Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Mutation can be a good thing

Creationists often make statements about mutation always being bad and necessarily messing things up. (Usually followed by an inappropriate analogy.) Of course, in reality, many "good" examples of mutations have been discovered or even deliberately engineered.

One particularly nice example can be found in an article from Nature earlier this year (Isalan, M. et al. Evolvability and hierarchy in rewired bacterial gene networks. Nature 452, 840–845 (2008)). In this experiment, Isalan and co. simulated a bunch of random mutations by adding copies of genes to E. coli that were attached to different promoters and thus expressed under totally different control mechanisms than normal.

By creationist logic, each of these should be pretty detrimental to the organism. I mean, if the bacterium was perfectly designed, then this kind of approach (akin in their (misleading) analogies to adding an extra set of indicator lights to a car, controlled by the brake pedal (along with the brake),) should stuff things up. Indeed, even most biologists would assume that most of the constructs would be bad news.

Interestingly, however, this turned out not to be the case. The majority of constructs were tolerated by the bacteria in question. Furthermore, some of them actually conferred a selective advantage in certain conditions, demonstrating that not only can such mutations be tolerated, in certain scenarios they may be retained by the organism. i.e. evolution. (See more in Allison Doerr's article at "The Signaling Gateway".)

Although generally not as striking as this, articles demonstrating the potential power of mutation and selection are published every week. While they do not prove evolution in the unscientific way that Creationists seem to crave, they are certainly and indisputably entirely consistent with it. Despite nearly 150 years since the publication of "Darwin's Origin of Species", no evidence that has been unearthed that clearly contradicts evolution, despite the fact that every fossil dig or
sequenced genome has that potential. Evolution is falsifiable - don't believe otherwise. Just because no evidence has been found that shows evolution to be false, it doesn't mean that such evidence couldn't exist, it just means that it's unlikely to be false.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

All aboard the schouler ship

I know it's bad form to make fun of people with bad English but sometimes circumstances indicate that they deserve it. Following on from my "thank you and wish me luck" experience, I got another e-mail over the weekend from another Egyptian, this time with the subject "schouler ship". (Scholarship, I presume?) Now, while the first guy obviously had no idea I was a computational biologist, this guy hasn't even bothered to find out which country I am in!
"Dear prof.Dr. Richard J. Edwards
best wishes from the sky of Egypt
i would like to introduce myself to you
my name is:#### ####
underdraduate student at El-Azhar University Faculty of Science (Biology Department) have a geart interest for continuing my undergraduate study in biology at USA (i`m a student at the final course of the first year (biology department)
please you can direct me about what is the document papers or certificates i must sended it you for continuing my study at USA and what about the avilability for gaining a schoulership for continuning my study.
my interest in Genetics
thanks for your helping
#### ####"
Come on, people! Who do you think you are going to impress with such an error-riddled mis-directed e-mail?! I liked the "best wishes from the sky of Egypt" bit, though. I like to think he beamed the e-mail from a hot air balloon using a satellite uplink or something.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

SOLD! (Subject to contract)

This is our new house! (Hopefully.) Today I went by and took this photo. I'm not sure how clear it is but that's a "SOLD" sign outside now, rather than "For Sale". Yay! I know it doesn't really mean anything until the contract is signed but still, it's a step in the right direction.

We also had to get identification forms signed for the solicitors today. The world is such a distrustful place now. Before, I am sure you could just get a copy of an important document signed by a responsible member of the community, such as a policeman or teacher. (My old lab head signed my passport photo.) Now, you have to take a form along to the Post Office, where they charge you a fiver for the privilege! Oh well.

The one thing (so far) I think I would do differently if/when going through the house-buying thing again is to get a solicitor sorted out before putting in an offer. The first thing they wanted was our solicitor's address (before we had one sorted!) to get things moving. And while I am hoping it won't make much difference from now on, if we had got someone local at least we could have popped in and identified ourselves in person.

Thank you and wish me good luck

From time to time I am randomly contacted by people looking for a placement in my lab. Generally, it is very obvious that they have just sent round a blanket e-mail without bothering to find out what I actually do. (At least I am now a lab leader - when I was a postdoc I got contacted by people who obviously did not even know what I was, let alone what I did.)

Yesterday, I got a particularly entertaining one. Unlike most, he was applying with his own funding, which therefore made him of potential interest, but he was clearly just spamming labs in hope of a response. This seemed a bit odd to me, as if he had funding he should have been able to be quite selective of where he went.

I directed him to, which has many self-funded PhD placements advertised, and pointed out that I was a computational (not "wet") biologist. As expected, he replied to say that he was not interested in bioinformatics. The best bit, though, was his parting comment: "Thank you and wish me good luck." :o)