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Science for the Sake of Science

Richard Grant at Confessions of a (Former) Lab Rat, discusses explaining to relatives and friends why it is he does what he does. He writes that while it's difficult for researchers to merely explain what it is that they do "intelligibly, to the questioner's satisfaction," but "I further suspect, in the biological sciences at least, the proportion who are able to answer the question 'why?' is much, much smaller."

Grant writes that that's because, contrary to public opinion — or even descriptions included in their grant applications — not all researchers are actively trying to cure disease. "My own mother had great hopes I'd cure cancer. For the longest time I didn't know where to even start to answer her," he muses.

It came as a relief, then, when he simply one day realized that he was doing science for the sake of science. "After this realization I would cheerfully tell friends and family that I wasn't trying to cure cancer, or anything else: like a philosopher in the pure pursuit of knowledge I just wanted to see how things — in this case the 'things' happened to be people — worked," he writes, adding that "finding out how things work is almost a definition of humanity."

The Scan

Genome Sequences Reveal Range Mutations in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Researchers in Nature Genetics detect somatic mutation variation across iPSCs generated from blood or skin fibroblast cell sources, along with selection for BCOR gene mutations.

Researchers Reprogram Plant Roots With Synthetic Genetic Circuit Strategy

Root gene expression was altered with the help of genetic circuits built around a series of synthetic transcriptional regulators in the Nicotiana benthamiana plant in a Science paper.

Infectious Disease Tracking Study Compares Genome Sequencing Approaches

Researchers in BMC Genomics see advantages for capture-based Illumina sequencing and amplicon-based sequencing on the Nanopore instrument, depending on the situation or samples available.

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.