December 2002

Volume 16 Issue 24

The Scientist December 2002 Cover




Frontlines Photo: Courtesy of Jokn Tooker Imagine the gall Humans don't usually select mates on the basis of their gall, but the male gall wasp does. Antistrophus rufus can search through a maze of dead plants and locate an inconspicuous gall that houses his intended bride, thanks to his ability to detect modified plant chemicals. Graduate student John Tooker and adviser Lawrence Hanks were studying wasp sympatric speciation, examining the chemical cues that gall wasps use to distinguish pla


Salute to Sagacity

"Men are only so good as their technical developments allow them to be." --George Orwell, Inside the Whale and Other Essays, 1940 There are numerous awards and prizes for scientific achievement, and rightly so. Today's researchers are heavily dependent on sophisticated laboratory equipment, specialized software, and electronic access to databases. Orwell's maxim has never been so relevant. Yet recognizing excellence in the provision of these services has been remarkably lacking. That omi


Animals in Research

Animals in Research As a college professor, I was interested to read your opinion on animal research.1 My interest and experience is in animal use in college laboratories. I taught at Iona College, a medium-sized liberal arts college in New Rochelle, NY, from 1991 until 2001 and am currently teaching at Montgomery College in Germantown, Md. While at Iona, I came to believe that using animals in college was counterproductive for several reasons. In particular, I found that, in any class, ther

On Chaperones

On Chaperones Your article, "Chaperones to the Rescue,"1 implied that the use of specific compounds (agonists, antagonists, substrates, or modulators) as chaperones to rescue misfolded proteins is a novel concept. To set the record straight, we draw your attention to the paper where it was first reported in 1997 that specific substrates and modulators could be used as a strategy to prevent protein misfolding in P-glycoprotein.2 These specific chaperones rescued misfolded proteins that had m

DNA Mouthwash, Revisited

DNA Mouthwash, Revisited I just noticed a reader's letter1 that was critical of your article on the DNA Mouthwash.2 The letter writer works for a clinical research center at a university hospital in Utah. He is not a forensic scientist and is apparently not familiar with the saliva-vs.-blood issue in the forensic community. First, the safety issue (HIV, hepatitis C, etc.) is driving crime labs away from the use of blood draws. Second, the issue of quantity of DNA recovered from saliva vs. b

On Ferreting Out Fraud

On Ferreting Out Fraud We envy universities who have antifraud squads in the sciences.1 Our university not only slipped badly in past AsiaWeek surveys of Asian universities (mercifully when AsiaWeek folded up, the annual ranking stopped), but has been struggling with shortsighted, stopgap, and ineffective solutions to shore up its merit system in academic appointments, promotions and grant of tenure, and research capabilities. Instead of actively seeking research funding, we make do with sma

Blackboard vs. Laptop

Blackboard vs. Laptop You're right! PowerPoint is out of control.1 Speakers have forgotten that they are expected to speak. Graphics are to support the speaker, not vice versa. How many speakers have you heard say, when presenting a slide full of words, "You probably can't read this." If the audience can't read it, don't show it! Andrew R. Anderson, PE, DEE Hart Crowser Inc. 150 Warren St., Second Floor Jersey City, NJ 07302 1. R. Lewis, "Bring back the blackboard," The Scientist, 1

Commercialization of Academic Research

Commercialization of Academic Research No doubt, there are abuses in commercialization of research at universities.1 I know of some, at universities and in industry. In two of these cases, academic researchers knew that the invention was stolen from them (in one instance by a small company, in another by a researcher in a different university), but they declined to take any action. Abuses may call for some improvements in the law or in procedures, but not for abandoning the system of protect

ance, and Sell

Erutan, Séance, and Sell Interesting that you should suggest that we should not take the "Big Three" so seriously.1 Sir Hans Krebs was more than dismissive toward Nature. His advice to young scientists was not to publish in comics! He did, however, have a most interesting item [in Nature] (215:1244, 1967) on "The making of a scientist," clearly having put behind him the disappointment he must have experienced when a paper on his observations eventually leading to his Nobel Prize-winning


Harmless Energizers or Dangerous Drugs?

