Letters

A Nasty Mother The reverence for nature that Richard Gallagher1 and Lee Silver2 attribute to many scientists and nonscientists isn?t necessarily related to a view that mother nature is "benevolent," "kind," or "caring." An ecosystem can be both "in harmony" and still be deadly to individuals (even humans) and species. Many of us are very nervous about genetic engineering and other issues within bioethics because we humans just aren?t smart enough to take those functions away from

The Scientist Staff
Sep 1, 2006

A Nasty Mother

The reverence for nature that Richard Gallagher1 and Lee Silver2 attribute to many scientists and nonscientists isn?t necessarily related to a view that mother nature is "benevolent," "kind," or "caring." An ecosystem can be both "in harmony" and still be deadly to individuals (even humans) and species. Many of us are very nervous about genetic engineering and other issues within bioethics because we humans just aren?t smart enough to take those functions away from natural processes. Do we really want to reengineer our species? genome so that we can have less malaria or so we can expect to live 150 years?

It seems obvious and inevitable that the Law of Unintended Consequences will be much nastier than Mother Nature. Natural selection is not evil or good; it is simply the way ecosystems work. Some, including myself, see it as a type of "natural wisdom." These...

References

1. R. Gallagher, "Zealots for science," The Scientist, 20(7):13, July 2006. 2. L.M. Silver, "A nasty mother," The Scientist, 20(7):49?53, July 2006.

The trouble with databases

Jeffrey Perkel is right that "scientists who rely on accurate gene predictions should share in the burden of creating them."1 However, in my experience, mostly with GenBank, the database owner-operators do not accept user input. At GenBank, only the authors of each sequence entry can change an entry. So if an author labels a sequence as ORGANISM = HIV-3 , and HIV experts tell GenBank that HIV-3 is not a valid organism, [GenBank] may ask the author to change the entry. If the author does not feel like doing so, the entry remains as an error.

Brian Foley

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos, Ca.

btf@lanl.gov

1. J.M. Perkel, "Why you should be annotating," The Scientist, 20(6):71, June 2006.