Comments on the draft

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Morris: In Eric's section, I think he meant devices instead of devises, and in Andrea and Anil's section #8 I think the Endy lab is at Stanford, not Sanford. This is my first ever effort at group paper writing using a wiki, so please bear with me. I do not envy Consuelo and Michael's job of giving this one voice, and look forward to seeing the more nearly finished product.

Anil: Morris, thanks for pointing out the typo. I have corrected it. Dear All, I made the following notes on the Birds of a Feather Meeting – Non Biologists. Please include any content as you see fit.

A question was raised regarding the level of mathematics used in synthetic biology as evidenced in some of the projects presented during the workshop. Would mathematicians find the level of math challenging enough to be drawn to the field? It was felt that that even though many mathematicians may not find the mathematics challenging enough, the focus of applying mathematics is in modeling the biological processes involved. This provides a way to compare those results that are predicted, to those that are observed. The mathematical models can be used to predict possible outcomes of a proposed approach and also verify its feasibility before beginning any implementation work. It was also felt that mathematicians might want to know what they could contribute. For example, they could contribute by modeling a diffusion process.

The challenges of inter-departmental collaborations within and across universities were discussed. Since most departments have their own way of approaching things, faculty members who are attempting collaboration might get frustrated with possible impediments. Departments must make changes to foster collaboration. Also, institutional changes must be made as a result of faculty members conducting collaborative research. For example, faculty members on tenure committees must learn that it is quite common for collaborative research papers to have many authors. This does not diminish the contribution of one or more of the authors. Also, the names of authors on papers are ordered differently depending on the field.

The challenges of cross-disciplinary collaboration where the experience level of faculty members in their respective fields might vary, was also discussed. Faculty members who are more experienced in their fields might be frustrated with the lack of adequate explanation provided by their colleagues. For example, a chemistry professor did not receive an adequate response from the junior colleague to a query regarding polymerization.

The issue of how much time non-tenured faculty members must spend with their students for research as opposed to tenured faculty members was discussed. It was felt that while tenured faculty members might have the luxury of attempting new research and yet be unsuccessful, tenure track faculty members might be adversely affected by failure. Pragmatism in choice of research topics and time management was advised.

It was felt that one of the concerns for potential collaborators in the field could be: what constitutes service to the synthetic biology research community? Such faculty members can be informed that contributing parts to the community counts as service to the community. Other concerns could be: how does one become part of the community? How does one contribute to or access shared resources? How can one teach non-biology majors basic concepts in biology? When does one introduce these concepts? How can one better communicate with Biologists? The importance of maintaining a glossary of key abbreviations and their explanations (for example, ds DNA) was discussed. Such a glossary must be readily available to future synthetic biology workshop participants and collaborating non-biologists. It was also felt that some pre workshop material and preparation might help the non-biologists. The instructors explained that they felt a common language could be developed through the interaction of the biologist and non-biologist pairing in the workshop, where the biologist can introduce his/her colleague to basic concepts in biology. Participants agreed that this approach was quite helpful.

[In retrospect, this is going to be an ugly way to multiply-edit a MS; perhaps we should have tried wiggio. Anyway, two full pages of text (taking into account title, headers, etc.) is only about 1900 words. Toss in a couple of figures and there's really no way to do a decent job with this report. Hopefully the editor is holding us to a strict 2-page limit on text only -- right now we're around 2800! ..CJ]

[it feels like, if we are not careful, we may get a camel. You know, the mouse designed by a committee.RM]

[Most of my suggestions are minor stylistic/grammar tweaks. Rather than try and insert them all here, even under the corresponding section, I've posted an edited version of the MS as a .pdf on my website [1]. Other comments I include below ..CJ]

I wish the best of luck to our uber-editors, Mike and Consuelo. RM

I hope we can find room for Chris' summary paragraph. It really capsulized what we were about. RM