Flagellae, the whip-like structures that many microorganisms use for propulsion, have long been a favourite case study for biologists. The search “bacterial flagellum” at PubMed generates 2 684 hits as of today, including 274 review articles. Without getting too deep into the literature, the flagellum is a complex, self-assembling piece of molecular machinery. Many of its proteins seem to be derived from other cellular machines, most notably secretory systems.
Parts of the science blogosphere are currently alight with debate regarding a recent PNAS paper which suggests that the 24 core flagellar proteins are derived from a single ancestral gene. Most of the debate is taking place over at The Panda’s Thumb. It’s been interesting to follow the progression from an opinion piece, through a rather dubious protein structure analysis (an area in which the main protagonist is clearly not an expert) to an attempt to replicate the findings.
That last point is important. There’s been a lot of comment about “trial by blogosphere” in this case. I have no problem with informed scientific debate on the Web – but let’s behave like scientists. If you take issue with someone’s data and findings, your very first action should be to analyse their data; either show that their analysis is wrong or your analysis is better. Otherwise it’s easy to come across as just another angry, opinionated blogger screaming into the void.