Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Whole Genome Matters!

With the publication of over 30 papers last week from the ENODE project, it has become clear that a large part of the human genome plays a role in our cells. In the last few years, many findings were showing that some of the non coding regions (99% of the genome) were involved in regulating the genes (the 1% coding part of the genome) but nobody expected the ENCODE project's claim that 80% of the genome plays some part - whether this ends up being an exaggeration or not, I think we have a paradigm shift in our understanding of the genome.

The San Francisco Chronicle covered the news in its front page

The NY Times also gave it good coverage

For a complete technical coverage check out

Nature has also put a free iPad app in the Apple Store. Check out the video recording - it gives a good overview of the Encode project as well as the results.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What a Plant knows - A field guide to the Senses by Daniel Chavotiz (Book Review)

Plants and Us - the shared genetic heritage between long separated cousins!

We as a species find it very easy to identify with other animals and we are adept at imagining anthropomorphic qualities in them but we seldom feel the same with plants. In this book ‘What a Plant knows’,  Daniel Chamovitz examines how plants see, feel, hear, smell and remember and shows us that the genetics underpinnings are the same as us, though they took a different evolutionary path in the last one billion years.

Starting with Darwin’s contribution in the study of plants (it is amazing  how much a single man has contributed to the field of evolutionary biology), Daniel looks at the different ‘senses’ from a plant’s point of view, the role of the various genes and how they have evolved to create the huge diversity in the plant kingdom that we see today. The best thing about the book is the way Daniel defines the fundamentals of each ‘sense’, how we humans use that sense and how it differs when it comes to the realm of plants.

Maybe not as eloquent as Richard Dawkins or as technically deep as Nick Lane, Daniel Chamovitz brings a different style of science writing that I found fascinating. Explaining the concepts in a very clear and simple manner, while not dumbing it down, Dainiel has done a remarkable job.  Though the book is on plants, I found its coverage of genomics (from the basics to the complex) one of the best that I have seen. (Never seen a better one line definition of ‘Epigenetics’).

We take plants for granted and see them basically as food for us. Though we  acknowledge their greenery, beauty and other contributions to making earth a habitable place, we still never take them as seriously  as we would consider animals or birds. However any one who read this  book will start looking at plants differently. From the carnivorous venus fly trap to the stately oak tree, we will start admiring the innovations that our cousins have come up with using the same genetic code that we share with them.

Don’t miss this book – it will enhance your senses!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu- Book Review

Recipe for Success!

We tend to believe that the People and the Land make up the Nation - and hence the ability of the people and the quality of the land whether it is the geography or the availability of natural resources that determines whether a Nation will succeed or fail. But in this well researched book the authors show that it is the nature of the political and economic institutions which a nation creates that determines success or failure.

Authoritarian political institutions and extractive economics institutions are recipes for failure. But why do some countries or even adjacent cities develop them while their neighbors get democracy and inclusive economic institutions? Small initial differences going back hundreds of years which divert nations in different directions, contingent events, calamities, great personalities all explain the destinies of nations.

Covering countries from the West and the East, from Africa to Indonesia, from Australia to Antartica, the authors have a done a great job covering history, politics and economics and providing such insights that the book is a pleasure to read. There have never been a doubt that with free markets and equal opportunity, people from all backgrounds and nationalities can do well. For many decades we have seen immigrants from the world over get to the shores of the United States and do exceedingly well. But it had been difficult to understand why America developed they way it did while neighboring Mexico went down the other way. Or countries like China and India with ancient civilizations and colorful histories ended up being poor nations with millions on impoverished people. And why are they able to now rise back? And which model will succeed? Read the book to find out - you will not regret the effort.

I wish they can make this a compulsory read for all politicians......

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My 2nd Innings!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Creative Destruction of Medicine by Eric Topol (Book Review)

Doctors Beware!
Every revolution shows the incumbents in poor light - they look foolish, stubborn and indecisive. Eric Topol shows how breakthrough growth in mobile phones, wireless technologies and genomics, and their convergence is revolutionizing Medicine and Healthcare but the current 'high priests' whether it is doctors or the bureaucracy dont seem to be getting it. Nevertheless the flow seems to be irreversible as informed consumers empower themselves and push for new solutions that will provide better care, cheaper and more effective medicines, and democratize the healthcare system. Topols' stories about the shortcomings on the current system are scary and he is very tough on the members of his profession. Other players in the ecosystem like the Pharma companies also do not escape his sharp criticism. He will not be making many friends with this book - however it will be tremendously useful to the readers in multiple ways - as an individual on how to plan for your healthcare, as a student on planning your career, as an investor or entrepreneur for understanding opportunities that would create revolutionary wealth!. For people in the healthcare profession this should be a wake up call. I would urge all to read this book.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Getting Smart by Tom Vander Ark

Transforming Education through Personal Digital Learning!

We are all learners. If you are not learning something new every day, you might as well be dead. However opportunities for formal learning were very limited till a few years back. Access to content, teachers and facilities were limited to a privileged few in the world. That is now changing – digital technologies, cheap and high bandwidth internet connections and a global bunch of eduprenuers are now offering learning opportunities to all – irrespective of where you are and how much money you have.

Tom Vander Ark shows in ‘Getting Smart’ how this wave is transforming education across the world and what students, parents, teachers, leaders, and investors should do to take advantage of this revolution. Tom starts of the book by explaining what ‘personal digital learning’ is, and how it can overcome the current challenges faced by the American education system. Then in separate chapters on ‘Customization – building the right playlist for each student’, ‘Motivation- getting everyone into the learning game’, ‘Equalization – Connecting all students to Excellence’, ‘Integration – putting it all together to make schools smarter’, ‘Innovation – Policies that will make it happen’, ‘Investment – paying for innovation’, and finally ‘Employment – changing our job descriptions’ , Tom brings it all together to make you smarter.

Each chapter has clear predictions on future trends over the next five to ten years and very interesting links to a number of companies and organizations across the world that are active players in this domain. For any one interested in learning or in the future of education, this book is a must read.