Embedding the Future: the X2 Project goes public!

With the public launch of the X2 project, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang realized one of his dreams. Alex is the research director of The Institute for the Future (IFTF), an independent nonprofit research group headquartered in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley. He writes:

The project is called X2, and its aim is to forecast the future of science, technology and innovation. The name may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually an historical allusion. In my previous life as an academic historian, I studied the X Club, a group of Victorian scientists who were very interested in the future of British science. The Club formed when its members were still young, ambitious outsiders, fighting to establish their reputations in a world in which social connections and privilege mattered more than scientific achievement; by the time they retired, its nine members were among the leaders of British science.

That said, dear ‘still young, ambitious outsiders’ you can now sign up for the project and join the groups you’re interested in. I suggest you starting with Quick Start. Disclaimer: I am the so called “steward” of the embryonic group Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnology. Continue reading

BioBarCamp in the Valley before the SciFoo Camp!

It seems that my favorite ever unconference, the SciFoo Camp will be aroundunconferenced by a BioBarCamp this year. The whole idea of the BioBarCamp is based upon the SciFoo Camp, so it is by no means a competitive but a complimentary event.

From the BarCamp wiki: “The BioBarCamp is an idea (fed by the tweets of the BioTwitterer community) to organize a life sciences – biotechnology – personalized genomics & medicine – bioinformatics unconference at the Bay Area around the 3rd SciFoo Camp time, which is 8-10th August. The SciFooCamp generates a lot of enthusiasm & activity but not just for those who are invited (only 200). On the other hand, it would be nice to organize a bio-related BarCamp, just like the Cambridge BarCamb, in which the bio-related SciFoo Campers and all the other biogeeks could gather together.”

The main activity is happening right now at the public BioBarCamp Google Group. If interested please join there or just follow the discussions. We are right now in the process of finding a proper venue and sponsors and any help would be most welcome. Right now 6 or 7 August seems to be the consensus day and we have a very generous offer from The Institute for the Future via Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in Palo Alto (no response from 23andMe so far, see below).

It’s against a classic Twitter story, just like this before. You can reconstruct the whole conversation with Twitter Search Engine Tweet Scan by searching for terms SciFoo, BioBarCamp, SciBarCamp but here are my selected tweets:

Scene One, 04/10/08 How the idea was born on that day in reverse chronological order:

Scene Two 04/22/08 How the biospecificity and name was born alongside with a possible venue idea: Continue reading

3rd SciFoo Camp, Googleplex, August 8-10, 2008!

The 3rd Science Foo Camp, organized by Nature, O’Reilly Media, and Google will be held on August 8-10 and hosted at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

From the mail: “Now in its third year, Sci Foo is already achieving cult status among those with a passion for science and technology. The Economist said that it “capture[s] the essence of innovation”; in a photo essay for Edge, George Dyson wrote of the “the impossible choice” when deciding which sessions to attend; another attendee described it simply as “The best gathering ever. Period.”

Also check the strongly related BioBarCamp idea.

Human proteome project: 21000 genes/1 protein, 10 years, $1 billion?

In order to have the slightest change to design a robust, systemic life extension technology, we need to accumulate every systemic macromolecular, cellular, tissue- and organ level data of the normal, physiological human body, connect the trillions of nodes with scalable software algorithms and suck out the draft of the proper sequence of consecutive treatment/regeneration steps later. Fortunately not only life extension technology needs systems biology projects (this is not enough for getting grants), but more importantly the effective design of new drug targets and the discovery of disease biomarkers are clearly crying for the systemic level. The urgent diagnostic and therapeutic demands are sufficient to launch international, many-lab projects.

Finally a complete ‘Human Proteome Project’ is in the pipeline (illustration via BioMed Search). It aims the tissue-level complete knowledge of the human proteome revealing “which proteins are present in each tissue, where in the cell each of those proteins is located and which other proteins each is interacting with”. Keep in mind also that around 21’000 human genes encode 1 million different proteins and that the effort cannot localize exactly which cell types in a given tissue is producing which protein. According to Nature’s Helen Pearson: Biologists initiate plan to map human proteome

“Those involved in the draft plan say that a human proteome project is now feasible partly because estimates of the number of protein-coding genes have shrunk. It was once thought that there might be around 50,000 or 100,000, but now, just 21,000 or so are thought to exist, making the scale of human proteomics more manageable. And the group plans to focus on only a single protein produced from each gene, rather than its many forms.

The plan is to tackle this with three different experimental approaches. One would use mass spectrometry to identify proteins and their quantities in tissue samples; another would generate antibodies to each protein and use these to show its location in tissues and cells; and the third would systematically identify, for each protein, which others it interacts with in protein complexes. The project would also involve a massive bioinformatics effort to ensure that the data could be pooled and accessed, and the production of shared reagents.”

The idea is to analyze and list all the proteins manufactured by chromosome 21 within 3 years as a pilot study and then finish the whole project within 10 years. Chromosome 21 is the smallest child in the family and likely contains between 200 and 400 genes, so the pilot study can yield us a couple hundreds proteins. Another powerful idea (actually I prefer this) is to start with the human mitochondrial proteome which is around 1000-1500 proteins as far as I know, that is at least 3 times as many as encoded by chromosome 21. Continue reading

How to predict the future via Twitter: Google invests in Navigenics

Wow, I guess it’s time for me to move into the stock market business! Here’s the story via David Bradley’s tweet: Julie Kent, Search Engine Journal, April 21st, 2008: Google Wants to Index Genetic Information, Invests in Second DNA Start-Up

In 2007, Google made headlines when they invested $4.4 million in 23andMe, a genetic screening start-up company began by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and a business partner. But if you thought that was Google’s only interest in genetics and DNA, you’re wrong. Google has also been investing in a second DNA start-up called Navigenics, which for $2,500 and a small bit of saliva will provide you with genetic test results delivered securely online containing information about the likelihood for 18 medical conditions.

What’s really funny here is that I predicted this investment last Friday, on the 18th, on Twitter. The original idea was Aaron Swartz’s Google thought experiment: Imagine you were suddenly put in charge of Google. What would you spend your time doing? I came up with this answer (picking Navigenics because of ther profile and location) on behalf of Sergey Brin:

The whole tweetstream: Continue reading

Social or semantic connections? Tell me, infofriend!

Clive Thompson – undoubtedly a good journalist – has a piece, entitled Information Overlord in May Wired issue (not online yet, but already problematic) on his experience with semantic Web app Twine. Clive also formulates a provocative though about the value of information modulated social connections.

“But the truth is, sometimes social connections are less useful than semantic ones.
I’ve experienced this myself. My Facebook page attracts my friends, with whom I share social bonds. Meanwhile, my science blog attracts complete strangers, with whom I share a common interest in a topic – like a scientific study I’ve blogged about. It’s a semantic relationship, based on shared meaning. So those strangers tend to tell me things – and point me to links – that are more useful than the social stuff on my Facebook page. Information trumps friendship”

I am not sure whether the distinction behind: emotional, social friends vs rational, information only semantic cooperators Continue reading