Thursday, May 14, 2009


I (Ken) was just in Calgary, Canada for the first time. This was to give a talk to the medical genetic people there. Calgary, and its university, were exceedingly impressive. The people are sharp and active in many different, relevant areas of science.

They have an institute for the study of complex systems that I had not known about, but I met some of the people associated with it. As I have an affiliation with the Santa Fe Institute, I was very curious to learn what they are doing. It turned out that they are working on some very interesting aspects of biological diversity. Even when you just look at a single kind of cell (I was shown some results of studies of blood cells) there is a high amount of complexity, even when attention is confined to just two factors that are quantitatively involved in hematopoietic cell differentiation.

Another thread of work there involves the genetic basis of learning of 'handedness' in mice. This work appears to show that in this kind of trait, at least, patterns of behavior can be learned and then appear hard-wired. It struck me as showing genetic support for the ability to learn, but not for pre-wiring of a trait like handedness. Again, this is a kind of complexity of interaction between genetics and environment (and supported BF Skinner's model of 'operant conditioning' that was dogma a few decades ago, before the Nature-Nurture cycle turned to Nature, where it is--temporarily--at present).

Wherever there is a good university, there are many students and faculty doing impressive genetics. Much is being learned about specific genetic factors and functions. But much or most of it is also revealing the kind of underlying complexity that this blog is largely about.

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