25 August 2009

Science FAIL

I was browsing through a recent issue in Science magazine yesterday and came across this travesty of an article.

There are a couple of things wrong with it. At first glance, the use of the now ever-present and over-used "-omics" suffix in combination with phenotype-- resulting in the obnoxious term "phenomics"-- is annoying, and makes me a little ashamed to admit I work in "phylogenomics." 

However, a closer glance reveals a teeth-grinding error that also makes me twitch. In the second paragraph, the author refers to the grad Brachypodium as having a small genome composed of only "one pair of chromosomes," whereas wheat has "three pairs of chromosomes." 

Sigh. Big sigh. The scientific reality: the author is referring to sets, not pairs, of chromosomes. It's a big deal when the effect is saying wheat only has a chromosome compliment of six instead of 36. She is referring to the incredibly important genomic phenomena of polyploidy, which has enormous implications for plant breeding as well as plant and animal evolution.

Why does this small mistake set my teeth on edge? Well, a quick Wikipedia search would correct the "pair" vs. "set" mistake. More importantly, this type of mistake perpetuates a mistaken mindset that constantly confronts me as a plant geneticist. Here's how the fail train of logic goes...humans are an evolutionarily advanced species (I suppose this is open to debate, although I still think orchids, grasses, and my own dear Commelinaceae surpass us in terms of being "highly advanced"). Humans are more "complicated" than other organisms. Plants can't move or think or stir fry beef or do anything that complicated humans can, so why would anyone want to study them? 

When combined with the idea that fewer (chromosomes) means simpler, this article in Science has effectively trivialized my area of research. The truth of the matter, as my husband is so willing to point out, is that humans--indeed, most animals--are unbearably boring as far as genetics are concerned. Plants and fungus are far better model systems for examining the multitude of molecular and genetic pathways extant in living organisms. 

Sigh. End rant.

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