Today I took the Eurostar to London to give a seminar at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL. (Just a few blocks from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, where I gave an ABC talk last year.) I had great fun, thanks to an uninterrupted sequence of meetings: I got a crash course on RKHS (reproducible kernel Hilbert spaces) by Arthur Gretton, discussed about estimating the number of species, dealing with unknown functions of the parameter in the likelihood, using tests as ABC statistics, and explained how to use empirical likelihoods in non-iid settings. After this full day, we had a superb dinner at St. John, a Michelin starred restaurant with highly enjoyable English cuisine, offering game and offal dishes that reminded me of Le Petit Marguery in Paris… (Not a place for vegetarians, obviously.)
Archive for Eurostar
Today, I was reading in the science leaflet of Le Monde about a new magnitude in sequencing cancerous tumors (wrong link, I know…). This made me wonder whether the sequence of (hundreds of) mutations leading from a normal cell to a cancerous one could be reconstituted in the way a genealogy is. (This reminds me of another exciting genetic article I read in the Eurostar back from London on Thursday, in the Economist, about the colonization of Madagascar by 30 women from the Malay archipelago: “The island was one of the last places on Earth to be settled, receiving its earliest migrants in the middle of the first millennium AD…“)
As a double coincidence, I was reading La Recherche yesterday in the métro to Dauphine, which central theme this month is about heredity beyond genetics. (Double because this also connected with the meeting in London.) The keyword is epigenetics, namely the activation or inactivation of a gene and the hereditary transmission of this character w/o a genetic mutation. This is quite interesting as it implies the hereditability of some adopted traits, i.e. forces one to reconsider the nature versus nurture debate. (This sentence is another input due to Galton!) It also implies that a much faster rate of species differentiation due to environmental changes (than the purely genetic one) is possible, which may sound promising in the light of the fast climate changes we are currently facing. However, what I do not understand is why the journal included a paper on the consequences of epigenetics on the Darwinian theory of evolution and… intelligent design. Indeed, I do not see why the inclusion of different vectors in the hereditary process would contradict Darwin’s notion of natural selection. Or even why considering a scientific modification or replacement of the current Darwinian theory of evolution would be an issue. Charles Darwin wrote his book in 1859, prior to the start of genetics, and the immense advances made since then led to modifications and adjustments from his original views. Without involving any irrational belief in the process.