Grant Jacobs

Dr Grant Jacobs is a computational biologist, a biologist who uses computers (algorithms, statistics, etc.) to explore biological systems, and who develops computer algorithms and tools for biologists to explore data from genes, genomes and proteins. He contracts to research groups and biotech companies through his Dunedin-based consultancy, BioinfoTools. He has an established interest in science communications and is open to science communication work as well as computational biology. Grant is on Twitter, @BioinfoTools.

New code for controlling new food varieties (FASNZ; GMO, or not) - Code for life

Apr 09, 2018

New Zealanders and Australians might like to contribute (last-minute!*) submissions to revise Food Standards Australia and New Zealand’s code for controlling new food varieties, FSANZ is seeking input from the community on whether food derived using new breeding techniques (NBTs) should be captured for pre-market approval under the Code, and whether the definitions for ‘food produced using gene technology’ and ‘gene technology’ should be changed to improve clarity. You’ll want to read the consulting paper that comes with this call for submissions. Comments and suggestions welcome I’ll add my thoughts on the need to revise the code tonight, and perhaps an outline of what I might submit. In the meantime I can at least let readers know of the call for submissions.** Late last year I offered an outline of things to consider with current ‘GMOs’. My … Read More

A new organ? - Code for life

Mar 30, 2018

Media outlets the world over are touting the “discovery” of a new organ in humans. I’m not alone in protesting, I agree.[1] The new organ claim is not made in the research paper Importantly, the research paper doesn’t claim a new organ — that’s a claim made outside of the research paper, made by one of the authors. The uncritical repeating of this claim is disappointing, if sadly typical of a social media-driven fuss. That’s click-bait, right? The research shows the presence of collagen-bundle structures in the interstitial space. The paper speculates these might have a “shock-absorbing” role.[2] How the research was assessed matters The author says the research paper was rejected from 8 other journals before getting it out in SciReports, a journal whose peer-reviewers are advised that, Manuscripts are not assessed based on their perceived importance, … Read More

More Wellcome reading - Code for life

Feb 09, 2018

I know many of my readers are, well, readers. (Ha!) I like book prize longlists, as they give you a selection to browse, all of which will be great efforts. (I’d also encourage browsing around the booksellers’ and publishers’ websites, and bookstores: there are excellent books not on any prize shortlist.*) The Wellcome Trust, one of largest medical research charities in the world,** funds an annual award for books, fiction or non-fiction, that “have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.” The books “can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci fi and history.” To find the blurb for each book on the longlist on their website, you have to visit each page in turn. To help my readers a little, I’ve listed the books with the short topic and … Read More

Catty lives, scientific and viral (Book review) - Code for life

Dec 02, 2017

Book review: Cat Zero. This book purrs. It does that thing that cats do, “playing” with their toy, gently poking at it, softly lobbing it in the air, then, eventually, lunging. I’d recommend it for those who’d like the interplay of scientific lives, permeated with motives and mystery. Jennifer Rohn’s strength is her characters, their changing foibles—sometimes more than mere foible—and their muses. Of course there are the sticky messes that can result. You might think from the cover that you’re getting a light-weight thriller. It’s more mystery with solid characters, dialogue and motivations. Definitely not the lightly sketched plot of B-grade all-action thrillers, guns blazing into the night. It’s subtly mellow, and by turns odd, slowly building up with little claws-retracted prods, before talons are drawn nearer … Read More

New Zealanders: Prepare to be alerted - Code for life

Nov 25, 2017

New Zealanders: if your phone squeals at you sometime between 6 and 7pm tomorrow evening, don’t panic! Tomorrow New Zealand will face it’s first mobile emergency alert test. Compatible phones are listed on the CD website. You don’t have to download an app or subscribe to anything; it’ll just do it’s thing. Mobile alerts give warning and advice if there are “serious hazards that involve threats to life, health or property” (see FAQ). Alerts will only be issued by – New Zealand Police Fire and Emergency New Zealand Local Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups The Ministries of: Health Primary Industries Civil Defence & Emergency Management To ‘get back’ to an alert issued earlier, On Android phones: try looking in the Messages app. For iPhone users: look in your notifications (Swipe down from the top of … Read More

