March/ April 2005
Birdsong generation by Mathematica and Matlab (Left) and Rasmus Ekman's Coagula Industrial- Strength Color-Note Organ (right). Backgroud Painting: Naumann's 1905 'Naturgeschichte der Voegel Mitteleuropas', Hamburg University Faculty of Biology public domain collection.
Many people do biology because they can't handle maths. This has become a bit of a problem, because so much of modern biology is about maths. The science of genomics leads to vast quantities of very accurate data being produced, and there is a pressing need for sophisticated mathematical techniques to make sense of it all.
Last year, drug safety scares sent shudders through the pharmaceutical industry. It wasn't just the immediate cost of drug withdrawals that worried executives, although Merck suffered from lost sales worth $2.5bn annually while its arthritis drug Vioxx was off the market (it was voluntarily withdrawn in September 2004 but an FDA panel voted to allow it back in February this year). The companies were more concerned that increased scrutiny by the US Food and Drug Administration could send the costs of safety testing to new highs.
'Ex Africa semper aliquid novi' said Pliny. Or, as the 100 million or so Kiswahili speakers of East Africa might put it: kitu pya sikuzote njoo Afrika. I do not open this article with Kiswahili on a whim: while there are many languages in use throughout Africa, this is the most strategic Bantu tongue. Of the 100 million Kiswahili speakers in East Africa, an estimated 10 million have access to computers. Establishing software within this language is currently a major theatre of development and contention.