August/September 2007


The DNA deluge

Speaking to a packed demonstration hall during the International Systems in Molecular Biology conference held in Vienna in July 2007, Arif Anwar, general manager of Malaysia-based bioinformatics company, Synamatix, said: ‘Previously impossible experiments are now within reach.’ He was talking, specifically, about genomics, and the impact of so-called ‘next-generation’ DNA sequencing technologies, which are finally displacing trusted sequencing methods that have been widely used since the beginning of the ‘genome era’.


Sploshing about in ponds, and other stories

There was a time when fieldwork was the heart and soul of science practice. No reputation was complete unless it was based on a healthy chunk of time spent in the field. Lab time was important, but as a phase in a process that centred on discovery in the field. Those days are gone; the focus of glory has shifted to the laboratory, or even gone entirely in silico. That doesn’t mean that the importance of the field worker has declined; science is still a whole process, not just a few high-visibility star turns, and the field worker is still an essential part of fabric.


Academics tackle epidemics

In early August in the UK, there was an outbreak of the highly contagious foot and mouth disease on a farm in Surrey, England. Within a matter of days, many of the measures to prevent it from spreading, such as transport embargoes and the mass slaughtering of cattle, were relaxed.

It’s a marked change from a similar outbreak in 2001, which lasted nine months and resulted in more than seven million sheep and cattle being slaughtered at a reported cost of £8bn.


Breakthroughs in systems biology

Linda Petzold has been responsible for many millions of machine cycles in some of the world’s most powerful computers. Not directly, of course; as a mathematician her needs are usually modest. But her contribution to the creation of techniques for solving differential-algebraic equations has kept scientists and engineers from many fields, as well as their computers, busy for years.