Jonathan Eisen dresses down university press departments that oversell science, and also hits on one of my pet peeves: the attempt to portray all scientific research as addressing human ills. In this case, it’s claiming that research on shark gene expression will help treat birth defects.
In my own research, I look at the effects of alcohol (among other things) on embryonic development in zebrafish, and it is a kind of animal model of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. People always jump to the assumption that I’m trying to find a cure for FAS, and I have to correct them: I definitely am not. FAS is a developmental disorder, and is not curable … and we already have a solution in the form of public policy and maternal education that can prevent the problem. I use teratogens as a simple tool to perturb the process of development so I can view the interactions involved; I also see development as an event involving both genes and the environment, and just about everyone mucks around with genes, so I’m looking at it from the other side.
So my work with teratogens is much more directly applicable to research on birth defects, and I deny the association; most of the work out there on gene expression in fins is going to even more remote from applied medical uses, not that that will stop PR departments.