Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Give It Away Now

The Baltimore Sun announced today that Celera Genomics, the private company that was part of the race to sequence the human genome, will allow free access to its DNA sequence data via the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Celera had been trying to sell access to this information, for use in drug discovery and other potentially profitable ventures, but, as you can see from a chart of their stock price, they failed. It seems like people would pay for the human genome, right? Not when the Human Genome Project, a cooperative effort funded by the US Department of Energy and the US National Institutes of Health were giving the information away. Sure it's great that Celera has now opened access to their database, but if they had cooperated from the beginning, lots of duplicate efforts could have been avoided (which is a benefit now, actually, since comparisons can be made to insure accuracy, etc.). Let's hope that this serves as a lesson to people trying to sell what should be free.

See also: This Data Just Wants to be Public []

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I can't let you think that, Dave.

Two students at MIT recently wrote a program called SciGen, which randomly generates Computer Science research papers. Last week, one of their randomly generated papers got accepted to a conference. This was covered on /. and CNN (who calls it a prank), among many others.

Today, is reporting that a Microsoft research lab in Cambridge, UK has verified a mathematical proof computationally. The Four-Color Theorem claims that any map in two dimensions can be colored using only four colors such that no two regions sharing a boundary are the same color. Benjamin Werner and Georges Gonthier translated a proof into Coq, a logic checking proof assistant, which subsequently verified the logical validity of their work. (Note that the Wikipedia entry on the Four-Color Theorem says happened in September 2004.)

The apparently belated report of this development by New Scientist also includes an interview with Randy Pollack from Edinburgh University. I agree with Pollack that the a logic checking application would be useful in computer programming, and extending this technology to other disciplines could be very useful. Pollack goes on to tell New Scientist that,

I've found instances where I'm doing things in a completely different way simply because I'm using a computer.

Me too, Randy, me too.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Slowing the Clock

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center recently reported that they can induce hibernation in mice, described in an article in the April 22 issue of Science. By exposing these mice to 80 ppm hydrogen sulfide (H2S) a 50% reduction of metabolic rate was observed within 5 minutes. If they left the mice in this environment for 6 hours, the rates dropped by 90%, and their body temperature dropped to just above ambient temperatures. Importantly, this hibernation is reversible: remove the mice from the hydrogen sulfide environment, they wake back up like nothing happened. The press release on this discovery mentions a number of potential applications including trauma and cancer treatment, and of course you're thinking about using it to sleep on your upcoming trip to Mars. It could be years before they test this on humans, because hydrogen sulfide is toxic in higher concentrations, but this could serve as a great tool to study hibernation in smaller mammals.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Law Student? Take Bio 101.

Law students everywhere are going to groan when they read this article in the current issue of the Columbia Law Review. Why? The authors are asserting that law and public policy can benefit from a biological understanding of human behavior. Although the slope may be slippery, they're not suggesting that the law begin to acknowledge the notion of genetic determinism (which says your genes made you cheat on your taxes); rather they hope to improve the law's understanding of human behavior to create better penalties and more effective policies. It's always good when experts starting talking across disciplines to find new ways to apply their knowledge, and we can probably expect some interesting developments from this movement. Keep your eye out for your minority report though.

Via: ScienceDaily
See also: Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research