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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lysenkoism

The Google logo - 20 July 2011.
Today, in tribute to the great legacy of the father of classical genetics, Gregor Mendel, Google changed their logo to be made from images of peas. Mendel posited the idea that inheritance can be divided into traits (seed color, height, texture), and that these traits can recombine independently during the course of crosses. He wasn't completely correct - he had no idea of linkage (and probably fudged his numbers to gloss this over) - but this formed one of the fundamental concepts in biology: genetics.

The other, of course, is evolution.

But as we celebrate the triumphs of science, we shouldn't forget the tribulations that these scientists underwent to defend and explore their ideas. Certainly, Darwin's legacy remains contested in America to this day. However, while even basic education reminds everyone of Mendel's work (even if most don't remember the details), we are remiss in remembering Lysenko's legacy. Biology and agriculture suffered greatly in Soviet Russia the government empowered ideology over science. Scientists were jailed and fled, thousands suffered as agricultural crops failed.

And we best learn from history. As legislation is enacted to as a knee-jerk reaction to ban technology (ie, "GMO"), rather than the open debate of science, we stand on the precipice of Lysenko's rebirth.

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