Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rockstars of science

The Scientist has an article on synthetic biology titled "Cells by Design". What I find interesting about the article isn't so much what's in it as what's not in it, namely any mention of either Drew Endy or Tom Knight, the two people at MIT working on this. It mentions things like the Synthetic Biology conference, the BioBricks effort and rebuilding the Mycoplasma genitalium microbe's genome, all of which were/are headed by Drew and Tom, but not their names. That seems a bit odd. My guess is that it was a very conscious choice -- Drew especially has gotten a lot of press but hasn't published any papers in this area for the last few years, so I suspect that whoever wrote the article took the approach of "Until he actually publishes some real science, there's no need to give him any more publicity" ie kind of a reverse Anna Kournikova [never won a major tournament or cracked the top ten in tennis, but lots of media attention] effect. Personally, I have no doubts that he's going to publish some kick-ass papers relatively soon -- his lab is up and running, the idea of Synthetic Biology is seeded pretty widely and there's a scientific community around it, so he's got a foundation on which to build and start doing some hardcore science.

I thought this was an interesting reminder of the fact that science is still very much a human and social enterprise, with the same sorts of forces at play as in any other field of human life.

Of course, I could also be totally off-base in my speculations and talking through my hat.


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