What you can do today from your kitchen or home lab is remarkable. For instance, I taught myself PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and recently published my first genetic sequence at GenBank from fungi that I cultured, extracted, sequenced and aligned. I'm planning to have developed my first GMO yeast in the next 90 days.
If you're interested, I also host the EverymanBio Podcast (YouTube & iTunes) where I talk to folks doing incredible work in the biotech / startup / diybio community.
Biology is pretty broad a field. Science of the living.
Maybe an example is appropriate.
Monocrop cultures are efficient short term, easy to control ... but also simplistic and brutal. In this system, gmo can help reduce the nefarious intrants (fertilizers, pesticides ...). This sounds like optimization.
Alternative cultural models, multicrops for instance, are saner but implies many technical and economical issues that still have to be dealt with. This is more like an architectural change.
One is more like studying a natural process while the other is the mechanics of that process.
I do agree we should invest more heavily in tech like bug resistance to reduce necessary pesticides.
In high school, biology class meant memorizing modules of the human heart and pricking my finger to find out what my blood type was (I stayed home sick that day). "Loving biology" meant carrying around AP Bio books thicker than an unabridged Webster dictionary. No thanks.
Then later in college, my friend said it would be fun if we both took the genetics class he needed to take for his pre-med reqs. I agreed, and then bombed the class exam after exam.
One day right before Thanksgiving, when all the students are checked out, the profs got up and demoed their research.
They got up and showed us BLAST, the 3 GB human genome, and software tools to search the genome. Most importantly, these 2 professors, masters of the genetics universe as they were, made lots of mistakes while demoing the software. They "oops"ed their way through this and that and said it was ok because the human genome had just recently been sequenced and it was all still new.
"It's a UNIX system! I know this" popped into my head, and I promptly declared myself a biotech entrepreneur. After class I went up to the teachers and told them I would build them better software tools for genetics. Then I wrote every department in school I could find who used digital genomes to build them better tools. Tools for understanding the most important language the universe had ever written.
14 years later, in the wake of that realization is the first hackerspace for biotech BioCurious , an open source DNA copy machine OpenPCR , and lots of great work with the iGEM  and DIYbio  communities.
These days the fun continues as I'm engineering the biggest living system out there , planet Earth.
 BioCurious http://biocurious.org
 OpenPCR http://openpcr.org
 iGEM http://igem.org
 Do-it-yourself Biology http://diybio.org
 Mining carbon from the air, AirMiners http://airminers.org & Negative http://gonegative.co
In a different vein, I've recently started designing a really cheap atomic force microscope, which I plan to open-source, so I think that may be a valuable addition to the bio and nanotech diy community.
I hope you do
..if i want to learn more bio not bc i want to hack or edit genes or whatever but because of reasons such as:
understanding autoimmune diseases,
the treatments for them,
relationship to other issues,
medication and their mechanism of actions,
and just a whole host of other stuff
basically i want to learn how to help people i know who suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases and the mental health/daily life and fertility struggles associated with them,
where should i go?
But the real issue still stands: Bio is hyper complex and it takes a long time to get used to the nomenclature and ideas.
That is exactly the point, which I believe the article author either glossed over or didn't fully appreciate.
I have a B.Sc. in general biology and am about to get my M.Sc. in ecology. I do scientific work at a university and read (ecological) research papers every day. Out of curiosity, I just followed joshuamcginnis' advice and did the Google Scholar search.
I failed to understand the first three items that came up.
The basic principles of biology are usually not actually that complicated, at least when you compare them to particle physics or compiler design or stuff like that. But biology is still hugely, hugely complex, because you simply have so many interacting parts - and yes, you only really understand it when you know about an appreciable fraction of those parts.
That is why they spent the first 1.5 years of our degree simply drilling knowledge into us as fast as we could absorb it. Because it's only once you have a broad overview of how everything works, that you can start to grasp (and reason about) how anything works in detail.
Biology is fascinating. There are millions of cool things to learn and yes, most teachers could probably do a much better job of teaching it. But if you really want to understand it, you just have to put in the effort.
also reading is the easy part, but what about understanding? when im running into medical terms/and other things im not familiar with or equipped to understand, where do you go? bc i find myself ending down different rabbit holes and my productivty diminishes and my thinking gets scattered
i hope im making sense :)
Scientific papers are great, but they assume a lot of pre-existing knowledge, whereas a textbook is designed to expose you to the concepts without any prior assumptions.
I know the end goal though, I want there to be an option, a fix or a painless way to manage autoimmune diseases, things like hormone and metabolic response imbalances -thyroid, androgen, progesterone, insulin - etc they all share a link to deadly lifelong debilitating diseases That make living hell for so many people and I want to take that away for them or at least generations down the line.
I know I’m a rambling scattered mess right now I thank you for being patient
If you want to get into the science of it then I’d suggest you start with general courses in biochem and physiology at the undergrad level and build your way up from there†. Expect to invest a good hard 10-20 years of your life getting up to speed, with no hard guarantees of success at the end of it.
Or, if you just want to help people right now, go get yourself involved in charitable fundraising for an organization that’s already working the problem. Still no guarantees, but at least they’ve got a big head start. Just don’t end up on a list like this, ’kay:
† Courses I flunked myself, BTW, but at least I learned just how much I don’t know—an insight I’ve subsequently found both invaluable and frighteningly scarce in tech.
At first you won't get all the terminology, but if you keep listening you'll eventually get it (that's how it worked for me).
The cool thing is that you'll dive right into the state of the art of academic research by the very people who do the research and write the papers. It's geared towards people like you and me: the curious general public.
Since you mentioned autoimmune diseases and medication, I recommend starting with: https://www.microbe.tv/immune/
If you have any particular disease you're interested in I would just do a search on that page and dive right in.
They also have weekly (almost daily now) updates on SARS-CoV2 where they seem to be ahead of the MSM by weeks to months: https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-683/
They talk with not just virologists and immunologists, but also people in industry who develop vaccines/meds, people who organize clinical trials and PEOPLE LIVE FROM SPACE: https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-682/
It's kinda like a cooking show. At first, you have no idea what they are doing, but after season three you just know that they don't have enough time to do a proper raspberry vinaigrette before the gong strike.
I recommend this as an entry level course series, I actually attended Dr. Peffer's lectures on campus (as a non student) after nearly 10 years after completing my BSc in Cellular and Molecular biology. She holds a post Doc and research position on Campus and really likes Ed-tech and the 'gamification' of Education as a whole; she is what I wished I had when I was doing my undergrad.
When you want to get really into, head over to Josiah Zayner's, The Odin , where he takes Bio-hacker methods to Gene Editing and synthetic Biology. He sells kits and has weekly podcasts  of his experiments and observations for people to follow along. They did a COVID vaccine trial on themselves, and then moved on to making lab-grown meat, which was actually very cool way to get into the space and the community.
...engineering is a tradition built on minimizing variation, while biology is a science founded on understanding a built-in mechanism for generating variation. "Life finds a way"....evolution is always driving against the engineered design
An engineer can design a system that creates 1000 screws with minimal variation. He understands all the effects of the different steel chemical makeups, he understands how to change the pitch and length to his specifications; he understands how to achieve each and every property of that screw, and once created, the screw will not act against its makeup.
