As a Professor of Medicine, Health Research and Policy, and Statistics at Stanford University, John Ioannidis has profoundly changed the field of meta-analysis. His paper, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, which garnered more than 2.7 million readers, offers a mathematical model to calculate the PPV, positive predictive value, which evaluates the likelihood that a research result claimed to be statistically significant is true.
Sometimes scientific investigation yields something more than meaningful insights into the world. Mathematical models in biology can be fascinating and aesthetically pleasing, and some computer games, apart from being very addictive, can educate people and advance research. Mathematical models and games are deeply interconnected, because in biology we often want to model using computers different types of “games” happening in nature – the competition for various resources (food, mating partners, etc.) being the obvious example.
In this article, we will examine a few notable biological games. The first two examples are not really games as we usually think of them – you don’t play, but rather watch what happens as the game plays itself! This is exactly how we think of life, where organisms live, evolve, and die without outside intervention. Games can help us see how complex patterns and behaviors emerge from a set of seemingly simple rules.
Our ability to read and write DNA from a lab bench is another human capability that feeds into what has been coined the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Har Gobind Khorana first artificially synthesized DNA in 1972 and machines for de novo gene synthesis entered the market by 1991. The cost of DNA sequencing, the act of reading DNA, has rapidly declined as the machines advanced. For DNA synthesis, the act of writing DNA, we can expect a similar trend as those machines advance and the technologies proliferate. The ability to write DNA brings enormous upside for minimizing the financial and human capital needed to produce small molecule drugs, rapidly develop and test vaccines, and create novel gene therapies. However, specific events clearly highlight the risks, which are often called dual-use implications in the biosecurity world, of de novo DNA synthesis. For example, in 2017, a team of Canadian researchers created horsepox from scratch - a virus in the same family as smallpox. This event raised questions about free speech and academic publishing; however, as it becomes easier for people to write and make their own DNA sequences, we must think about if our current understanding of free speech prepares us for that world.
As genetic engineering technologies rapidly become more accessible, fears surrounding genetic modification that once seemed like science-fiction are soon becoming reality. Just earlier last year, He Jiankui made headlines when he unveiled the birth of the first-ever CRISPR-edited twins to the world.
Scientific advancements have dominated much of the 21st century, making it impossible to ignore the ethical implications of advancing genetic procedures. In 2017, the United States spent a whopping518 million dollars on genetic research alone. Unsurprisingly, new advances in these fields often reach far beyond the scope of existing ethical and legal regulations. This is a dire but often understated problem: rampant, unrestricted genetic engineering projects can threaten both public health and social equality. Thus, the international ratification of a robust, consistent set of genetic engineering guidelines is critical to the safe and ethical advancement of the technology.
Imagine yourself lying in your bed, headphones in, just taking a break from the stresses of the outside world. You’re listening to your favorite song of all time – the song that just seems to completely take you away from all your current surroundings. What do you feel? Do you get the chills? Do you feel some inexplicable connection to the music, as if the rhythm of your body matches up to the rhythm of the song you are listening to? Does the music make your heart beat faster, or does it make you feel noticeably sadder, happier, or more excited? If you feel any of these sensations, then it could mean that your brain might be more unique than you think!
By successfully isolating the period gene and PER, the protein encoded by period, Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash discovered the molecular mechanism that regulates our biological clock (circadian rhythm). This groundbreaking work won them the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Another Nobel laureate, Michael Young, discovered the TIM protein, which combines with PER to form an inhibitory feedback loop. Combining their work, we now understand the circadian cycle as the accumulation of the PER protein at night and the degradation of it during the daytime. The key role of PER protein as a biosignal highlights the function of cell signaling in our physiological functions.
If you cracked open a dictionary and looked up the word “couch potato” prior to me coming to Stanford, my name would have been written all over the page. So when I joined Stanford Women in Rugby and realized I could only run .2 seconds until fading from existence, I decided to start running everyday. I own an Apple Watch (thanks Costco sales!) and love tracking how many miles I have run and how many calories I burn from it. But I started to wonder just how much should I believe my watch…
Varmus’ proposal led to a paradigm shift in cancer research. Ten years after the publication of his seminal c-SRC paper, laboratories around the world discovered dozens of proto-oncogenes.