A genomic X Prize

Here’s a marvelous idea: a race to sequence 100 people’s genomes in 100 days, with a nominal prize of 10 million dollars. As a tool to motivate the discovery of new technologies and gain prestige, I approve. It’s unfortunate that it is so anthropocentric, though. A similar contest to sequence 100 species genomes in 100 days would be much cooler, and would contribute far more to our understanding.

They’ve also got a second 100 genomes to sequence that will be drawn from a pool of celebrities. I have reservations there; the ones named seem to be mainly people who happen to be filthy rich (i.e., likely to donate money to feed their vanity), rather than ones that have some biological interest. If you’ve got to pick a celebrity, go for ones with specific physical attributes that will generate potentially interesting comparisons: what about sports stars and chess champions?

Of course, what defeats the whole intent of this contest is that they ought to just hand the samples to that technician on CSI, and he’d whip out the whole shebang in a half-hour.

A recommendation

Try browsing Prides and Prejudices, the musings of a sardonic high school English teacher—that’s my favorite kind!—without getting sucked in. She writes everything from a paean to the woodlouse to
modern gift-giving etiquette. (I had no idea the iPod Shuffle was so déclassé, but then I’ve been away from the dating scene for a long time; the last gift I gave my wife when she was my girlfriend might have been a sweater.)

SciAm explains hothead

You may have heard about that odd hothead mutation in Arabidopsis that seemed to be violating a few principles of basic genetics—there was an unexpectedly high frequency of revertants that suggested there might be a reservoir of conserved genetic information outside the genome. Reed Cartwright proposed an alternative explanation, that gamete selection could skew the results. Now the latest reports suggest that the bias was an artifact of foreign pollenization (which I think is interesting in itself. Life is damned good at sneaking its genes in wherever it can.)

Anyway, if that’s all gobbledygook to you, Scientific American has put up a lucid summary of the hothead affair. It’s an example of good science, where the observations and hypotheses are hammered out and refined to get a best explanation.

Reminder!

Drinking Liberally is cancelled this week in Morris. If you’re really hard up, you could go to the DL in Minneapolis, but really, why would you want to? We’ve got Al Franken, star of TV and radio, founder of the Midwest Values PAC, and best-selling author entertaining us at a DFL fundraiser here in our little town, so we’re a much more exciting place than that urban mess to the east. I think there are still tickets available, but I know they were going fast a few days ago—call Jeff Lamberty at (320) 585-5646 if you’re interested. Nope, sorry, you were too late. Sold out! Good for the Stevens County DFL!

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Also, on Friday, from 11-2, the Al Franken show will be broadcast from Edson Auditorium on the UMM campus. If you can’t be here this evening, you can catch a little whiff of the Morris mystique (no, that’s not the swine farm or the ethanol plant) by tuning in to Air America tomorrow.

Dodos of your own

You may recall that I reviewed Flock of Dodos last week—it’s good, you should all see it if you can. The movie now has a distributor, so maybe you can. Unfortunately, this isn’t a release for private use yet, so what you need to do is get an institution to fork over $345. Yeah, that’s steep, but it includes public performance rights. Maybe you could convince your local university to get it for a Darwin Day showing…? Recoup the cost by selling tickets?