A "genetic engineer" is presented with a million million variables. In altering a variable, he may observe some change – maybe some bioluminescence in fungus, some hairlessness in a mouse. But how much also changed that he cannot possibly observe? What other variables were dependent on the altered variable? As it is life, ever in flux, how much more will it change, itself, and its environment?
"Genetic engineering" should rather be called "unprecedented biological experimentation". This is important because "engineering" implies certainty, replicability. Altering some gene isn't engineering. It isn't minimizing variation in a system – it is introducing even more variation into that system. "Genetic engineering" certainly sounds cool and promising. But before you buy into a startup that employs "genetic engineering", don't be so certain; biology is much harder, much more complex, than screws.
 Or: Biology is really hard... | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21396311
If engineering is "the application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends", the search for practical uses of genetics, could be called, fairly, genetic engineering.
There are a bunch of different cliches (community bio vs biohacking vs citizen bio vs grinders vs transhumanists are all VERY different), but I'd recommend checking out a few of the conferences. iGEM is going on right now which is super cool, and BioHTP and Biosummit are 2 I always recommend. Since you're into fungi, there are a few cool folks in the DIYbio community you might want to talk to - Rolando Cruz Perez (in Endy Lab right now, off to do amazing fungi things soon! PhD on standardizing fungi growth conditions for distribution of strains) and Phil Ross (Mycoworks CTO, extremely eccentric, very artist, supremely interesting)
If you haven't followed them, David Ishee on Facebook+Twitter and Sebastian Cocioba on Facebook are also real good to follow. I love David's spirit+integrity of hacking and science, and Sebastian radiates an aurora of childlike wonder (specifically in plants) that is inspiring but calming. Might want to also give Josiah Zayner a follow, he is an interesting case of definitely knows-what-he-is-doing but still extremely controversial. He's a generous and kind guy though, and it is extremely respectable what he does.
Gabriel Licinia is another interesting individual in the DIYbio community you might want to reach out to - him and Justin Atkin (the thought emporium on youtube) are some of the few folks who actually do things in the community. Real science and real cool. Gabe is the local angry man who'll always tell ya if something is BS on the DIYbio facebook groups. Those 2 also work with Andreas Stuermer, who is a fantastic DNA designer. Those 3 are quite a superpower.
On the startup side, I'd recommend checking out Ryan Bethencourt's stuff. He is a great guy, transitioned from diy->startup stuff, and often helps others do too. I personally like Elliot Roth's company Spira and what they are doing with cyanobacteria and photosynthetic organisms. The future is cyanobacteria!
On the non-profit side, I really like what the BioBricks Foundation is doing and what the Open Bioeconomy Lab is doing.
Hope some of those things help! Glad your P.olymerase C.rap R.eaction worked - GMO yeast is easier IMO, just follow the culture timings and you'll be fine. Also Sanger is terrible, and Nanopore is awesome. I'd be happy to talk with you too if you'd like - I've been around for a bit, and I love helping other people get started in these communities!
PS: on your website you say you want to "Learn to navigate GenBank". Please be prepared to be disappointed.
"The way the different countries failed to come together in the face of a world-wide catastrophe was plausible. The turn against science... while only briefly touched on, the way the angry masses turned on scientists was believable." by Clackamas in 2008.
Fascinating stuff. Any chance you could expand on this?
Don't take it bad but someone in an already bad mental state taking 2g more than what McKenna considered a god dose is pretty ... irresponsible (?)
Plus individual variation in digestion/enzymes/receptors/god knows what else is most probably also important.
Edit:// for reference i am talking about dried golden teachers. There are stronger variants out there.
But most of all, you're being kept out of the house so that both your parents can go back to jobs they don't like.
Off the top of my head, for just mathematics:
- Long division
- Calculate limits
- Curve sketching
These aren't things I do by hand any more. But if I hadn't learned how to do them, I wouldn't be able to apply them to more advanced problems.
From my extremely limited exposure to US education methods, I would concur that some algorithms are practiced in an excessive manner. But that does not mean that they are useless, even if computers can help you often enough.
Maybe you can name a thing or two that you consider "busywork [that] nobody does any more because we have computers and calculators"?
(I will note though that biology courses always stood out to me in exactly the way that is lamented in this thread - almost entirely memorizing arbitrary things.)
I don't even know where to start with english and literature, I just muscled thru those but man that was like death to me, just not my interest at all. It's very evident in my writing that I was not very attentive in those classes. Thank goodness for spellcheck and a very pedantic highschool friend that did not mind proofreading and shaking his head at me, after each paragraph.
What I personally didn't like was reciting mathematical rules; Being able to apply them should be good enough.
It's somewhat out of fashion because a good sense of number is just as useful for dividing by hand, and more useful for understanding what's going on (plus, you do now always have a calculator in your pocket).
The point of school is to teach discipline and grit - the subjects in and of themselves are merely incidental. Do you really think that these "great minds" - the kids who can't sit through a lecture and half-ass everything off of natural talent alone - would be doing great things if it weren't for the evil school system getting in the way?
"Smart but lazy" is probably the most insufferable combination of character traits. Nothing else even comes close.
(See also: "The Bipolar Lisp Programmer" - http://www.marktarver.com/bipolar.html)
Further grade inflation and the continuing of lowering standards means that the ones that know how to game the system, can skate in general ed, pull out 2, 4.0 GPA years at community, where they get some choice in their direction, save money and then usually gain admittance into a decent school. As I said, it's not lazy it's a value proposition and in many ways the ones that don't totally wash out, don't see the value in applying their faculties to the endeavor of educating themselves the way the State proscribes.
Boot camp is for discipline and grit, compulsory education is well compulsory and you don't get a choice in how you learn, not everyone learns the same, and not everyone is lazy for seeing the emperor has no clothes. Many successful tech Founders/CEO's would meet your definition of "Smart but Lazy" but some smart people do just wash out. Maybe it's just like burnout that is so prevalent in the tech industry, yet they hit it early.
For example my youngest son can look at a fairly complex algebraic equation, and within a few seconds he can tell you the answer by calculating it in his head. It's some nearly savant level stuff, one time I asked him how does he do that and he said the equations are a painters pallet, each part has a color, he takes the color and paints a picture in his mind and that picture is the answer. I think you can imagine sitting him down to force him to learn algebra the way most of us do it, is painful to say the least. Not only can he arrive at the answer faster than us, he has to actively suppress the way he learns to learn a process he will never use in reality. He does not see the point, he already has the answer. He is not being lazy, his mind just uses the creative half to solve logic, its pretty messed up, but it works for him, so you can imagine his frustration when he has to show his work because we "The Education System" want him to think and solve the problem the same way we do. The value proposition for him is not there. My older son is the exact opposite, once he learned the mechanics of solving equations and how to apply them to real world problems like fabrication, fuel maps, etc. etc. he was hooked but he is the one that struggles in other areas, because he sees the value proposition of focusing on what he is interested in and sees subjects such as English and Literature as a complete waste of his time. I sympathize with him, because I hated those two subject as well.
