Sometimes you predict a tripping waitress, and get drag wrestling instead.

I attended a scientific meeting last month called “The Molecular Basis of Microbial One-Carbon Metabolism”, and had a wonderful time connecting with my colleagues and friends. This was a major nerd rave. Meetings like these are where we swap ideas, forge collaborations, and present our latest research to each other. The week-long meeting was a smallish one, with about 150 attendees, ranging from

silverbackestablished leaders in the field



beakerto budding grad students

and everybody else in-between (postdoctoral researchers, junior professors).

The meeting was organized into sessions of 3-5 speakers each, chaired by a discussion leader. I was asked to chair the session on ‘Systems Biology’, which is this really cool approach to biology where, instead of our usual reductionist schtick (e.g., one reaction, one pathway, or one organism is the focus, devoid of context), we can use the wonderment of contemporary computational power to consider such a thing enmeshed in its actual context. No biochemical reaction or pathway happens by itself; they happen inside a cell with THOUSANDS of other reactions happening simultaneously.


E.g., not this:

isolated reaction

Rather, this:


Sooooo, to introduce this concept in an amusing way, to highlight the notion that context matters, I asked the 150 scientists attending the session to predict the outcome of carrying a tray with glasses on it (e.g., I presented a process without context).


I then hoped to show the following video to cement home the notion that predictive power increases when you consider the context:

The correct video

However, the technology froze, and the technician began to click at random to try to fix things, and this video came up instead (true story):

A gift from the universe

This actually proved my point quite well; the video of the waitress had worked quite well when I tried it out in the auditorium before everybody arrived; once everybody arrived, well, drag wrestling.


Systems biology, indeed.




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