Friday, September 12, 2008

Genetics as a model

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a professor from John Hopkins. His talk was on ciliopathies, which might not sound terribly exciting, but the man was a terrifically engaging speaker.

There's probably little interest in hearing about any of that stuff amongst you readers, but he did use it to emphasize an overarching message about scientific bias. In the world of disease genetics, it seems there's a tendency to think in terms of, "one disease, one gene." Especially in the idea that what you observe in the inheritance patterns is definitive. This guy, Nicholas Katsanis, instead argued that incomplete penetrance demands that such thinking be put aside and alternative explanations examined. The end result being that most genetic diseases are incredibly complicated, with most of the involved mutations to the pathways providing only a percentage of the observed result. That is to say, three individual mutations might not show any sort of disease phenotype, but combinations of those mutations could give a spectrum of disease severity. He related this to his research by showing that genes which are written off as having nothing to do with a disease can, in fact, contribute to a disease state.

It's not really my intention to turn this blog into the "scientific bias" show, but if such problems can exist in biological sciences, why can't it be a problem for people involved in global warming research?

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