I come from a family that is generally above average intelligence (not claiming that for myself, just making a basic observation about my family to make the following point). In the not too distant past, my family was fairly well know in Florida for being involved in organized crime. To the extent that they got the nickname the "Mullet Mafia" because they did most of their crime under the guise of legitimate fishing and maritime operations. Some of them were pure geniuses in the way they operated their criminal cartel and only one of them did hard time (the smart ones, are not the ones that get caught). This is where the smart kids can potentially wash out to, without guidance and that is my concern. This is why I see it as a value proposition. The smarter a person is, the higher the propensity to surf the gaps.
Have you heard of neoliberal magical voluntarism?
The curriculum has too much influence from adults whose goals (sometimes openly stated!) are for a compliant labour force with a reduced training cost on particular work-focussed skills.
That's at the expense of (for example:) relationship and mental health education, creative arts, critical thinking skills, financial education, talent development, practical entrepreneurship, and the idea that children can have and create value in their own right.
As such, this is regularly a complete mismatch to what's going to be useful to kids when and as they grow up, and kids often know it: even while they don't have the political power to make change.
That's utopian and a rather unrealistic, incomplete view. Education is also about imparting a fundamental shared body of knowledge as well, and it also has to deal with a very wide diversity of ability and motivation. Your proposal is pretty lacking in specifics, but what you have in mind seems to be something that's optimized to work very well with an idealized student, which would only be a small fraction of all students, and would likely do worse on average when considering all students.
> Reading, writing, speaking, logic, geometry, mathematics, and programming along with a whirlwind tour of all the good and bad ideas throughout history then pack it up.
That's a weird list. You include programming but not civics?
That sounds pretty utopian. Firstly, I don't think you can reasonably assume any mass educational program will reliably produce students like that, so any program that assumes that will likely fail a large proportion of its students in pretty significant ways. Secondly, your exclusive focus what you define to be "fundamental skills" and exclusion of anything that you deem "not fundamental" seems more of a personal bias than a well-founded educational program. There certainly exist bright and highly-motivated students (perhaps you were one of them) who would build on that foundation and complete their education like you assume they would, but I'd judge they're a minority. Thirdly, there's a social aspect to education that your focus on skills misses. Things like civics need to be part of the curriculum, because even if a student would have no trouble learning the subject independently, there's no guarantee they would actually choose to do so. However, the American system of government (unlike some other systems) can't function without widespread civic knowledge and engagement.
Twenty years ago, my wife came out of graduate school where they learned about differentiated instruction and inquiry based instruction.
The education field is well aware of how to teach better. However, there are obstacles to the implementation.
1. Resources. Inquiry based education (where the children drive the study) requires a different student to teacher ratio than 30:1.
2. Inertia. You need a systemic change otherwise those fresh new teachers with their fancy up to date pedagogy run into #1 and principals, teachers, and students who are not ready for it.
3. Parents. Parents are also not ready for it. You have parents who want to be certain their child is prepared and ranked.
Huh... this sounds exactly like me growing up, except I took to Biology and did rather poor in Math until I taught myself Bio-centric Calculus in University and realized I actually did understand the concepts and could apply them to my desired ends.
I'd start by considering that his formal education should only account for 20% of his actual learning, and use that as a standard which allows him t pursuit other avenues (independent research and projects) outside of his schooling. Which can include College or University level courses, I personally started skipping HS altogether except for exam dates and attending University level Philosphy and Biology courses by Junior year. This wasn't without controversy despite having a cumulative 3.5 GPA.
One of the things I always told myself was that I'd buy my child, boy or girl, a non-running car of their choice as an extra circular activity by age 12 in order to have them explore their curiosity, hone their research skills, learn how to apply knowledge to an actual tangible medium and interact with other people who also identify with the same car culture and give them a 'tribe' of sorts which for males is very critical, especially at that age.
Furthermore, and this is difficult due to COVID to do in person, but I would encourage you both to watch conferences that are related to those fields and maybe take some entry and then advance classes together on Coursera or Udemy, Khan Academy and all the ED-tech platforms.
CU Boulder has a really cool entry level Biology series right now, I attended one of the instructors courses on campus for a few weeks and as person who did their under grad in Bio and then worked in a diagnostics labs for several years I wish I had that kind of instructor in my early formative years--I've only had 2 good teachers, both chemists, my whole Life in ~18 years of formal education.
In fact many of us who went through the Academia based Biology track and then turned Biohackers often wished we hadn't done it all, as it stunted our initial curiosity and sense of wonder that is essential in making luminaries and vast advancements in Science in exchange for complying to the rote learning method that yields 'good grades.'
Anyhow, I'm glad that you have made this observation in your child's life, I struggled with it a lot with my parents, but ultimately I can tell you that despite the unorthodox methods and leaving my Industry, I achieved a great deal in all of the other Industries I focused on (Biology/Automotive/Culinary-Agriculture and too a smaller degree Fintech) and was able to accomplish a lot from the wide skill-set I had developed through my years of hands-on learning. My parents are very proud of my achievements and are probably more interested in the awards I've gained as a 'polymath' in those fields than I am at this point.
My only wish being that I had something more than online friends on Newsgroups and Forums (some who I'd meet in real Life) for support to help guide me through the journey, so I hope you take a hands on approach in your son's life.
Some teachers can get super excited about sharing the amazing stuff that's the results of their field. Sure, there's a bit of jargon and memorization to be able to discuss the problem. You can't be amazed by the results of concentration gradients, gene expression on the formation of proteins if you think concentration means something about your eyebrows, gradients are a function of WordArt, gene was a guy who played Willy Wonka, expressions are things your face does, and protein is a number on your dad's whey powder.
If you can make students excited about using, testing, and comprehending the awesome information about their world that are just behind a minor speed bump of some jargon you need to cross, most will hurdle those difficulties as if it was effortless. The standardized tests that check whether they know the jargon will be just a wasted day that they don't get to learn more about the subject!
If, instead, you set the end goal as passing the standardized test that checks whether they know the jargon or not, they'll begrudgingly do the minimum required to not get in too much trouble. The tragedy is that kids who don't even know the bare minimum jargon are often unprepared to function as independent adults, and so the rational, fair, game-theoretic optimum outcome demands resources need to be allocated to help those more than they need to be allocated to help those who are already functional.
Also, there's the tragedy that teachers who pour their hearts into their students aren't adequately valued by society - we pay lawyers and administrators huge sums of money as if what they do is more important than what my 9th grade bio teacher did while using his weekends to crawl through the mud on bog walks to learn about sphagnum mosses and carnivorous plants with some kids he met for an hour a day for 8 months, while barely keeping his family out of poverty.
Do you think most people don't actually mind this kind of education? I'm asking because I'm baffled this is the way education seems to work in most places and has done for ages . I also assume that something would eventually change if enough people disagreed.
Or might it be because that is still how we think about the employer-employee relationship and the latter's duties - follow orders and ignore your individuality?