Photo: Barry Palevitz HELP OR HINDRANCE? Ephedra-containing products like those pictured above are coming under increased scrutiny. You've probably seen the ads in the supermarket checkout aisle, or on radio and TV. "I lost 63 pounds with Hydroxycut," screams the headline in Cosmopolitan, above pictures of a woman going from corpulent to bathing-beauty trim in 19 weeks. "Diet Fuel changes the shape of your life," claims another ad, this time sporting an ab-flashing model in boxing gloves


ACEs Wild

Photo: Courtesy of King Pharmaceuticals OLD DRUG, NEW USES: Ace inhibitor ALTACE Clinical trials are under way in the United States to test new uses for angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, as lab researchers around the world continue to compile evidence of further possibilities for the antihypertensive drugs. Meanwhile, a paper to be published this month presents a detailed theory that ACE functions at the start of a signaling pathway common to major diseases that are other

Above and Beyond

Photo: Courtesy of NASA ON THE HORIZON: New technologies will protect the health of astronauts on long space flights. Researchers at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) are developing technologies to identify and monitor anticipated and unanticipated microorganisms in space--technologies, they suggest, that could also help to more efficiently diagnose medical conditions down here on Earth, as well as help detect biological hazards in this post-Sept. 11 world.1-3 Geo


The Biological Basis of the Placebo Effect

Image: Getty Images The placebo effect baffles patients, confounds clinicians and frustrates drug developers. Until now, relatively little empirical evidence existed for the biological mechanisms that underlie the effect. But recently, researchers have begun approaching the challenge with methodological rigor. This new area of investigation, straddling basic and clinical realms, has evolved largely because of the novel, detailed window of observation offered by modern imaging technologies. "W

A Conversation with Stephen E. Straus

Photo: Courtesy of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Stephen E. Straus is the director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which was formally established in 1999. Prior to this appointment, he was chief of the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He recently chatted with reporters Brendan A. Maher and Eugene Russo. Q: Do you think there's lingering skepticism about NC

Is NCCAM a Sham?

Shark cartilage, coffee enemas, high-intensity light, and energy field manipulation: Complementary and alternative medicine has its curiosities and, of course, its doubters. Cancer biologist Saul Green, retired from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and now scientific editor of Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, says political pressure, not scientific merit, generates funding for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)--expected to exceed $113 milli

Targeted Comparative Sequencing Illuminates Vertebrate Evolution

Image: Courtesy of Elliott Marguiles  PIPS ON PARADE: Researchers used a MultiPipMaker to show the alignments, expressed as percent identity plots, between a human reference sequence and several other species. This is a 20 kb region surrounding exon 2 of the MET gene. Gap-free alignable segments are represented as horizontal lines along the human reference sequence; the line's height represents the identity of that alignment. Aristotle envisioned humanity as the pinnacle of a "Great Chai

Hot Paper

Atomic Resolution of Large Ribosomal Subunit Reveals Structure

Graphic: Courtesy of Peter Haebel RIBOSOME REVEALEDA view of the active site of the large ribosomal subunit. Proteins of this large assembly are shown in yellow; the ribosomal RNA is in gray. Scientifically speaking, the ribosome's make-up and raison d'etre is elementary: Composed of RNA and proteins, it's the cell site where amino acids get strung together to form new proteins. And, while protein synthesis is a well-studied cellular process, says Nenad Ban, assistant professor, Institute


Retrograde Signaling Another Way

The reports of two research groups interested in retrograde signaling caught the attention of investigators at the recent Society for Neuroscience (SFN)meeting; the teams used similar methods but arrived at two distinct conclusions. One team says that there is only one way to send nerve growth factor (NGF) signals from the axon to the cell body. The other group thinks that this retrograde signaling occurs in another way. Previously, scientists thought that when NGF bound to TrkA receptors at

Technology Profile

Lab Holiday Wish List

Illustration: ©2002 Ned Shaw Editor's Note: With the gift-giving season upon us, The Scientist wanted to know what today's life scientists would be most grateful to receive this holiday season. We queried researchers throughout the world for ways to push life sciences to the next level, whatever that level might be. The final list has eight interrelated items. KNOWLEDGE INTEGRATION One of the most commonly expressed wishes was the desire for broader integration of knowledge among dis