Regulating GMOs: time to move forward - Code for life

Nov 23, 2017

It’s time to move regulation of genetic modification forward. The current set-up is temporary and unsound. We use a risk-based approach for almost everything because that’s what makes sense. But New Zealand takes an arbitrary approach to genetic modification. So we ‘ban’ a technique that evidence shows there is no special risk in using. That poor logic plays to a vocal minority, rather than the science or public views of biotechnology. It also puts other country’s regulatory issues ahead of opportunities for NZ. Furthermore, real risk management isn’t just regulations. It’s good farm management practices and education. Central to this article is a list of bullet points about regulation of genetic modification. Each is short, but I hope they will help move the discussion forward. Since I started this Bob Brockie has written an opinion piece, Every obstacle put in the … Read More

Public opinion of gene editing and enhancement - Code for life

Nov 21, 2017

What if we could fix a kid’s genetic disease, cure them for their lifetime? What if we make that for all of their children, forever? Or enhance humans to be genetically better? What’s your opinion of gene editing and enhancement? A survey asked what people thought. Participants gave a green light for adult gene therapy. They were cautious about embryo gene therapy, and disfavoured gene editing for enhancements. Do my readers feel the same way? What do you think legislation say? Surveys and demographics can help develop policy by learning what people think. It can help prevent the views of vocal minorities being over-represented.* Important, too, is the advice of experts. Policy by popularity alone isn’t necessarily ‘right’ or best for people. (Never mind policy by loudest voice!) Towards the end of this article I look at some … Read More

Natural Health Products bill gets quietly dropped - Code for life

Nov 16, 2017

Today Newsroom reported that the Natural Health Products bill has been quietly dropped. Fellow Sciblogger Mark Hanna offered thoughts on this in an interview. There is a need to address an unregulated market that has problems. In an earlier piece, I offered some thoughts on the draft bill. I felt quite a bit could be added. Claims about products matter, and how products are presented matter, too. I can’t also help thinking of the sheer amount of work that has been done. It’s 7 years since I first wrote on the call for submissions. In the article Health Products NZ corporate affairs director Alison Quesnel says her organisation has working on it for 16 years. I’d like to learn what the detailed reasons for dropping this were, and how it happened. Is there a wider picture? Perhaps some other … Read More

Offering sympathies for disabilities - Code for life

Nov 12, 2017

Short version: don’t. Be a wee bit careful about empathy, too. Why to not offer sympathies for disabilities is worth knowing. It’ll help you be kind to others in many situations, and to write or talk about disabilities and difficulties better. There’s a connection with science and science communication, too. A mantra about kindness that circulates in science communication and science circles, goes to the effect “Everyone here is smart, so distinguish yourself by being kind.” This is part of that, too, I guess. In a recent article I used my hearing loss as an example of an effect of a vaccine-preventable illness, and to illustrate that affects from illnesses can be life-long. One commenter* opened their response by expressing their ‘sorrow’ at my hearing loss. For me this offering sympathy was merely a familiar irritation, but, really, don’t be … Read More

Vote for your favourite book - Code for life

Nov 10, 2017

The GoodReads Choice Awards is the only major book award decided by readers – you! Even if you’re not sure about voting, the mid rounds of competitions offer great reading lists to explore. Get to it! Don’t take too long – the semi-final round ends in three days. (There is a final round from November 14th until November 27th.) As I write nearly two million votes have been cast. There are lots of categories, but I’m guessing my readers will favour Science and Technology, along with perhaps Non-Fiction, History and Biography, and Science Fiction. (I suspect far too many of us are science fiction fans!) Several of the books in the Science and Technology semi-final round are already on my to-read list – A Crack in Creation, Pandora’s Lab, and Inferior. I’ll be needing to check out the others. Read More