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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings
use to interrogate your biological systems. Let me give you some examples of advances in the New Biology.
We are all comfortable thinking about genes. Now, we are accustomed to thinking about many genes, and lately we think about whole genomes—not only one genome, but many genomes that span populations and species. Look at the databases, and you will see hundreds of microbial genome sequences—and this is just the beginning.
We are used to dealing with many cells. Now we can deal with single cells, in a new way, with the intent of building capacious ensembles from complex measurements obtained from a large number of individually interrogated cells. The goal is to be able to perform sophisticated experiments within a single cell and to acquire data sets that encompass large cell populations, which simultaneously require and potentiate statistical interpretation. In other words, new approaches allow us to massively “test tube-ize” cells.
Being able to do science with single molecules has become a very popular coin of the realm. It is not difficult, and it gives you a great deal of power in terms of forming your ensembles and represents the ultimate in the ongoing quest for ever-increasing levels of miniaturization.
We are going from instruments that used to occupy a lot of lab space to chip-based instruments that can create labs on a chip. Here, we have scaled down large instruments to reside on a single chip. In this regard, what I urge people to do is if you are going to miniaturize, revel in the scale of matter that you are working in. Take advantage of the novel phenomena that this scale gives you. It is proven to be a very interesting problem in its own right in terms of great nanotechnology and physics.
Achieving sub-Dalton resolution, means utilizing mass spectros-copy—it is just amazing what you can do with mass spectroscopy. When I was in graduate school in chemistry, I had friends working in mass spectrometry. One day, after too many beers, someone wondered what would happen if you put a protein in a mass spectrometer. Everyone had a good laugh. Nobody is laughing anymore.
Now the best label is no label. So we are going from labeling substrates to not labeling, yet maintaining the ability to detect with some specificity; for example surface plasmon resonance approaches offer this advantage—my Wisconsin colleagues boast about the fact that they could do chips and other types of assays with no labels, thus enabling biomolecules to function in a more native environment.
When I was in graduate school we were able to create a limited number of compounds and characterize them. Now, combinatorial chemical libraries hold tens of thousands of characterized compounds that can be further “functionalized” through series of biological assays.