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Harvard Systems Biology Theory Lunch

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10 May 2019

Casey Dunn

Animal diversity and the Hubble deep field


Biology is the study of life. Biologists only study a small fraction of life, though, because we have limited resources, we have strong prior ideas about which questions are most interesting, and it is much easier to describe traits that organisms have in common with each other than what makes them different. These biases mean that we miss out on many phenomena that would be of great interest if we knew about them, and can also negatively impact our understanding of the small fraction of Biology that has been studied in detail. In this talk I examine several dimensions of bias, such as the species, phenotypes, and genome features we study. I also discuss efforts to address analogous challenges in other fields, such as the Hubble Deep Field project that intensively imaged a region of the sky that was selected in part because there wasn't prior reason to think it was particularly remarkable.

Work Mentioned

Dunn, CW, SP Leys, SHD Haddock (2015) The hidden biology of sponges and ctenophores. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 30:282-291. How biases in resource allocation bias our understanding of biology.

Dunn, CW, C Munro (2016) Comparative genomics and the diversity of life. Zoologica Scripta 45:5-13. Observational work is not the opposite of hypothesis driven work.

Stoeger et al. (2019) Large-scale investigation of the reasons why potentially important genes are ignored. PLoS Biology. A systematic consideration of bias in the study of human genes.

Williams, RE et al. (1996) The Hubble Deep Field: Observations, Data Reduction, and Galaxy Photometry.

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