I was left home alone from, like, 4 years old? I definitely preferred that to going to school.
I had a dining-table discussion with my dad the other day where the subject of DNA mismatch repair came up. It turns out that, in E. coli, a very simple & widely studied prokaryote, there's a mechanism called DNA mismatch repair which fixes errors which might occur during DNA copying. If an error is detected - a mismatch (e.g. a G paired with a T) - a trio of proteins (MutL, MutS, MutH) spring into action. The original template strand is already methylated - marked with an extra methyl group - at certain points in the genome (usually where there's a C followed by a G). The daughter strand, on the other hand, is usually not methylated yet. So, one of these proteins starts running down the DNA from the mismatch site, looking for a methyl group - up to 1000 base pairs away. When it finds a site with a methyl group on one side but not the other, it nicks (marks) the daughter strand, and another protein complex comes along and chops up everything from the nick to the mismatch site. The DNA polymerase then comes by and resynthesizes the whole strand.
Just three proteins are needed to drive this complex algorithm - a linear search procedure which distinguishes the mother from the daughter strand, a marking procedure which identifies the incision point, and a third to chop up the DNA and prepare it for resynthesis. What's even more bonkers is that E. coli - under stressful situations - will disable certain DNA repair mechanisms to deliberately induce more mutations. And I know that there are thousands more such pathways and complex interactions going on in cells all the time - many of which we simply haven't discovered or probed yet.
I wish that everything in biology could be explained so neatly. Unfortunately, real biology is so incredibly messy. There's just so much we don't know - and so much that we can't neatly slot into an explanation like this. But, I know now that in another life I probably would have been a biologist!
This is how biotechnology works.
I see what you did there.
But...is the genetics knowledge the solute or the solvent, because, well, you know (teaching biology to my homeschooled kid at the moment and we just did a unit on diffusion and osmosis, so please excuse my current state of mind)
This also explains why you start to feel stupid after watching too much television, the osmotic action is working against your self interest.
One additional thing should be covered in biology teaching -- Not just the process that magically "happens", but how it ends up happening. The said proteins have no free will to just spring into action. I recall being taught during high school about mitosis and meiosis, how this spindle apparatus forms, DNA strands split, etc. How do I connect what happens to the laws of Physics? I understand that I still cannot explain gravity, or why a ball falls to the floor, but biology teaching seems to leave a lot more out, and without saying so.
I took biology 101 in college and what I thought would be really interesting turned out to be SO unexpectedly meaningless.
Now years later all I recall is the memorization of phylums and kingdoms on one test and cell structures on another test and sitting in a large auditorium looking at the map and not the territory.
The course was so much about WHAT and never about WHY.
I don't know if I was immature, or if the biology course was a "weed out" course designed to filter out all but the most dedicated, or if biology education is off the rails.
I do know that every subject would benefit from a little storytelling, a little excitement and a good helping of why.
Biology is pretty notorious for most stuff being arbitrary. There is no model. People who say there's a model, they're talking about something else - sometimes, a literal Platonic ideal of biology, that makes for an appealing pop science course, but not knowledge that like, helps you design experiments or better use drugs or whatever.
From the article:
> It was hard to get through a sentence without having to consult Wikipedia. In immunology in particular the nomenclature is expansive.
This is a common refrain. "Paternal allo-antigens" for example, straight from the literature: people who do immunology research know what that means, they do not get tripped up like this author does.
Programming computers and being good at math does not prepare you at all for understanding this stuff! Watson and Crick were not math savants. They did not have natural gifts.
They had the 'natural gift' of picking up on the clues hinting that DNA, rather than protein, was central to the mechanism of biological inheritance. It is the natural gift of being able to identify the key features of the forest despite the preponderance of obfuscating trunks and branches. It is the gift of seeing some sort of order behind cirucmstances in which almost all the details are accidental.
Math synthesizes complexity; in biology, you have to analyze what's given.
That was Hershey and Chase . Watson and Crick were the first to solve the structure of DNA.
Arguably, my general point still holds, though with an expanded cast of characters.
-Math/CS: inherently better at abstracting & are "proof" centric.
-Life Sciences: inherently better at observing then reasoning and are "argument" centric.
Coming from the CS side this is not a marriage made in heaven as opinions don't matter by design.
And if they accept that model is not super perfect, they completely reject model - to find another simplified model that they convince themselves if flawless.
They struggle with the "this is model with such and flaws we need to keep in mind while interpreting".
And that this lack of flexibility can create hard times when they attempt to fit biology into a banking app
because that is what they learned programming is.
On the converse side life sciences may feel everything is debatable and that having a strong personality should mater as much as an absolute mathematical proof.
This is something that lots of people, and especially people in the tech industry, keep forgetting. They go ''well i can calculate partial differential equations, did a course on topology ánd created an api based on open data, how hard can this 'biology' actually be???'' and then it turns out that yes, it is hard.
Biology is packed with useful, relevant models, from the lock and key model for enzymes in one extreme to the Lotka-Volterra (predator-prey) for ecosystems population in the other, there are plenty of models who are A) Theoretically sound. B)Has great quantitative explanatory power.
> Watson and Crick were not math savants. They did not have natural gifts.
You have a very quaint and naive view of biology. Since the work of Maynard-Smith at the very least, has rigorous mathematics taken an important role in biology. Population genetics,neuroscience, systems biology, biochemistry among others are underpinned by lots of math. People working deciphering all the signaling pathways in the cell are working with what is effectively a complicated,messy but fascinating discretely-encoding program.
Out of all the hn chauvinism I've read over the years this post is a strong contender for the most absurdly delusional. Sorry, being able to program does not make you an ubermensch.
1. Teachers are required to do evaluations, and the way we have settled on doing evaluations is giving students giant, shitty tests. In order to pass these tests, lots of rote memorization is required.
2. Five years of being forced to teach-to-the-test latter, your original wonderment for the material is not going to shine through in period 5 bio.
3. The average teacher is over-worked, over-stressed, and worried about a lot of other baggage that comes along with being a teacher. This last point is true of teachers from public elementary schools all the way to professors at big research institutions (where many lecturers are researchers halfheartedly box-checking a teaching requirement).
4. Teaching - particularly pre-university - is viewed as a relatively low-status career (with a commensurate paycheck), at least in the US. A lot of the people who feel wonderment for these subjects and could teach them well end up being driven away from teaching as a result.
There are teachers who manage to bring joy and wonderment into the classroom, despite all of the problems that lead us here. But we need to address these problems if we want the average bio classroom to be taught with wonder, instead of being 1-hour mind-numbing sessions where you pretend to be studying from your index cards.
Funnily, earlier this year, my now-fiancee prepared for and wrote the MCAT, and since I sat along with her during her prep, I decided to give it a shot too, in spite of my relative lack of prep and a full time job on the sidelines. Managed to score a neat 514. Turns out, having a good teacher matters a lot.
Aside from the ever present dissections I can remember one notable experiment in year 11 involving Agar-Gel plates, we took swabs from various places around our school (Taps in the bathroom, Classroom door handle, AC Vents etc) and incubated the plates and compared what sort of bacteria was found and whereabouts.
