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The Value of One


People in this field are used to thinking on a grand scale. After all, what’s large-scale biology without the whole ’ome? Whether it’s the genome, proteome, metabolome, or newestideaome, your science just isn’t getting published in a top journal if it’s not done in a big way.

What the people in this month’s cover story have proven is that big results and a big paper can come from the tiniest biology there is. These researchers have worked to design technology and come up with new ways to interrogate single cells. They’re extending the use of RNA interference, DNA sequencing, protein-protein interaction studies, and more — all within the confines of an individual cell. Their rationale is simple: the only way to get a clear understanding of the body’s innermost biological workings is by looking at cells one at a time, rather than averaging across whole populations of them. Check out our cover story for a series of innovative scientists and the promising research they’ve embarked upon.

When we were working on our special issue focused on brain research last year, we came across so many terrific examples of scientists using microarrays in neuroscience that we made a mental note to revisit that particular aspect of it at a future date. Unlike most of my mental notes, this one actually worked: I’m pleased to offer you our feature story on that topic this month. Senior Writer Ciara Curtin dug into the field to find scientists using gene expression in several different ways and for several different diseases; her article provides a roundup of how microarrays are transforming the brain research field into one that could actually produce accurate diagnostics and even therapeutics for these devastating illnesses.

In another feature story, we checked into one of our favorite subjects — comparative genomics. In her research into what’s new in the field, Senior Writer Jeanene Swanson found that comparative genomics, like so many of the mini-disciplines in the systems biology arena, was no longer as neatly fenced in as it might once have been. Computational biologists have come so far in their comparative work, finding promising genes and other stretches of sequence, that they’re now turning back to the wet lab to figure out what these pieces of DNA are doing. As Jeanene reports, comparative genomics has met functional genomics, and it seems like the partnership is going well.

But there’s no risk of all computational biologists leaving their clusters behind. As our IT authority Matthew Dublin writes in our Brute Force feature, advances in speeding up the precise but plodding Smith-Waterman algorithm may just be converting former Blastophiles. It still takes longer than Blast, Dublin learned from the scientists he interviewed, but the Smith-Waterman is finally becoming a viable option for people who may not have a Cray in their backyard.

Finally, during your next coffee break, be sure to bring along this copy of Genome Technology. In honor of final exam season, our Blunt End back page is a crossword puzzle to test how much you remember of ’omics news from the past year.

The Scan

Purnell Choppin Dies

Purnell Choppin, a virologist who led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has died at 91, according to the Washington Post.

Effectiveness May Decline, Data From Israel Suggests

The New York Times reports that new Israeli data suggests a decline in Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine effectiveness against Delta variant infection, though protection against severe disease remains high.

To See Future Risk

Slate looks into the use of polygenic risk scores in embryo screening.

PLOS Papers on Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus, Bone Marrow Smear Sequencing, More

In PLOS this week: genomic analysis of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, archived bone marrow sequencing, and more.