Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our comprehensive coverage of the second round of the Science Spring Showdown. We had two great games yesterday, and we have two more match ups today. The game between Phylogenetics and Unipotent is just underway, and the final game of the round, between HIV and Psychology, is coming up this afternoon.

Jim Pipetman: Yesterday’s first game, between the top seeded Invertebrates and the ninth seeded Surgeons, turned out like most of the experts predicted. The Surgeons came into the game bragging about their backbone, but they couldn’t identify the Intvertebrates’ hearts. Literally. The Surgeons began by attacking the arthropods from the ventral side, only to discover the body plan was reversed from the vertebrate plan they were so used to.


Sally Agar: That’s right, Jim. As you can see here, the insects have a DORSAL heart. The Surgeons employed their best cardiac specialist on that initial maneuver, but they simply couldn’t reach the heart from the ventral side. If they had only sent their neurosurgeons in on the ventral attack, they may have been able to slice the main nerve chord then and there — rendering the insects utterly helpless.

Jim Pipetman: That pretty much summed up the Surgeons’ day. The arthropods were able to build a big lead before they passed off the scoring duties to the mollusks. And if you thought grasshoppers and spiders would give the Surgeons fits, you should have seen the looks on their faces when they encountered the clams.

Sally Agar: In fact, it was the bivalves in general that wreaked havoc on the Surgeons. When it came time to deploy the mollusks, you’d think the Invertebrates would have gone with the colossal squid. But they caught the Surgeons totally off guard with a lamellibranchia attack.

Jim Pipetman: Upon hearing about their heavy reliance on the foot, the Surgeons sent their podiatric specialists after the bivalves. But they couldn’t figure out what to do with it. After the game, Dr. Tarsus Phalanges remarked, “There were no bunions, no calluses, no nothing to operate on. We were lost.”

Sally Agar: In the end, the Invertebrates destroyed the Surgeons, 158-37. The grasshopper led the Invertebrates in scoring, with 62 points. The combination of his quickness and agility was too much for the Surgeons to handle. But the game wasn’t without controversy. Here’s our own Jean Informatique with a breakdown from Louis Pasteur Arena.

Jean Informatique: Thank you, Sally. Yes, there was some controversy when the Invertebrates inserted a lancelet into the lineup. The Surgeons’ head coach claimed that the lancelet is a fish, and fish are vertebrates. But the official judge on systematics and taxonomy pointed out that the small cephalochordate, while a member of the phylum chordata, is not a vertebrate because it lacks a spine. This all happened after the game was pretty much in the bag, so it probably shouldn’t affect the Invertebrates as they get ready for their game in the next round.

Jim Pipetman: Thanks for the report, Jean. In the second match up yesterday, Genomics and Photosynthesis squared off in what can only be described as the marquee game of the second round. This was a back and forth battle between two evenly matched teams fighting for the right to play the Invertebrates in the Sweet 16. Here’s Sally with the highlights.

Sally Agar: Yes, Jim, it was quite a battle. Photosynthesis loaded their starting line up with eukaryotes, hoping to protect their chemical reactions in intracellular organelles. Genomics responded by sequencing the entire chloroplast genome of every plant the Photosynthesis squad put on the court. Everyone in Charles Darwin Arena was impressed by their ambition, but no one could figure out how exactly this approach would help them crack Photosynthesis. To the end of the first half, where the score was 20-20. With under one minute to play in the half, Photosyntesis head coach Melvin Calvin called a time out and substituted all the plants out of the game, replacing them with cyanobacteria. This strategy helped Photosynthesis close out the half on an 8-0 run and take a 28-20 lead into the locker room.

Jim Pipetman: It’s not like Craig Venter and his Genomics squad didn’t see this one coming. They came out in the second half with a wide array of environmental sequencing projects — unleashing a combination of Sanger and 454 for quite a double punch. Their goal: characterize all the bacterial photoautotrophs at the genomic level. And the Photosynthesis squad kept sending more and more previously uncharacterized organisms at the Genomics team. The microbial diversity was simply too much for the genomics squad to handle, and it seemed like there was no way they could make up the eight point halftime deficit.

Sally Agar: But with under two minutes to play in the game, Genomics only found themselves trailing by five — an amount they could make up with some clever multiplexing. You could hear the cheers from the genomics section: “Phred! Phrap! Autotrophs ain’t all that!” Genomics pounded away, driving at the Photosynthesis squad with all their sequencers, assembly algorithms, and powerful computers. But, alas, it was too little, too late, and Photosynthesis held on to win 59-58.

Jim Pipetman: What does this loss mean for the future of Genomics? For an expert opinion we go to the Applied Biosystems headquarters.

ABI Spokesman: Genomics employed a good strategy, but it ultimately backfired. The high volume attack works well for generating lots of data, but, in the end, the Genomics team was overwhelmed by too much data. In the span of a 40 minute game, you simply do not have enough time to assemble and annotate all those sequences. This is a team designed to complete over an entire season not win a one-and-done tournament. You put them in a best of seven series, and they take the whole thing.

Jim Pipetman: Can we match the down to the wire excitement of that game? Phylogenetics has jumped out to an early 10-4 lead over Unipotent, and HIV and Psychology is coming up soon. We’ll bring you results of both of those games as soon as they go final.


  1. #1 David Ng
    March 21, 2007


  2. #2 BRC
    March 21, 2007

    what dave said, you bar raiser.

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