As you begin to do so, you can keep a record of them in a spreadsheet or notebook. Look up their biological classifications. All of a sudden the classification system will start to make sense, and help you understand the diversity of the organisms around you.
Biology is one of those subjects where part of the context comes from being outdoors and trying to understand ecological relationships yourself. You don't have to get to the level of a pro biologist, but there is so much you can find out by experiencing nature and trying to understand the basics that anyone can do it.
Tangential: it would be helpful if schools explained to kids that all classifications are arbitrary, in biology and otherwise. Their value is in being useful, not correct to some magic metadata tags attached to things.
In context of school biology, I wish we spent more time approaching the classification like: "See that thing in the picture? We classify it as X, because it has $property; subtype Y, because it has $different-property; ... subtype ABC, because initially biologists thought this is different from BCD; now we know it isn't, but the classification remains for now". It would all feel much less boring this way.
Honestly, I would be surprised if that "obsession" has been around for nearly all of humanity's existence. If you're a hunter-gatherer (or even just hunt or gather to add variety to your diet and for medicine), being able to classify the biological world in some detail is an essential survival skill.
...or at least a very simplified model that breaks down as you move towards simpler and simpler forms of life. That's because horizontal gene transfer is a thing, and when you go all the way back to prokaryotes, there's so much of it going on that any "tree of life" is a statistical picture that's valid only for a select genetic marker that's used to trace dependencies. Pick a different marker, you'll get an entirely different prokaryotic tree of life.
Life ultimately forms a graph
This is useful, but probably because you're inverting the order here. You start with the observing and classification and end up using names rather than starting with "learn those names and matches".
I wonder how many talented scientists never got started because they were turned off by their first exposure to a subject.
On the positive side, we dont need more scientists. There are too many people trying to be scientists leading to pretty shitty working conditions for PhDs and post docs.
That or perhaps I can consume an absurd amount of pop-sci garbage.
At university it was very different, I finally got my questions answered. Part of that was certainly that it was much more in-depth, but the quality of the teaching and also the textbooks was just much higher. For me there were also maybe a few core things I didn't understand in school that are really crucial to put everything into context. The biggest one maybe being a tiny bit of thermodynamics and understanding what enzymes actually do and what they can't do.
I do suspect that a major problem is trying to cover too much material, which makes the courses too superficial and makes it impossible to actually explain how stuff works, what problems are solved by specific biological systems and why they probably work the way they do.
It sucks, but you really do need to know a lot of whens to help you contextualize the why. I've got a BA and MA in history and my first year at university was spend memorizing so many things, which was the absolute worst. But it did really does help a lot once you start doing your own research.
> It sucks, but you really do need to know a lot of whens to help you contextualize the why.
I always managed to memorize those dates in high school and elementary school. And then I promptly forgot them after test. I blamed my bad memory, but later when I learn how human memory works, I started to blame the way they taught us. People remember stories and systems well. Our memory works on relationships between facts. Most people sux at remembering unrelated arbitrary numbers.
All that done to me was that I seen history as boring pointless class. Historical characters came across as somewhat inhuman, absurd unrealistical creatures. Their behavior made no sense. Yes, they were actual real people, but the way history was taught made them sound like badly written characters from mediocre fiction.
It was only after I started to read history that was focused more on context, motivations and reasons I both starterd to long-term rememeber times+places and also like it.
No you cant. Because at that point, you know nothing about the other events you are supposed to locate and have no reason to care.
> You can then situate the evolution of distant lines of events without needing to memorize too many dependency graphs.
I am not even sure what that is supposed to mean in the context of high school history. You drew events you know about into lines or graph and still know nothing about how they relate to each other.
Understanding that A happened, which led to B happening later on is what matters. Having a ballpark is good for most things. Or do you still remember the exact dates you memorized on your history classes?
"Evidence" that memorizing dates don't work: no one remembers crap from their history classes.
> If you think he conquered Gaul after becoming dictator your entire narrative changes.
That's the whole point. You only need to know the order of the events. Do you know the exact date and time when he became officially a dictator?
(and I think of computer makefiles - you don't need to know times, you just need to know what depended on what, and what things combine to cause something)
I think after you've seen human nature, chaos and conflict, and how people get along, it gets more interesting.
How did people with no fast communication or transportation manage to fashion constitutions or governments that have lasted hundreds of years?
An AP biology teacher in high school is teaching a class with disproportionately the most predisposed-to-be-engaged students, and its the central part of their job, in which they are secure and focussed. A lower-division biology professor in a university is probably teaching a class with disproportionately the least predisposed-to-be-engaged students, and if they are a tenured or tenure-track professor at a research university, its also not the core of their job (if they aren't, its a core part of their job -- but one in which they are insecure, are more likely to be adjusting to, and which may be one of several jobs.)
I liked the quote in the article:
Imagine a flashy spaceship lands in your backyard. The door opens and you are invited to investigate everything to see what you can learn. The technology is clearly millions of years beyond what we can make.
This is biology.
WHY is philosophy/metaphysics.
WHAT is science.
There is so much potential for biology to be engineering, but the reality is you can spend your whole life studying one tiny aspect of something esoteric. You can spend your whole life trying to find one amazing cure (or not).
Biology is great if you are interested in learning how the world works, but not so great if you love to create new things.
Even with medicine you are essentially a mechanic for humans instead of cars and the technology improves a lot slower.
I considered doing bioinformatics, but there was essentially no way to make money because grad students were doing everything for 12K/year.
One great thing about biology is that it is easy to understand because everything makes sense and "works" like you think it should. Human created systems often times dont make sense at all.
Interesting. I tend to view it as the opposite.
Someone else’s system might not be created using the abstractions I would have chosen but with enough head scratching you can generally at least surmise causality. And with computer systems, you can test and re-run until there’s a grain of certainty.
With biology there’s so many independent moving pieces that it feels, to me, like our explanations of molecular and cellular processes are almost certainly lacking an encompassing view. And using them to explain macro biological phenomenon borders astrology. Sure our, experiments tell us something but we interpret results as rules while neglecting the wider context. I don’t want to project onto others but I don’t think my brain is equipped to understand the emergent processes at that scope of nested, interdependent, hierarchies. If you thought object-oriented programming was bad!...
That's probably because people choose to test only the most obvious hypotheses. There s an amazing amount of data but it s mostly at the level of "describing the clouds". there seems to be a need for theoretical breakthroughs
There's also an entire field of computational biology where you apply (and innovate) on huge datasets using ML/algorithms.
In both types of roles you can remain fairly close to biology while still writing software day to day. Many biotech companies will even compensate at bay area tech salaries.
Agreed. Biohacking budgets seldom ever go beyond 10k in my experience, I've spent more than that by the time I was 18 on my car and parts. That's not to say that isn't a lot of money, and mostly discretionary, but its entirely do-able.
So much stuff can be bought second hand now, or you can do what some Biohackers did and go dumpster diving at University campuses for broken or old lab equipment--Josiah did that to start the ODIN before going to NASA.
