I often muse about the difference between the biology world and the software world. They’re ramming into each other more and more these days, and sometimes the result is more like a car accident than a gentle merger. Bioinformatics and systems biology are two rapidly growing fields where you are as likely to find a physics refugee bootstrapping a new career in biology as a biologist learning a few programming tricks in perl. The physicists and the biologists often betray their doubts about each other (as well as their own insecurities) to amusing effect.
One thing I know about software that works really well, though (you can see which side I come from), is how quickly well-written software tools can lower the barriers of entry to others that follow. For instance, I don’t need to write graphics primitives or web search engines, because someone else has written them for me. Even so, some people grumble… years ago a friend of mine complained that search engines were killing the joy he took in his skilled code hunting techniques using ancient tools like Gopher and Archie. I admire people who can chip their own flint spearpoints, but how nostalgic do you really want to be for a society of hunter-gatherers?
Given all this, I was entertained by this post on the Daily Transcript, a blog by cell biology postdoc Alex Palazzo. In a post about a product called Systems Biology Plasmid DNA Purification, he rips into those Johnny-Come-Lately’s who don’t know their protein assay from a hole in the ground. As he tartly puts it: “Now even a clueless Physicist can purify DNA without thinking about how this stuff actually works!” Ouch! Much better, though, was the comment posted by one of the blog’s readers.
Everyone is ripping on kits these days to prove how “old-school” they are. Look, you’re no Jacob Monod just because you make your own alkaline lysis buffers. You’re not a good scientist because you can isolate more DNA per cell than the other guy. You’re a good scientist because you can answer important questions quickly and definitively.
Well said. All those biology guys are just idiots who don’t get it.
Ooooh, I wish I hadn’t said that.