In fields describable as functional or experimental biology, one tool that could be both useful and beautiful is a digital atlas of gene expression patterns in a representative mammal during development.
That’s just what GenePaint represents. In studying any individual gene product, its global function in the whole organism needs to be addressed. Clearly we can’t easily do this with an adult mouse, but we can with a mouse embryo. Take the image shown for instance, of focal adhesion kinase (which I chose arbitrarily, as something I’m familiar with), at day 14.5 of gestation (relatively late in development). Darker color indicates some expression of this protein. Now, some understanding of histology helps to understand what the image shows, but it is informative nonetheless. And, it’s beautiful, in a geeky sort of way.
As a tool, GenePaint illustrates the biologist’s need for atlases in studying complexity, just as biologists need classification to understand diversity – the need to generalize a wealth of information into simpler rules and functions.
At the moment, GenePaint is still restricted to histology mapping of the brain and whole embryo. It’s fair to say that these are good starting points, especially for neuroscience and developmental biology. What about molecular and (especially) cell biology though? I may be biased, but I think that that is a useful goal – to move towards an atlas of subcellular localizations of genes across the diversity of cell types in animals.
Hat tip: Retrospectacle