Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How I spend my days...

I often get the question what do I do. My usual response is that I work at the Swedish University of Agriculture, where I am involved in developing methods to find some genes that explain complex traits in animals. But this does not say very much and definitely does not give an impression of the daily struggle with DNA, statistics and some or other feature from an animal that is inherently difficult to measure. Since I love cooking I thought an analogy with food may be a nice way of describing what our group is doing.

Imagine that DNA like is a recipe book (this is an old analogy that I am just borrowing and customizing). Different pieces of DNA are like the different instructions of what to do and which ingredients are required for different dishes. For example a chocolate cake is an analogy of one feature of an individual.

Now imagine I want to know how a chocolate cake is baked. The procedure I would follow is: I would go to many different people (at least a 100) and ask each of them to bake a chocolate cake. I would measure, taste and rate, many different features of each cake. Then the 100 bakers would supply me with own unique recipe for their cake BUT it will be in a language I don't know. They also will cut the recipe into pieces each containing one word. For fun, each of them also cut a whole recipe book into word size pieces, and mix it with the chocolate cake recipe words. This bring me to what we do in the group where I work. We only get the mixed words and the ratings (we never do the tasting ourselves). We look at differences in the ratings comparing them to differences words and try to find the words that may be important in chocolate cake baking. Of course this is not done manually and we mostly spend the whole day in front of a computer telling it what to look for and evaluating what it finds.

This is how I spend my days at work. Except for fika and lunch.


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