Tuesday, August 15, 2017

DNA vs. the Machine

Last week's news contained a story sure to raise eyebrows.  A group of computer security researchers from the University of Washington claimed to have demonstrated that they could hijack a computer via sequencing a carefully-constructed DNA fragment.  Visions of NextSeqs rampaging through the streets immediately sprung to mind.  The paper is interesting and has some useful warnings for the bioinformatics community, but certainly the news coverage has been strong on hype and alarmism.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Computational Biology & Math: Am I Just Faking It?

Over on Quora a common type of question is "Can I be a computational biologist if I am now an X".  Personally I take a very broad view and think just about anyone with intellectual curiosity can become any kind of scientist.  A related type of question is "how skilled do I need to be in Y to succeed in computational biology", where Y is most often programming, biology or math.  I got thinking about this and started wondering whether I am actually at all skilled in math.  Here is the results of that analysis.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Third GridION X5 Pricing Plan

When Oxford Nanopore announced their GridION X5 instrument in March, I and others attempted to parse the difference between the two pricing plans  -- and I made a bit of a hash of it.  The X5 runs 5 MinION flowcells independently in parallel from a single desktop instrument, which also includes FPGA-based acceleration of basecalling plus a license to perform sequencing-for-hire.  Indeed, Matt Loose tweeted out an image of an "X6" and then mention of an "X7"; the X6 had a MinION plugged into the USB port and apparently the FPGA unit can keep up with seven flowcells all running simultaneously.  Now Oxford has launched an interesting third "Starter Pack" plan that offers an even lower price point for the system.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

STAT Proves Not Resistant To Antibiotic Tropes

Tuesday's Boston Globe carried a piece originating from STAT news on an interesting natural product antibiotic, pleuromutilin.  A research group recently published a new total synthesis of this fungal terpene, an advance which promises to enable greater medicinal chemistry around the molecule.  That part is cool.  Unfortunately, when it gets to the biology of pleuromutilin the piece by Eric Boodman completely spits the bit, trotting out some horribly inaccurate tropes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Life in the Sanger Market

In my bit on "I'm not dead yet" technologies recently, I included large scale Sanger sequencing. That reflects to a large degree my personal experiences and biases.  Targeted Sanger is great for spot checking the occasional junction or misbehaving clone or strain, but I forget that many clinicians still see it as a gold standard.  Apparently there are others who disagree with me, as Thermo Fisher recently launched a new Sanger instrument targeted at small labs, and according to GenomeWeb Promega plans an instrument offering in the same space as well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Ice Ghosts:A Shortage of Maps

I'm going to step outside the usual topic space here and cover an interesting but frustrating book I read partly on the flight to London Calling (which is about the only connection it has to genomics).  Ice Ghosts, by Paul Watson, covers the searches for the lost Franklin Expedition, a mid-1800s British Navy attempt to find the Northwest Passage.  It's a pretty good book, after all it did win a Pulitzer Prize,  The topic is thrilling: explorers under difficult conditions and a mystery that lasted over a century.  There are lessons for science in general, such as the value in carefully evaluating oral histories that some would discard as unreliable. But what is maddening for me is that in a book for which a central theme is poorly understood geographies and their interpretations, the set of supplied maps fail miserably at assisting in the telling of the story.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What Is (and Is Not) Sequence Assembly?

In the closing talk of the pre-London Calling workshop, Hans Jansen had closed his presentation with a question whether at some future date sequence assembly would become obsolete.  This was meant to be an aspirational vision for a distance timepoint, but one correspondent on Twitter saw it as hype.  I got in a bit of a discussion, constrained by the dreaded 140 character limit, which ended up largely illustrating that I have a somewhat more restricted definition of assembly than some people.  I'm going to explore this and you can judge for yourself