Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Can a biologist fix a radio?

This isn't a joke about biologists, but rather the title of a fun manifesto on cellular signaling and control pathways: Can a biologist fix a radio?.

Written with the characteristic Russian sense of humor, it notes the similarity between a radio and a cellular signal transduction pathway and has biologists trying to learn how a radio works and how to fix a broken one by first categorizing the components by appearance, then breaking some to see which stop the sound, smashing radios to see which parts end up near each other, etc. The author (Y. Lazebnik of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) argues that this approach does not apply to tunable components, that biologists couldn't fix a radio, and that a better language to describe cellular signaling is needed, so as to make the process quantitative and provide answers to the question "what to measure?"

Giving a seminar today, Andrew Capaldi noted that microarray techniques done well are like measuring voltages across the components of a radio. Things have come far since 2002, when Lazebnik's essay was first published.