Because of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, the blog had a week off. Among many other meetings was a very useful one with Sir John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and other Departmental Chief Scientists. These meetings provide excellent fora for developing scientific thinking across Government Departments, and certainly expose me to issues broader than those that I typically contemplate.
We were pleased to note the announcement (amid a welter of bad puns such as ‘tomato genome project bears fruit’, ‘sauce code’, and the like) of the sequences of two tomato genomes. Given the very widespread consumption of tomatoes, and their perceived health benefits, it will be most exciting to see how quickly this knowledge translates into strains with improved traits such as taste, anti-oxidant content, post-harvest longevity, disease resistance, and so on. (Incidentally, growing tomatoes in saline conditions can improve their taste, but not yield, considerably!)
I greatly enjoyed speaking at and attending part of a New Phytologist Workshop on Synthetic Biology, where as well as highlighting BBSRC’s enthusiastic support for the field I was able to rehearse a couple of syn bio studies – on aptamers and on quantitative proteomics – in which I had been involved.
Examples of useful products emerging from the applications of synthetic biology continue apace; an excellent recent example is the production at 40g.L-1 of amorpha-4,11-diene (a precursor of the antimalarial artemisinin) using baker’s yeast.
We had one of our very useful annual meetings with Heads of Department, where I was able to hear a range of views of areas that need development, those that merely need tweaking, and indeed those that are going particularly well.
In the 3 months since acquiring an electronic pedometer, I note that the range between my most and least active days is ca 3.5-fold (~4,000 to ~14,500 steps) – albeit the interquartile range is much narrower as that ignores my occasional air travel. I am not sure whether that range is a lot or a little, but it encourages one to move to the upper end more regularly – which presumably is precisely the point of using a recording pedometer whose results are accessible online. I see ambulatory physiology (and maybe even physiological computing) as an interesting area for doing important kinds of crowd sourcing science in the future.
Other papers I enjoyed reading included one on DNA self assembly (and commentary), a preprint deconstructing further an implausible claim of the chemical role of arsenate in bacterial DNA (implausible given the extreme lability of the phospho-arsenate bond, which is well known to explain why arsenate is a toxic uncoupler…), an important new method for epigeneomic sequencing, an analysis of the physiological benefits of high kcat values, and an analysis – as may happen on biological membranes – of water-mediated proton hopping.
As part of some developing thinking on small molecule promiscuity, not least in the context of cellular drug uptake, I also enjoyed reading a paper (and commentary) about a novel target for salicylate.
Finally, I also enjoyed a splendidly inventive spoof biotechnology website (that clearly fooled a number of newspapers…).
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