The Scientist Readers' Choice Awards

This past November, millions of Americans headed for the polls, exercising their right to participate in the democratic process. The Scientist also believes in the democratic process, and earlier in the year it asked readers to vote on who makes the best stuff. Lab stuff, that is--the instruments, gadgets, software, tools, and resources that make it possible, even enjoyable, to do lab research. The Web-based poll asked for free-form answers, so respondents could enter any product or company t


Cell Screening Goes High Throughput

Photo: Courtesy of Amersham Biosciences AMERSHAM BIOSCIENCE's IN Cell Analyzer system Drug discovery frequently involves the screening of large numbers of candidate compounds, and any technology that helps researchers weed out the less-promising contenders can potentially save pharmaceutical companies a great deal of time and money. But studying the subcellular effects of drugs has proven to be something of a drug-discovery bottleneck, as these assays are largely done in a nonautomated,

Toward a 'One-Chip-Fits-All' Array

Image: Courtesy of Exiqon Scientists at Vedbaek, Denmark-based Exiqon are working toward the goal of a "one-chip-fits-all" array based on the company's locked nucleic acid (LNA™) technology. According to Niels Ramsing, director of new technologies, Exiqon is currently developing a universal array that can be used to generate a hybridization pattern or "signature" for any given sample. A variety of assays could then be developed to compare the signature of the sample to standards specific

Locking Down Locked Nucleic Acids

Boulder, Colo.-based Proligo, under license from Danish biotech firm Exiqon, is now marketing a novel class of nucleic acid analogs called locked nucleic acids (LNA™). Sporting increased thermal stability, higher affinity for native nucleic acids, and enhanced resistance to nuclease activity, LNA outperforms DNA in several common applications. Structurally similar to RNA, LNA monomers are bicyclic compounds that bear a methylene linker that connects the nucleotide sugar ring's 2'-oxygen


Balancing Business and Science at ImClone

Artwork: Elena Lokshina, www.artblues.com John Mendelsohn had reached the pinnacle of his scientific career when he was called before US congressional investigators this autumn to answer questions about his role in ImClone Systems, the Manhattan technology company whose CEO, Sam Waksal, later pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges. The president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Mendelsohn had led the once-ailing research institution through what The Houston Chronic

Economizing on Your Grant

Image: Erica P. Johnson When it comes to doing research on the cheap, few scientists can hold a candle to the late physicist Herbert Anderson. While a graduate student at Columbia in the 1930s, he needed large amounts of tungsten for the cyclotron he was building. With his grant money all used up, Anderson started stealing light bulbs from subway platforms and mining them for tungsten. He continued the practice even after getting arrested by New York City police. In the end, he got enough tun

Fine Tuning

Protect Your Ideas

Photo: Courtesy of Raymond Fersko In the movie, Unforgiven, William Munny, the hardened gunfighter played by Clint Eastwood, remains standing after a high-mortality gunfight. The timid reporter who witnessed the shooting comes out of hiding and stutters while referring to one of the deceased: "He was unarmed." The gunfighter's taciturn reply: "He should've armed himself." The moral is clear. Science is no more immune to dishonesty or to unfair pressures and practices than are other disciplin


Getting Patents on Track at NIH

Image: Erica P. Johnson The National Institutes of Health has launched a new tracking system to streamline the licensing of discoveries. Officials hope the new system will improve the technology transfer process, allowing promising biomedical discoveries to be commercialized and brought to the public benefit more quickly. In October, the NIH activated TechTracS, a system to monitor technology transfers from intramural research programs. TechTracS uses computer database tools to help NIH offic

Let's get Physical ... Biophysical

Even before Francis Crick used his physics training to help calculate the structure of DNA, physics has informed biology. And while many biophysicists focus on basic research, they increasingly use their discipline to predict the effects of drugs before they are used in animal or human trials. Scientists also use quantitative and computational biophysics tools to answer questions about the cell: to predict protein folding or observe interactions between biological macromolecules in vivo. But

News Profile

John Gearhart

File photo It is a sobering time for US stem cell researchers. Just days after a national election set the stage for the possible criminalization of embryonic stem cell research, a popular television program portrayed such cells incubating in patients in coma, ready to be used to treat a wealthy man's Parkinson disease. A video presented at the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting in Baltimore a month earlier, however, told a very different story--this one real. The video showed

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