Tag Archives: science communication

Crowd sourcing genetics: Ash die back on Facebook

Sometimes I am astounded by the sheer volume of data that we create in science nowadays. Where a few years ago we were sequencing individual genes, made up of a few thousand letters, now with a single Illumina run we can generate terabytes of data.

But what to do with that data? A lot of genomics at the moment is concerned with targeted resequencing, and bulk segregant analysis. Producing genome #1 is a lot of hard work, and doesn’t tell us all that much. Producing genomes #2 to #10 for the same species tells us a lot more: Why does wheat cultivar 1 have a higher yield than wheat cultivar 2? Why is apple variety 1 susceptible to a disease when apple variety 2 is not?  Continue reading

Essential response to anti-GM from Mark Lynas

No full length post here, just a suggestion that you all go to read Mark Lynas*’ fantastic deconstruction of various anti-GMO arguments. Obviously none of the arguments mean ‘go grow GM across the world immediately!’ but he gives some lovely detailed responses to the inconsistency in various people’s thinking (e.g. how objecting to Monsanto creating a monopoly on corn should not lead to trashing open source disease tolerant papaya in Africa) and explanations of how environmental groups are doing things that simply aren’t good for the environment.

It’s long, but a very good read.

Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact but in large parts the precise opposite of the truth.

This is why I use the term conspiracy theory. Populist ideas about conspiracies do not arise spontaneously in a political and historic vacuum. They result when powerful ideological narratives collide with major world events, rare occasions where even a tiny number of dedicated activists can create a lasting change in public consciousness.

The anti-GMO campaign has also undoubtedly led to unnecessary deaths. The best documented example, which is laid out in detail by Robert Paarlberg in his book ‘Starved for Science’, is the refusal of the Zambian government to allow its starving population to eat imported GMO corn during a severe famine in 2002.

Full link is here

*Mark Lynas as in the authors of Six Degrees, a pop science book about how the world would change as average global temperature increased by 1 degree, 2 degrees, 3 degrees etc… It’s basically a huge meta study of primary literature and very enjoyable. Apparently he’s good at writing about GM too – who knew?

Round Up #5

Today has been a very bitty lab day. At lunchtime I was carolling, and I spent the afternoon lying in an MRI scanner in the name of science. I haven’t achieved much since I got back, though whether I’m actually reacting to magnetic waves, or just being stuck in a box with my head pinned down for 90 minutes remains to be seen.

Nevertheless I’m determined to get one more qPCR run on before the week is out… except I foolishly put everything back in the freezer. While I wait for it to defrost, here are a few things that have caught my eye this week, but that I haven’t yet had a chance to write about:

PhD 2 Published have released a snazzy little app to keep track of how writing is going.

Prof Serious has some tough love advice for people about quitting their PhD (*gulp*)

PubMed have announced a new science writing competition (primarily aimed at biomedical researchers, but I can’t see anything to stop me entering provided I can write about biomedicine…)

The new edition of DSM-5 has been published, and along the way a whole bunch of non-neurotypical conditions have been reclassified (including autism). Long post on that probably coming over the weekend or early next week.

Friday Roundup

Here are a few odds and ends that have caught my eye over the last day or two to finish the week with.

The 523Mb draft genome for banana, Musa acuminata, has been released (more on that later) in a paper in Nature by D’Hont et al  and with it this awesome Venn Diagram comparing the genes that are homologous between banana and some other important plants. (Arabidopsis is the model species for all plants – the equivalent of a lab mouse; Brachypodium is the model for grasses; Oryza is rice).

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I’m a scientist: GM Zone

Somehow I managed to get so caught up in that stupid EU Commission advert this weekend that I completely forgot to mention I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here.

I’m a scientist is a really cool outreach program that allows school kids to talk to real scientists, asking questions and evicting the ones they don’t like for a two week period. It runs twice a year, and this year an extra ‘Zone’ has been added that starts running this week (the normal Zones all finished last week). This time it’s not just for school kids, and instead of a broad theme, they’re talking about GM foods. Anyone can ask any question they like and the five scientists involved will do their best to answer. Pretty cool huh?

I’m a big fan of the I’m a scientist program: it’s engaging and inspiring and does a good job of showing kids what science is really about and just how human scientists really are. (It’s pretty common to get personal questions thrown into the mix as well as questions about science!) Hopefully this time around it can also be a fantastic tool for engaging with the public over GM foods.

As I say it all kicks off today, but you can still submit questions for the next two weeks, so go get involved!

Science: it’s a girl thing. We are nerdy and that is okay.

This week the EU Commission launched a campaign called Science: It’s a girl thing designed to encourage girls to  become scientists. It involved some nice shorts of female scientists talking about who they are and what they do.

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The Academic Spring… and what it means for Joe Public

In the scientific world, peer-reviewed publishing is the gold standard. When some too-good-to-be-true research is reported on the BBC website or a vaccine sceptic makes a seemingly questionable claim, the first question of every scientifically-minded-person’s lips is: Where is the paper? No matter how strong or persuasive the argument, we want to see the data. We want to scrutinise the methods. We want to know that even if we’re not 100% clear on how the experiment was carried out, the scientific community as a whole has given the research its golden seal of approval. Christians have priests, and Jews have rabbis: Scientists have Nature, Science and Cell.

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