Are questions that deal with reverse-engineering/understanding biological phenomena on topic ?

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    All of the definition questions, the description of the site, and the commitment spread of expertise, all indicated that the goal here was computer/tech reverse engineering. I'm curious how the actual community feels about this subject, as it was a major discussion point internally when we were looking at the proposal. – Grace Note Mar 20 '13 at 14:02
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    Can someone (@AshRj ?) give an example of a biology-related question? I didn't see any in the proposal's questions section. – Ken Bellows Mar 20 '13 at 14:47
  • @KenB Off the top of my head, the bumble bee flight/aerodynamics would be a classic example (Not a purely biological one) – asheeshr Mar 20 '13 at 15:29
  • This describes the issue in detail en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_biology – asheeshr Mar 20 '13 at 15:31
  • I've read the article but it's still somewhat vague to me. Can you provide a concrete example of how a question would look like? Even your "classic example". – Igor Skochinsky Mar 20 '13 at 16:35
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    @GraceNote Basing the topic of a site on the Area 51 definition questions? That would be a first. The committers are all computer guys? So what else is new? If this site was solely about computer-related topics, it would be a tag on Stack Overflow (with perhaps a spread over to Electrical Engineering), not a separate site. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 20 '13 at 19:33
  • @IgorSkochinsky I am not into Biology really. But I do know for a fact that Biological Systems are studied using RE techniques. Some of the questions that I did come across were more like research topics than questions. As an example, molecular biology involves a lot of working backwards from observed effect to original cause. Gene codes and their relation to traits are something that involves reverse engineering. – asheeshr Mar 25 '13 at 15:32
  • I know this is an old question but I just stumbled upon this... The table of contents looks awesome. – Igor Skochinsky Jul 23 '13 at 13:34
  • @IgorSkochinsky How about posting a question based on something from the paper? It will be interesting to see the response it garners and may bring the issue of biology back into discussion (as it is pretty much unresolved). – asheeshr Jul 23 '13 at 14:31

I personally won't mind seeing any question about understanding "how things work", be it software, hardware, or a natural process. However, I suspect there won't be many biologists here so I don't know if you'll get any useful answers. Doesn't mean you can't try! Maybe there will be some insights that we can offer.

One example that just came to mind is the saying: "reverse engineering is like solving a crossword puzzle". First you get the easy and obvious words, then look at the intersections and try to guess the others. The more you uncover, the more you know about the yet unknown. I can see this being applied to almost anything that you need to understand.


Given the intended audience of the site, the scope extends to any field of engineering. It is not limited to computer-related topics, whatever the example questions on Area 51 might suggest (experience on Area 51 shows that the example questions rarely capture the topic of a site precisely and are best ignored once the beta starts).

However, biology is more about natural phenomena than about engineering. Reverse engineering applied to natural phenomena is called science. That's not what this site is about. Questions about understanding biological phenomena are best posted on Biology Stack Exchange.

That being said, if you have a biology question that you think is related to reverse engineering, please ask it. Such things are best debated based on examples, not in the abstract.

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    And reverse engineering can't be science? – Igor Skochinsky Mar 20 '13 at 19:55
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    @IgorSkochinsky Reverse engineering can be studied as a science, though it's far more technology than science. But what I'm saying is that the ordinary business of doing science is not reverse engineering. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 20 '13 at 20:02

I think that if you were reverse engineering a biological system and you the asker were an expert in biology but not reverse engineering it would be perfectly on topic.

If you come here asking how DNA works or how do I use a printer to print amino acids and inject those in a cell... and such. Then you should be on a biology SE and not here. It would be akin to asking a question about how to use a text editor or IDE here.

I think such question probably will need a great deal of context but if a person is an expert in the field of thier reverse engineering then they should be able to provide that. In any case DNA computers are real and based in classical computing unlike quantum computers. In the end the question should probably be devided into RE and Biology related parts.

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