James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

September 7, 2008

First Retreat

Filed under: Campus Life,Recreational Travel — James @ 11:07 pm

The department gathered in Monterey (home of the apparently famous pebble beach golf course) to discuss science and meet/embarrass the new grad students.

Highlights (in no particular order):

The people who study magnetic bactera are really enthusiastic about the science they’re doing. The logic regarding how the bacteria are gaining an advantage by producing magnetic crystals seems a little hazy to me, although I’m not a microbiologist. But whatever the reason, the fact that they are is really cool.

Huge studies looking at the linkages between alleles of genes and the effects of drugs in humans. These are pure associate mapping studies, since you can’t do any controlled mating. Thousands or tens of thousands of subjects from drug studies. Convincing results that you can tie genetic data to drugs have no effect, enhanced effects or negative effects. The problem is that you can’t do anything cool about it. You can make more people take prevenative drugs. But you can’t introgress beneficial alleles into the rest of the population. Or make a transgenic line to test for complementation. This is why I work on plants.

The fields surrounding Gilroy, California produce some rediculus fraction of the total garlic crop in the US. The town features such cullinary delights as garlic flavored gum and garlic flavored ice cream as well as hosting an annual garlic festival, at which they crown the Gilroy Garlic Queen. We were told we’d be able to smell garlic just driving through on the highway and believe it or not we could.

Bonfires on the beach of the pacific ocean both nights. I haven’t seen the coast in daylight as of yet. But a good time was had by all. I was inducted into the secret society of grad students and given the sacred position of “fire bringer.” Translation: one of the graduating students handed me a box of matches and said: “ok, now it’s your responsibility to always remember to bring these.”

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