Thursday, February 11, 2010

Performance of Omics- vs. Reductionism-based approaches on an extreme survival test

B. Leevit & O.R. Nott
Agency for the Encouragement of Novel Approaches (AENA), Barajas, Spain.

In the post-genomic era, novel disciplines in biological Sciences involving global approaches are known by the general denomination of ‘Omics’, involving Genomics, Transcriptomics, Proteomics, Metabolomics, etc. They intend to apply large-scale genome-wide God-knows-what techniques to solve biological questions, thus generating loads of data that are stored into computers to be mined by wiser future generations. In Medicine, the suffix ‘–ome’ refers to tumours, remarking that ‘Omics’ have likely been named so after their malignant spreading in Scientific literature. Such approaches are often bitterly criticized by classic small-scale researchers that devote their whole career to a minute problem. Nevertheless, the latter renegades hideously consult –omics’ databases when unseen by colleagues in search for shortcuts that would simplify their own research. Amidst such polemics, scientists do not currently know whether to despise the excellence of –omics on the basis of their unintelligibility or to pretend they understand the point and, instead, despise the old-fashioned pipette-based lengthy methods. To test the efficiency of both approaches, we chose two scientists, one representative of each kind: Dr. Kegg, a herald of Systems Biology with his head full of networks; and Dr. Singlestep, an old enzymologist that has studied the same particular phosphatase-reaction from his PhD to his close-to-retirement days. Both researchers were administered a bottle of Scotch, forced to get on an airplane and left alone in the middle of the flight after the pilot jumped on a parachute. The aim of this survival test experiment was to reach conclusions on which of both ways of reasoning would lead to the most satisfactory solution to this critic situation. Dr. Kegg clumsily sat in the cabin, opened his laptop and started making awkward calculations on the speed on the wind, altitude loss, potency of the engines of the jet, relative humidity of the air, estimated lingerie sizes of the missing female crew members, number of screws needed to fix the wings in the event of a crash, etc. All those parameters were interrelated and normalized to the control data from a normal flight with no deserting pilots, as modeled by the computer (SafeFly V.3.1 software). Thus, seconds before the crash, his computer filled the screen with a multi-coloured graph produced by integrating about 100,000 different possibilities of surviving the event by hyerarchical clustering, from the most serendipituous to the most sensible. Mr. Singlestep entered the pilot cabin with his hand in his pockets and, after some heavy thinking, chose to press only one button, the one that read ‘Emergency’. A compartment opened with an extra parachute, so he put it on and jumped. Concentrated as he was, however, on thinking of the smart moves he had just made, he forgot to open the parachute. Preliminary conclusions from this experiment are that these radically different ways of thinking will never be successful in isolation. We are working to repeat the experiment, this time by having together on board Mr. Kegg and Mr. Singlestep within the same plane, with the hope of proving that such approaches may be complementary. Such experiment will be carried our as soon as we are able to clone the souls of the test individuals from DNA extracted from saliva samples of their false teeth, that were luckily recovered from the previous experiment setting.

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