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Open questions: Zombie projects, translational research, and the real secret of the inside of the cell

Gregory A Petsko

BMC Biology 2013, 11:97  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-97

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key question in biology not philosophical but practical

Peter Uetz   (2013-09-09 17:24)  Virginia Commonwealth University email

The key question in biology is neither philosophical nor scientific but rather practical: how can we translate the results from large Zombie projects to small-scale follow-up experiments?

A while ago I asked a small-scale biologist (who worked on DNA repair) whether he had looked at a large-scale dataset XYZ (which certainly contained some data on repair proteins). He hadn't even heard of this dataset and probably didn't even care.

My group mostly works in the Zombie area of large-scale protein interaction data but we have neither the capacity nor the knowledge to follow-up much of our data. However, the few proteins we could afford to follow up resulted in several proteins of previously unknown function to have their functions solved recently (e.g. http://goo.gl/CyHsfI, http://goo.gl/iwLhX2). There is tons of valuable data hidden in large datasets but it's not a philosophical problem but a purely practical issue to find it and integrate it into small-scale hypothesis-driven science.

Instead of asking for "innovation" the NIH should rather ask for "strategies to translate data into knowledge" in Zombie grant applications, given that large-scale projects by definition have little innovation (otherwise they would not be able to produce lots of data in a short time).

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