvy detectives who catch their man armed with a genetoscope? I mean, what if Jack Nicholson were to turn his back on Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown" because, well, he'd already checked out that family incest history at the GenBank file at the National Institutes of Health."
redux [03.08.00]
New Scientist A gene profiling system threatens to reveal your innermost secrets
"WILL "DNA chips" that reveal your genetic makeup within minutes prove to be awesome medical tools or the means of genetic discrimination? We could find out sooner than anyone expected. A British biotech start-up has filed for a patent on a device that can detect variants of over 2500 genes--including genes that affect behaviour and intelligence."

""Where Genostic comes up with thousands of gene variants to put on their chip is a mystery to me," says Francis Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute near Washington DC. Daniel Cohen, chief genomics officer at Genset of Paris, agrees. "There haven't been enough population studies, as far as I know, to assess with enough precision the risk or predisposition for any of the diseases mentioned in the patent," he says.

redux [04.25.00]
UniSci Selfish Gene Theory Of Evolution Called Fatally Flawed
"In the current issue of Advances in Complex Systems (February-April), Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute and an expert on the application of mathematical analysis to complex systems, contends that the selfish-gene theory of evolution is fatally flawed.

If his mathematical proof gains general acceptance, it will shut the door on controversial "gene-centered" views of evolution.

Bar-Yam, in the upcoming article, proves that the "selfish gene" approach is not valid in the general case. He demonstrates that the gene-centered view, expressed in mathematical form, is only an approximation of the dynamics actually at work."

"The key to Bar-Yam's analysis lies in recognizing three levels of structure in nature: the gene, the organism and the group (or network) of organisms."
redux [07.11.00]
Biospace.Com Big Picture Biology
"For most of us, formal biology education begins with complex systems--the traditional dissection of a frog in high school biology class is virtually a rite of passage in the U.S.

But the way many people learn about and invest in biotechnology is at the smallest end of the spectrum--the genome, now often described as the "periodic table" of biology. Genomics and all its related buzzwords have been responsible for much of the media attention, government grants, and investment capital heaped on the biotech industry over the past decade.

But just as there is a whole lot of chemistry that happens in between the periodic table and a birthday cake, there is a lot of biology in between the genome and a living organism. With the completion of biology's periodic table within sight, academics and industry players alike are pondering the best way to apply our hard won knowledge.

The only problem is, the path from genome to system seems to get harder the more we learn."

[ rhetoric ]

Bioinformatics will be at the core of biology in the 21st century. In fields ranging from structural biology to genomics to biomedical imaging, ready access to data and analytical tools are fundamentally changing the way investigators in the life sciences conduct research and approach problems. Complex, computationally intensive biological problems are now being addressed and promise to significantly advance our understanding of biology and medicine. No biological discipline will be unaffected by these technological breakthroughs.


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