Blogimmuniqué: titles and series (and Not Just DNA #0)

By Grant Jacobs 12/09/2013 1


Blogimmuniqués are my irregular commmuniqués about Code for life.

Over the next few weeks you’ll notice a few changes in the titles of posts, identifying the intended audience of different articles.

Briefly,

  • Articles ending in (Not Just DNA #1), with an appropriate post number in place of ‘1’, are part of an irregular series of sorts on how our genomes that make our genomes work. The first post will be Is a genome enough (Not Just DNA #1). This isn’t a series in the true sense, but rather a theme – posts for it are likely to be irregular and the topic is taken in it’s broadest sense. Most articles in it will aimed at non-specialists – that is, everyone. More thoughts on this series in Not Just DNA #0, below.
  • Articles intended for bioinformatics scientists will start with Bioinformatics: just as my previous post did: Bioinformatics: WikiProject computational biology competition 2013.
  • Articles with neither a specialist focus nor a particular topical focus will have titles without appellations.

I may introduce other themes later.

Why not separate blogs?

Most people set up separate blogs for separate themes or focuses and I’d agree it usually is the best idea. Part of the reason I’m not opting for this, aside from avoiding managing several blogs, is that I like the idea of showing more than a narrow focus on one thing.[1]

I suspect most of what non-scientists see of scientists on-line are them talking about their speciality or things close to it. It must look incredibly narrow-minded.

In practice most scientists I know are interested in all sorts of things happening in science.[2] Scientists aren’t much different to non-scientists who find articles about the world around us fascinating, it’s just their day job happens to involve digging into particular niche areas in more detail. (Their training does mean that they have a more critical appreciation of stories overlapping the field they work in, of course.)

That scientists often have wide interests doesn’t show it’s face in blogs that much. I suspect some see writing widely is a sign of weakness, rather than a curious intellect—or at least that those writing worry their peers will think that—and as a result many are wary of showing it.

Limiting blogs to a topic allows readers to choose their reading by topic. It satisfies that notion that the return for the ‘cost’  of searching for material related to their current interest is higher, but it also can hide the connections between topics.[3]

As a computational biologist I am interested in both the biology and the computational analysis of that biology. Furthermore, the underlying principles can be applied to many different areas of biology.

In addition to my research-related interests there are stories that I just find interesting for the ‘usual’ reasons, personal connections or topics I’ve come across or have been involved with in the past. As just one example, neuroscience is fascinating, with some very interesting computational biology opportunities. Some niches have personal connections, like those related to hearing[4] (like Christine’s recent post, Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you say).

I’d rather present all of what I write in one place.[2] At the same time, I’d like to enable readers with a topical interest go straight to posts that interest them and ignore the others if that’s their preference. Hence the tweak to the titles.

Not Just DNA #0

The series/theme title can be read as a play on the modern take of the term epigenetics, that genetics can be affected by more than just the DNA sequence itself. (I’ll explore that term within the series; the term itself a big topic in it’s own right.)

For my purposes it’ll have a wider meaning and include things like personal genomics, legal and moral issues. Some articles will focus on individual elements within DNA, others general concepts.

While it’ll be focused on letting readers learn about their genomes—human genomes—it will contrast ours with genomes of other species, as scientists do.

Most efforts in this area tackle a little chunk of this and a little chunk of that in bit-sized pieces. I’ll do that too, but I’d also like to provide an overview as I’m not satisfied with how this leaves non-scientist readers with a scattering of bits with no framework for them to sit within. My first piece in the series provides a ‘lite’ overview.[5] It’s been a long time coming partly because providing an overview in a light manner of such a big topic isn’t that easy. I have sympathies for those who dispense with it and tackle things bit by bit!

It’s a vast topic. I don’t claim to be an expert in all of it and there would be very few (if any) who could. Part of my reason for tackling this to provide an opportunity to explore aspects of genomes I’d probably otherwise not poke my nose into.

Another reason for the topic is that, given opportunity, I can imagine tackling a book or two in this area. I can’t imagine doing that without financial support but this informal series can at least let me dabble – and, of course, I won’t have the pressure of delivering to an editor on schedule! (And I can also overlook topics of less interest to me!)

Some earlier pieces under this theme are listed in Earlier Not Just DNA in Code for life:, at the end of this piece.

Footnotes

1. In a sense it’s a variation on what Occam’s Typewriter does. A lot of what the public see of scientists are them talking about their work, but not their daily lives in science. The people at Occam’s Typewriter (mostly) talk about their lives around the science, not the science itself.

2. … and more than in science but I can’t really write about things that are well away from science here, or at least not too often, as sciblogs is a science blogging platform.

3. Exactly the same problem can occur in reading the scientific literature. A tight focus can lead to overlooking connections between different lines of research.

4. Regular readers may know I have a hearing loss. A connection with Christine’s piece is lipreading.


Earlier Not Just DNA on Code for life (in no particular order):

Tracking disease and human migration through genetics

The inheritance of face recognition (should you blame your parents if you can’t recognise faces?)

Animating our DNA

The scale of cellular life and compacting chromosomes

Coiling bacterial DNA

Epigenetics – introductory explanations

Find transcription factor motifs in genomes better: add histone acetylation data

Transcribing a gene, free poster

Deleting a gene can turn an ovary into a testis in adult mammals

Autism — looking for parent-of-origin effects

Appeals court concludes that Myriad can patent BRCA genes

Haemophilia — towards a cure using genetic engineering

What genetic changes make us human?

What is a gene?

Online lecture series on genomics and bioinformatics

Metagenomics-finding organisms from their genomes

Autism genetics, how do you copy?

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure

Epigenetic dynamics – free


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