This requires you either to be in school and know the days they do it, usually after the finals in the Spring on my campus, or pay someone to find out. Either way, its doable: I picked up a microscope and a few cracked magnetic stirring hotplates and a random box of misc glassware and metal stands my Junior year when I swore I was going to turn my living room into a wet-lab once I made enough to buy an old BD flow cytometer after graduation.
Those plans were soon dashed when I realized I could just go to the lab of the The Scripps Research Institute after I did my training there my senior year. I think I just ended up giving it all away on Craigslists as a starter 'Lab kit' years later and it was gone pretty fast.
(This is all very basic stuff but it's more fleshed out than just saying 'the market determines salary'. The market isn't a magical entity, it is run by human behaviour.)
- lots of washout MDs
- lots of students who wanted to postpone adulthood by getting a PhD (master's are just not respected anymore)
- lots of PhDs who couldn't hack the academic game or got disillusioned by it and are used to low salaries because postdocs exploit the high-stakes attempt to get social cachet of professorships.
- few jobs. Biology is a capital-intensive endeavour, so each dollar of VC can do marginally less.
- it's hard to tell the wheat from the chaff in the labor market (and there's probably a market of lab lemons, too), so a superstar's earning potential is necessarily hamstrung
Or, looking at it another way, software is a uniquely capital-light endeavor.
Many people who have been in the industry for a few years have enough savings that they could just quit their job and try whatever crazy idea they have without any external funding. You can't do that in biology, or most other fields for that matter.
Part of the reason software companies pay such high salaries is to make this option less attractive.
> I should have loved biology but I found it to be a lifeless recitation of names…
The pay may not be as high as straight engineering but is good enough to cause some grumblings.
I have to do contract work as a data engineer (which pays about 60% more hourly than my bioinfo job) so I can live a decent life.
Biotech pays people like dumb-fuck children when you account for the amount of education required. Damn, it is interesting, though, which is what keeps me here.
End goal is to have my own company in biotech, which is why I contract to build up a nest egg for eventual entrepreneurial pursuits.
Many people with PhD’s in computational bio/bioinformatics in HCOL areas are bringing in <130k/year. It’s really bad.
Of course, things didn't work out that way, I never ended up going to college, or ever really thinking about any science again until the last year or two.
It was much later in my 30s after buying a book on cellular biology that I learnt that enzymes work by using electro-static forces to bend target molecules to increase their probability of breaking at lower energies. It’s this pattern of +ve and -ve charges on the enzyme that matches the target molecule and provides the basis of the key/lock metaphor.
This realisation was so beautiful, astonishing and illuminating that I can’t for the life of me understand why it was left out, particularly as we were learning about the physics and chemistry of the related concepts anyway.
His complaint about calculating the surface of a triangle is fair, but actually I do remember that in 5th/6th grade we had to derive things like the height of an even sided triangle give the length of the side, and subsequently the surface. But the Pythagorean theorem was kind of just given. Is there a way to provide a proof that children will understand and thus understand better in general? I think that's really non trivial (and I hope people are working on it).
"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing — that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
I knew this intuitively at a very young age, which made me a poor public school student. Unfortunately, there are some subjects that are easy to learn on your own, and some that are only easy with a good teacher. Biology is one of the latter. However, that may be different these days.
For example, evolution through natural selection would not have been understood if Darwin and Wallace hadn't put great effort into cataloguing and classifying species. You might say they obviously were thinking about mechanisms at the same time, but the cataloguing was the precondition to their later insights. They built on the foundations set by, amongst others, Linnaeus, who's main contribution to the field was a classification of living things.
Physics-through-classification dates back to the failed attempts of ancient philosophers to explain the natural world. They had ideas like, "there are two kinds of things, things that fall down, and things that do not. The things that fall fall because they are things-that-fall." The present-day bad blood that physicists have towards taxonomies probably has something to do with the fact that their field was founded the day physics taxonomies were abandoned.
This is a common complaint when learning many subjects, and many teachers don't explain why the names are needed.
Take music theory, it has an insane amount of vocabulary and concepts to assimilate, but if you watch any of the popular music theory videos on YouTube around these days, you get a glimpse of what mastering those terms looks like.
So, extrapolating to other areas, it seems like school needs to do a much better job of explaining the focus on vocabulary. The language of Algebra, the language of Organic Chemistry, the language of Music Theory, etc, etc ... what superpowers does mastering those languages unlock?
To me, watching someone work who already mastered those languages in action can be very inspiring, even if haven't reached that level of understanding yet.
Halfway through reading the first book I decided I needed to get better at inputting music to my computer, so I started to learn Reaper (which is a bit like "the emacs of DAWs" :-).
https://www.hooktheory.com/ is also a great practical resource, focusing on numeral analysis of popular music, and the their composition tool is fantastic!
I have a backburner of other resources that I want to eventually cover but I figured that was as good a starting point as any.
- https://www.musictheory.net/ is surprisingly good for the basics; their apps are good quality.
- https://www.reddit.com/r/musictheory/ used to have a lot of rabbit holes that were fascinating, but not sure what the community is like now. From a quick look it could still be a useful place to lurk.
- The Youtube channels 12tone, Sideways, 8-Bit Music Theory and Nahre Sol are my go-tos now that I'm no longer in active learning mode. Music Matters, Adam Neely and Signals Music Studio are also good. There are others in the Youtube sphere too but those are the channels I'm most familiar with.
- Music composition videos and classes also tend to be fairly theory-heavy without advertising it overtly.
Maybe think of it this way: it isn't unlocking the superpowers, it's an ultrafilter. If you aren't capable of performing precise and contextualized recall of trivia, then your engagement with the subject is going to be limited to diletanttery. When I was a biochemist, there were several critical instances when recall of some minor thing that I had learned years or even a decade ago, sometimes even an offhanded comment in a journal club, enabled debugging a situation where there wouldn't have been time to "go to the library" much less even know where to start looking.
I know it's fiction, but think about the show House. Would House have been as effective if he didn't have an encyclopedia of knowledge at his fingertips? You have to be able to not just think about things from first principles BUT ALSO literally have indexable fast-access knowledge.
Since you bring up music theory, in jazz, it's one thing to know the theory of what a 2-5-1 pattern is, but if you don't have it in your fingers, you are not going to be able to make good music, imagine a jazz pianist constantly searching the keyboard for the correct notes.
Specific names and other specifics that don’t fundamentally affect things are not things they clutter their minds with.
That's an easy example. Another one: knowing the atomic mass of nickel in a mass spectrogram and explaining a deviation in a MS fragmentation pattern instead of throwing out the data. Another one: Knowing the mechanism of chen-mapp phosphorylation https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7184505_33-Rearrang... and rescuing an otherwise lost synthesis in a group meeting (not published; the downstream results were not otherwise interesting).
Don't discount having raw knowledge at your fingertips.
It may well turn out to be that some problem you are attacking could be simplified if you only knew that piece of "trivia", but if you don't know it you need to spend some brainpower re-discovering the thing instead of attacking the main problem.
The way I think about the learning / performance is a bit like an RPG game. Encyclopedic knowledge is just another bar to fill in, with the corresponding trade offs.
