By Joshua Nicholson
Just as fixing a lightbulb can cure a room of darkness, fixing a gene is thought to cure cells of disease.
However, Dr. Karola Stotz argues that to think about genes as the cause of disease is simply wrong.
On May 10, Stotz, of Indiana University, focused on the faulty notions she believes scientists hold regarding genes and genomic research. She outlined the idea that genes are not as important as we may think, and it is their regulation that matters.
During her talk, Stotz argued against the mainstream notion of genetics, explaining that the gene expression process is not preexisting; there is no program for turning genes on or off.
The talk, given in the Cowell conference room, hosted an audience of nine people in a room capable of holding 60. Every guest present was associated with the philosophy department.
Stotz put forth the problems she sees in genomic research, problems she says are consequences of how scientists view genes. Yet genomic research scientists were nowhere to be found.
“I sent both paper and e-mail notices to departments in the physical and biological sciences division,” said Laura McShane, who was in charge of advertising the talk.
One attendee, visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Biology Kevin Brosnan, said he enjoyed the talk and was surprised it had not gathered a larger crowd.
He went on to say “genes are given a privilege” and there is “clearly a disproportionate amount of money being spent on social policy in regards to genomic research.”
Brosnan was unsure whether or not this disproportionality carried through to research funding.
At UC Santa Cruz, the biomolecular engineering (BME) department, involved primarily in genomic research, had 15 grant proposals for research in the 2005-2006 year, totaling a staggering $31,742,149. It was awarded $6,583,130 of that sum.
In comparison, the molecular cell and developmental (MCD) biology department had 43 proposals amounting to $35,739,104 and was awarded $6,053,474.
These sums amount to three times more money per grant awarded to the BME department.
Ann Pace, assistant director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering commented, “While the BME department is relatively new and has only a handful of faculty, one faculty member in particular runs a group that generates genome-related resources for the [National Institutes of Health], and this is the source of much of that $6.5 million.”
Despite Stotz’s efforts, the attention given to genomic studies has grown, and the 14 faculty members of the three-year-old BME department continue to pull in a lot of money for, essentially, fixing lightbulbs.