Michael Ashburner on Conducting Scientific Experiments
  Michael Ashburner     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2008

I mean, in some sciences, some scientific experiments I conduct are exploratory you know. You really do not know what is going to happen, yeah. You don’t know where it’s going to lead you. Other science is analytical, in the sense that you know that there is an answer, yeah, and this is particularly common, if you are doing computational science or computational genomics. You know there is an answer, yeah, and you don’t know what the answer is. Essentially, you have to develop analytical methods or computational methods, you know, which will give you the answer, yeah. I mean if you are annotating a genome, yeah, you want to find the genes in the genome, you know the genes are there, yeah, but you don’t know precisely what they are, and exactly the number of genes and their organization, but you know they are there, yeah. And it’s really just a question of the developing appropriate analytical techniques, which would give you, it won’t give you the truth, because these techniques aren’t perfect, but it’ll give you some approximation to the truth and you can then build on that, yeah. But, you know many biological experiments, you just don’t know, you just don’t know what you’re looking for, so you do it incrementally, you do an experiment and on the results of that experiment you do another experiment… and you can’t, you can’t really plan that very far ahead because when experiments, experiments are due tomorrow they depend on the results that you did yesterday. Um, and I did a lot of that. And that’s actually much more fun, I think, because you have to think more.

Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.

He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.

Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).

Michael Ashburner