Most of us were taught to share at a very early age. What happened? A big chunk of the world’s population still starves every day, even though we know that when we do share, we all benefit. Especially when it comes to scientific learning.
Sharing among professionals is called collaboration. And as the world gets more complex and our challenges more daunting, services like our own IdeaConnection arise to enable and encourage collaboration among scientific minds around the world.
Likewise, the more we discover and invent, the more critical it becomes that we not only help each other solve problems but that we share what we learn. Recent advances in the highly complex field of genetics illustrate the need for an open-door policy of collaboration.
DNA, the code that makes us who we are, determines also how we are. The same arrangements of As, Cs, Ts, and Gs that decide our height, hair color, and visual acuity also have a lot to say about how intelligent we become, whether or not we will ever play the French horn, or if we can roll our tongue into a loop or not.
Evan Eichler at the University of Washington in Seattle knows a whole lot more about what DNA determines than I or, most likely, anyone reading this. He and his colleagues study the small DNA defects in patients with a wide range of abnormalities. They use DNA microarrays—glass slides embedded with genetic material that reveal the inner workings of DNA.
Lately scientists have used microarrays to zoom in on genetic features never before visible. As usual, as they see more, they learn more, but as they learn, they confront even greater complexity. For example, the same tiny genetic variation in one person with an abnormality can also appear in another person without the problem.
As scientists pool their microarray findings, they hope to sort out just what causes what, which will make genetic therapies and prenatal diagnostics all the more effective and reliable.
Ahead for Eichler and his team—thousands of studies with thousands of patients. It also means that US geneticists will have to learn how to share. According to Eichler, his European collaborators are eager to collaborate, but his US colleagues have shown some reluctance.
We’re on the threshold of introducing wonders that will dramatically transform our lives and the lives of our descendants. The greater the promise of technologies like genetic microarrays, the greater the demand for open and generous collaboration.
Peter Lloyd writes Right Brain Workouts for IdeaConnection.