Over time I learned that if you can imagine some process, it's likely you'll find it somewhere in biology (keep the laws of physics in mind though ;)).
I think another root cause is modern schooling does a pretty terrible job of teaching a passion for learning (unless of course you’re lucky enough to have some amazing teachers). I didn’t really completely discover the joy of learning until I did my degree and since then I’ve had a renewed interest in subjects I paid less attention to in school because the thought of learning new things excites me a whole lot more than it used to.
This opening sentence resonated hard with me.
For reasons now too obscure to go into I decided to study biochemistry at university and whilst, at the time, it sounded like it should be exciting, what I found instead was that it was substantially an uninspiring exercise in memorization from beginning to end. No interesting general principles or profound insights.
I hated it. Not exactly from the beginning, but certainly after the first year novelty wore off, and I despised it ever more as time went on. In the end - surprise, surprise - I didn't do that brilliantly. A total waste of time but sometimes you only learn by making quite expensive mistakes.
I probably would have been a lot happier had I studied physics, or even maths, or - as I ended up converting into with a post-grad masters, and thankfully I at least managed to do well enough to qualify for that course - computer science.
I also suspect that part of this is that software engineers, realizing that they can now purchase things like lab equipment and bacteria cultures, are now free to fund their own learning in their own idiosyncratic way (much like they learned to program), and not worry about burning money on something that doesn't pan out.
Between this, a new confidence that the world is understandable and... debuggable, and the fact they can finance their own experiments, gives a shift in perspective that wasn't available when they were in high school.
I continued to pursue biology in undergrad, learning some excellent underlying basis (that Roche Biochemistry pathways poster? I had it memorized by the end of my junior year) and getting some experience in the new field of sequence analysis (at the time, E.Coli was being sequenced, and you could FTP the new sequences when the showed up on the server). I worked with some very early machine learning in '95 to build gene classifiers.
This seemed like a good area to work in ("molecular biologists make $70K/year!") so I went to grad school and continued to learn deep biology and work in computational biology along with some wet lab work (whcih I'm terrible at). Postdoc as well- I was on my way to being a Professor of Biology. But, realistically, I couldn't compete with high end postdocs and decided instead to go into industry as a computer scientist.
I've still dabbled in biology- my long term passion is still to build a warehouse-scale biology lab with a tightly coupled robotic experiment framework and machine learning system to do automated biology. A number of people are working in this area and all failing, but writing wonderful PR that makes it sound like they're solving the world's problems. Biology has a huge hype problem- remember when it was promised that genomics was going to cure all human diseases?
I've dropped all biology and returned to computers (with some hardware hacking). It's a real relief- everything makes sense, the engineering is straightforward, you can do it in your garage without contaminating all your surfaces.
Also wanted to mention the differentiation of cells in an embryo (how the f*ck can that even work ... not in a lab, but our own bodies?!) - it's explained really well in "The Gene" (hormonal gradients in the embryonic fluid). Author also mentions this.
Natural selection ... is our DNA some kind of cosmic RAM memory that stores all this information over millions of years?
The other day I went to get my hearing checked and the doc explained to me how sound is captured by the ear drum and transferred to the brain through a few bones and along hairs & nerves. It's basic high school stuff but if you take a step back and think about how this mechanism makes us perceive the beauty of our favorite sounds (music, hearing our children laugh), how complex it must actually be and that this ... "evolved", out of a cosmic chemical soup, it's just incomprehensible.
Biology, genes, brains are nothing short of amazing. I'm not a religious person but if something points to the existence of a god then you'll find it in biology.
It took us years and years and years, tons of shot gun approaches by doctors with treatments, diagnoses, and medications that treat the symptoms but not the underlying cause til we finally figured out what could possibly be wrong with her!
And that was only after she started working in the health field herself and had physicians and specialists that care about her take into consideration everything about her and run expensive tests.
All this to say, I've been researching others' experiences with what my partner is inflicted with and those who are doing better or have some understanding had to figure a lot of it out on their own with countless medical research and studies they pore over - a lot of these success stories are from physicians inflicted with these diseases themselves!
But, how am i supposed to understand the studies, and papers, and drug mechanism of action sheets?
Do I start at ground 0 and start learning biology? What are some good resources?
And how do I know where to go from there?
All this is really troubling me and i feel so powerless.
If you have no background in biology or chemistry, I would email the authors of papers you are interested in. Most of those researchers are starved for attention and would love to break it down for you. Try making friends with one or two of the locals so they can explain more papers to you. Eventually osmosis will do its thing.
in the immediate time being, do you have any alternative, actionable advice? topics/subjects/key people i can consider or look into that you covered your 3rd year?
not saying i disagree with your comment Nor that i dont want to go the education route, trust me i would love that time and leisure, but right now my brain cant be put at ease until i understand certain things
I'd start with YouTube and MOOCs. Unfortunately, I don't watch too many videos about this stuff, so I don't have any specific recommendations.
There is also the Manga series, which some people find more accessible as a narrative format: https://nostarch.com/biochem
Also, keep in mind this field is rapidly moving forward. Crispr was discovered after I graduated, which wasn't that long ago. Try and stick to newer materials where possible.
Scientists Surprised to Find No Two Neurons Are Genetically Alike
Incidentally, the only things I remember from biology are pictures, or the demonstration that a teacher made when someone “stretched” her “intestines” across the room.
The key thought of the article comes right at the top. The distance between the astonishing nature of reality and the dry tedious way it's taught to people is present in all subjects, but seems greatest in biology. What seems to always be missing is what Chomsky calls a 'willingness to be puzzled'.
In fact I think this ability to be puzzled or amazed is there to begin with, but is beaten out of us by the educational system.
Does anyone have suggestions on starting down this path as someone that understands programming but has forgotten all the high school biology I learned?
I love the way I can now learn new programming frameworks. Read small bit by bit projects that build up slowly and teach the important components. Svelte for example. Solving problems and practicing the techniques are the best way for me to memorize things and then apply them to my own projects.
Is there anything similar that could start me down this path?
I'm less interested in videos like the Ninja Nerd. They look great, but it isn't a way of learning that sticks with me.
Biology is really broad - As an analogy, not sure if you’re interested in how to build a gaming computer or want to learn how make web apps.
“A genetic switch” is another fantastic unraveling of a single virus. If you like diving into like a framework and learning piece by piece how it all works slowly, that is a GREAT book. For a while this was my favorite book.
https://www.amazon.com/Biology-Viruses-Bruce-Phd-Voyles/dp/0... This book started my career. The first chapter, specifically, started my career. It got me hooked, not sure why. You can learn about other WILD things viruses do there too!
On the experimentation side, try a transformation kit https://www.the-odin.com/colorbacteria/ it’s $30, and at least you’d be able to tell friends and family you’ve genetically modified life before. That is a nice intro into synthetic biology. This is how I got started.
On the bioinformatics side, miniPCR has some nice kits to go barcode environmental strains. I personally hate doing PCR and don’t care about barcoding, so I’m biased here. I’m much more of a synthetic biologist, so bioinformatics study is only relevant to me in context of the things above.
