DNA goggles

Hannon othonna@gmail.com
Fri, 01 Feb 2013 10:11:45 PST
Nhu wrote,

*"Instead of taking 20 years to become an expert at a genus, someone who is
trained to sequence DNA in one week can identify all of the plants. Of
course, it initially took the expert to put the correct name on the
**sequence. So that is a major reason to continue training taxonomists.*"

This highlights another key divergence in modern biology, the difference
between knowing one's plants and knowing one's sequences. Organismal
biology (knowing an organism by its appearance, ecology, range, variation,
behavior, etc.) is often viewed as archaic today because it is felt to be
less precise or informative than what can be derived from genes. Funding
for research follows (or leads) this pattern. Yet lab work does not prepare
a scientist for the riches of field work. The popular impression seems to
be that DNA work replaces the need to be familiar with plants and animals
directly but this is false. Note that in Nhu's example the molecular
scientist remains reliant on previous work by classically trained
taxonomists for his results to have any practical application in

Identifying a species, which requires more than sequencing alone, is
different than knowing that species in any meaningful way.


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