Tuesday, September 14, 2004

David L. Spector, Ph.D. - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

David L. Spector, Ph.D. - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

I went to a seminar presentation today on campus put on by this guy, David Spector. I'd never heard of him, but appartently the graduate students in the Microbiology department invited him and he accepted. The title of his seminar was "Visualizing central dogma in living cells" and it was cool (in the geeky gee whiz kind of cool). He's from Cold Spring Harbor, which is probably one of the most important locations in the history of biological research. He's also got publications in some of the most cited journals in biological research (Nature, Science, Cell, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science). Basically he's an academic all-star kind of researcher.

Basically this guy's lab group developed a synthetic gene that will allow for fluorescent markers to bind to it in it's different stages of existence (as DNA, RNA, or a protein). Having such a system allows one to truly visualize the way in which our heredity is expressed. Along the way they've also made some interesting discoveries about the structure of chromosomes.

What was most remarkable about the presentation was the actual photos themselves of the cells, and the movies of how they change over time. I've been learning about biology for a while now, read a lot of textbooks, but today was the first time I actually got to see (well, see a movie of) a cell producing mRNA, exporting it from the nucleus from the cell, and turning it into protein. We didn't actually see individual molecules, but one sees colors and shapes moving about and with enough background understands what is going on. It was really cool.

What I wonder about it all though is if someone looked at the movies and still photos without any background, what conclusions would they make about it. Or if they knew only that they were looking at a cell and nothing else. Would they make novel observations because the more learned of us are biased towards what we've been taught, and would thus ignore things we didn't have an explanation for, or conflicted with what we knew? I suppose it's just one of those things that makes us shrug and say "Perhaps, perhaps not. We simply do not know."

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