101 questions with a bioinformatician #2: Titus Brown

This post is part of a series that interviews some notable bioinformaticians to get their views on various aspects of bioinformatics research. Hopefully these answers will prove useful to others in the field, especially to those who are just starting their bioinformatics careers.


There is only one bioinformatician that I know of who has been made the subject of a twitter hashtag which compares him to Chuck Norris....step forward C. Titus Brown (just 'C' to his friends, 'Titus' to everyone else).

Titus is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics and Computer Science & Engineering at Michigan State University (or 'MMG & CSE at MSU' if you find that easier to say). You can find out more about his work on his lab's website, on his Living in an Ivory Basement blog, or from his twitter feed (@ctitusbrown).

Aside from his research, I think one of Titus's biggest contributions to bioinformatics is his commitment to open science. This (much longer) interview with him is a great read if you want to know more about his views on this. I really feel that science would be all the better if more scientists followed the path that Titus walks on this important issue.

In his spare time — and this just reiterates that he really is Chuck Norris — Titus is also a linebacker who played for a couple of years with the Cleveland Browns. Anyway, on to the 101 questions...


001. What's something that you enjoy about current bioinformatics research?

The range of biology problems that can be tackled!  Our ability to ask more detailed questions about important organisms and communities is growing daily, and it's just amazing to start to connect the genomic "dots".


010. What's something that you *don't* enjoy about current  bioinformatics research?

Oy... I get the sense that an awful lot of bioinformatics is focused on improving methods by 1 or 10%.  I don't know if that's useful and it doesn't seem like it would be satisfying, but you read papers with all these benchmarks and you realize that some poor graduate student slaved for half a year to push the edge on an algorithm that was already fast enough.

On the other hand, I would be the last person to gainsay someone else's bioinformatics project.  We've gone in what seemed like well-travelled directions and found virgin territory so I don't think this can be predicted very well.


011. If you could go back in time and visit yourself as a 18 year old, what single piece of advice would you give yourself to help your future bioinformatics career?

Learn more statistics. And chemistry.


100. What's your all-time favorite piece of bioinformatics software, and why?

It's a little self-absorbed, but: digital normalization. The fact that it works at all is stunning; that it works as well as it does is amazing; it's only 5 lines of code; and it took us over three years to figure it out!?


101. IUPAC describes a set of 18 single-character nucleotide codes that can represent a DNA base: which one best reflects your personality? 

N. I like being flexible.