I’d probably buy some books + the transformation kit and then see what interests you from there. There are a couple things that are 1 step away from transformation kit plus some learning, which is why I recommend that path.
These are all so abstract to me but I wanna head down a path to better understand autoimmune diseases, research being done, viable options...
Idk but how can I leverage modern day understanding and tech to have an end goal of creating a biologic that makes it so people don’t have to live with their body fighting themselves everyday or give a mother at risk of miscarriages another chance?
It’s all such a big messy abstract sound storm in my mind and I wish I could focus it more to ask the right question but unfortunately I can not
So far my only quibble is that Sapolsky cites the infamous "priming" study from 'Thinking, Fast and Slow', which the author, Daniel Kahneman, himself has retracted it elsewhere. This is forgivable, as the retraction from Kahneman (Feb 2017) and the release of 'Behave' (May 2017) were too close. Though I'll keep an eye for other transgressions.
Regardless of my quibbling, 'Behave' has so far been an exhilarating read; it covers an insane amount of ground, all while not losing sight of its goal—a better understanding of human nature.
Don't let the page count discourage you—you'll quickly warm up to Sapolsky's loquacious writing style, peppered with tasteful humor and a deep love for science. And don't skip the footnotes; plenty of interesting bits in there. (Get the hardcover edition if you can, it's much less unwieldy during back-and-forth flipping, among other benefits.)
I'd also note, when he gave his lectures, he was clear that the neurons in our brain are like those of most other creatures, and there were simply more with better specialization through complex arrangements. With the recent discovery of the rosehip neuron, this idea might not be entirely true.
A handful of his other thoughts are also on the border of truth (such as bringing up the study with some outrageous percentage of misattributed paternity in Europe). Still, almost everything he describes is insightful and captivating, and he seems to convey that science is full of nuance and there's so much undiscovered in the world.
But yeah, you might never get into it if it were taught to you as dry mumbo jumbo, like
Type 4 secretion system: ii- Pilus biogenesis
That's why they invented computer visualisations. Check out the molecular apparatus on the surface of the bacterium. It uses it to inject DNA into another nearby bacterium!
Just a minor point, electrophoresis uses electric fields not magnetic fields - hence its name, "electro-" as opposed to "magneto-".
Of course, one of the things that ultimately lead to me doing software, was that it was something I could do "real" work in my own home without a ton of extremely expensive equipment not available to the general public, and immerse myself in it, which is more than I can say for most of the things that have captured my interest.
At that time I could put ads on the page to effectively make it a full time job developing the site, which I did. It was massively rewarding knowing that 5000 people a day were reading something I wrote. I'd like to think someone managed to get their degree/job based on stuff they learned on there.
My personal belief is that biodiversity and preserving it should be one of our top priorities this century, nature has inspired a lot of our ideas and there's going to be many more. For all our advancements, we're just part of a larger tapestry. Great subject.
Seeing the mechanical nature of gene transciption and chemical signaling blew my mind.
On the other hand, I don't buy his thing about wishing his high school teacher had presented it differently. No on else can make you interested in this stuff. The best they can do is provide resources like the ones above.
They also have diagrams of the internal structure of cells. Maybe, one day, they will add explanations beyond the succinct labels that they presently have:
Why is that crazy? I had years when I liked biology and years when I did not liked it, but imo, the wish for mystification does not lead to knowledge. Well done any topic can be interesting, badly done it will be boring.
But, that wish to have everything framed in mystique is something I cant comprehend or really stand by. Like, I did not wanted to be manipulated that way as a kid and teachers who overdone it came across as untrustworthy or pathetic.
If there is one takeaway from working in both fields, I think it is that a lot of computer scientists believe their systems are deep - it is nothing compared to biology.
Biotechnology also has a fundamentally different culture than tech, and so there can be some culture shock between the two. This is improving - I think the author would have loved synthetic biology :)
My anguish for the worldwide state of education is abysmal. School and university are necessary, but the goal isn't to make us curious and wonder about things or excited to learn. The education system packages us up for work and is heavily focused on knowledge, not understanding.
If you fail school, or uni - or look like you failed - people think you're dumb and unintelligent.
You can be lucky sometimes and get a teacher who's actually passionate about their subject AND is able to teach. Most teachers and professors I had were just I'm the system and mentally done. I can't blame most of them. The salary is often miserable, the curriculum bad, the books boring, administration annoying and the parents... good grief. Of course some really shouldn't have become teachers or let near kids, but that's the minority.
Anyway, I'm really glad the pandemic happened. Studying biology and physics at home has been rewarding and highly interesting. If only school and uni were/had been the same...
When people asked me why a person that loves computer like me is getting into biology so much, my answer is how come anyone not getting crazy over biology? The rabbit hole is so deep, I can't help but dig and dig just to satisfy my curiosity. When people heard about biology they always imagine endless recitation on taxonomy and stuff but like the author wrote, that's not what biology is all about.
Alas, I ended up not having a career in biology-related field though. I'm a programmer through-and-through. But I did meet my wife through these event so it's not all for nothing, and I still like biology.
It's about the role of energy in the emergence of life (pre-biotic -> single-cell -> multicellular -> animals). You'll see some chemical names, but it also tells interesting human stories too.
The Machinery of Life, David Goodsell
A Computer Scientist’s Guide to Cell Biology, William W. Cohen
The biggest books I ever bought were those on molecular biology and biochemistry. Huge and weighing several kilos. Until then I did not know that it was possible to produce such large paperbacks at all. Some of these books are also among the best I have ever seen in terms of design and didactics. This is also necessary because the area is so big that you can easily spend several lives with it.
I agree with the author that molecular biology is neglected in school or is often not taught in a very motivating way. But this is true for many fields of knowledge, not only for molecular biology.
My entry into the field was when I did a PhD in molecular biology and biophysics after ten years of professional experience as a computer scientist. That was almost twenty years ago now, and I still have the feeling that I'm only scratching the surface.
Wait... I know there are cross-disciplines that let you get into certain programs, but you skipped and entire undergrad's worth of core classes in Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics (and possibly Masters level research) and got into a Molecular Biology PhD program with 10 years as a CS?
That really is amazing, and kind of disheartening as a person with a BSc in Cellular/Molecular biology. Goes to show just how irrelevant it really way in the grand-scheme of things--though, to be honest I had already had that thought as I was doing it.
I actually double majored as a Bio-Chem major but never went past my junior year requirements for it, and was never even given the option to have my completed lower division course work be deemed as a minor when I graduated.
And, yes you are right; once you understand how immense the field is and how wide reaching it is, you cannot fathom being able to ever really grasp it in one Lifetime. It's an amazing field of study, but despite my credentials saying a concentration in Molecular Biology I honestly had a much greater fascination in Microbiology and the role it has on Human and Plant Health and disease and the correlation between the two via diet.
It was an interdisciplinary PhD and it took me six years to complete, the first two essentially to learn the basics and understand the problem.
> I honestly had a much greater fascination in Microbiology
Microbiology is extremely interesting; I also have a couple of books (Brock etc.).