January 2010

Volume 24 Issue 1

The Scientist January 2010 Cover




Contributors Pascale Cossart is fascinated by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Cossart started studying the deadly pathogen in 1986 at the Pasteur Institute. At the time, numerous labs were trying to identify genes responsible for virulence in various bacteria. Her work with Listeria led to new concepts in infection biology. "By chasing answers to the questions that struck my curiosity, I've let Listeria lead me into new fiel

The Last Act

By Richard Gallagher The Last Act My final editorial. Ten problems I believe could bollix biology in years to come. After seven-and-a-half years as editor, and with 130-plus editorials behind me, I’m facing the tyranny of the blank page for the final time: my last editorial. How lucky I’ve been to be editor of this publication at this time. I often think of the poor editor of a glossy golf magazine who talked at a publishing me


Mail Promises, Promises Ok, this article about the dangers of scientific predictions1 is well written—but it is not saying anything hundreds have not said. Scientists make crazy promises. Hubris causes us to assert that we know what is right as though we have not been bitten by unintended consequences many, many times. But…there is plenty of blame to go around. Patients demand cures for complex diseases as though merely stomping your

A pipeline rerouted

By Victoria Stern A pipeline rerouted Crystals in gout. Light micrograph of uric acid crystals from a gouty joint, where they are causing an intensely painful attack of arthritis. © Alfred Pasieka / Photo Researchers, Inc. Thankfully, Barry Quart’s HIV drug appeared to be working. In recent Phase 1 testing, the compound, which blocks the activity of an enzyme HIV needs to continue its replication cycle, appeared to be well tolerated

The successful squish

By Jef Akst The successful squish GFP-tubulin spindle of a Ptk2 cell, before and after compression. Courtesy of Sophie Dumont It was the last week of her summer of research at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory on the coast of Massachusetts in 2007, and biophysicist Sophie Dumont decided to try one final experiment. With the state-of-the-art microscopes that had been loaned to the research station, Dumont started pressing on mammalian cells a

Research remand

While mulling over ideas for a group project in a graduate-level class in community ecology in 2007, PhD student Ryan O’Donnell recalled a question that had been nagging him for years.

Desperately seeking seahorses

—Jef Akst Desperately seeking seahorses Where were they? It was a question that plagued me during my anxiety-ridden dives in the summer of 2008, as I paddled through the bathlike waters of Tampa Bay, Fla., hoping to find enough seahorses to complete my graduate degree in evolutionary biology. After a month and a half of fruitless searching, I finally threw in the rag and headed back to Indiana University with the dreaded “failed field seas

A pioneer's perils

By Brendan Borrell A pioneer's perils Homme Hellinga © Les Todd / Duke University On a rainy morning at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., last fall, Duke University biochemist Homme Hellinga took the stage to sum up what he had been doing over the last 5 years with the $2.5 million Pioneer award he received in 2004. Unlike other NIH grants that require a strict game plan with concrete goals, the Pioneer award is a kind o


Outreach Going Wrong?

By Elizabeth A. Corley and Dietram A. Scheufele Outreach Going Wrong? When we talk nano to the public, we are leaving behind key audiences. Scholars, policy-makers, and outreach specialists in the nanotechnology community may be struggling with toxicological data and regulatory frameworks, but they seem to be able to agree on one thing: The public is unaware of the new technology and uninformed about the science behind it. Ironicall

Mind Your Manners

By Steven Wiley Mind Your Manners We need to treat each other with respect, or all of science will suffer. Being dismissive and emotional during public discussions makes you look bad to other people and erodes your credibility. There has been a lot of talk in the media about the loss of courtesy in modern society. By many criteria, it seems that people in general have lost a degree of politeness. Reading some of the online comments after several rec

Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?

By Bob Grant Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve? Some biologists are calling for a rethink of the rules of evolution. Evolution, by its very nature, is a dynamic process. But just as fluid are humankind’s efforts to understand, describe, and conceptualize that process. Out went Lamarck, in came Darwin. Mendel’s insights set the rules for genetic inheritance, then certain exceptions to Mendel’s rules materialized. So forth

Nice Shot

By Megan Scudellari Nice Shot Why vaccines are pharma’s Next Big Thing. ILLUSTRATION BY Jason Raish Late at night, a feverish young girl shuffled into her father’s room complaining of a sore throat. Maurice Hilleman examined the swollen bumps on his daughter’s neck. It was 1963. She had the mumps, a common childhood disease at the time, caused by a virus that inflames the salivary glands. Most cases are mild, but severe inf

The Maverick Bacterium

By Pascale Cossart The Maverick Bacterium Whether it’s powering through the cytoplasm leaving a trail of polymerized actin, activating an arsenal of virulence factors through changes in RNA structure, or storing the code for RNA transcripts on the wrong side of DNA, Listeria makes up its own rules for survival. © Hans Ackermann / Visuals Unlimited / Corbis After several years at the Pasteur Institute working on protein structure and

Tricky T Cells

By Katherine Bagley Tricky T Cells A new lymphocyte behind autoimmunity has created feverish excitement—and raised as many questions as it answers. TGF-β-Stimulated T cells; stained with a DNA-specific fluorochrome (blue), anti-RORγ (red) and anti-Foxp3 (green) monoclonal antibodies. Courtesy of Liang Zhou As the number of people suffering from autoimmune and inflammatory diseases continues to grow, scientists are

Hindering HIV

By Jef Akst Hindering HIV Courtesy of Devon Gregory and Marc Johnson The paper: S.J.D. Neil et al., “Tetherin inhibits retrovirus release and is antagonized by HIV-1 Vpu,” Nature 451:425–30, 2008. (Cited in 96 papers) The finding: To be released from some cells, HIV-1 requires an accessory protein called Vpu, suggesting that these cells carry a host factor that inhibits the release of virions

Baby bellies

By Victoria Stern Baby bellies © SPL / Photo Researchers, Inc. The paper: C. Palmer et al., “Development of the human infant intestinal microbiota,” PLoS Biol, 5:1556–63, 2007. (Cited in 101 papers) The finding: Chana Davis and her team at Stanford University School of Medicine designed a microarray to sequence small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) from microbes present in more t


Moss makeup

By Katherine Bagley Moss makeup © Jeremy Burgess / Photo Researchers, Inc. The paper: S. Rensing et al., “The Physcomitrella genome reveals evolutionary insights into the conquest of land by plants,” Science, 319: 64–69, 2008. (Cited in 126 papers). The finding: Seventy authors from more than 40 institutions sequenced the first genome of a nonvascular land plant, Physcomitrella patens.

Tara Kieffer: From helix to hepatitis

By Katherine Bagley Tara Kieffer: From helix to hepatitis © 2009 Leah Fasten Tara Kieffer fell in love with science during a visit to her father’s biology lab at Montgomery College in Maryland. Inspired by a model of DNA’s double helix, the 5- or 6-year-old Kieffer drew a replica of the structure that has hung on her walls ever since. “DNA was beautiful and it helped spark my interest in biology,” she says. Whil

Automate to Market

By Kelly Rae Chi Automate to Market Scientists-turned-entrepreneurs give their tips on creating an automated lab tool—and profiting from the fruits of their labors Automation is an area where life scientists often see opportunities for innovation; doing the same technique day in and day out unsurprisingly brings to mind ways to ease and speed the process. If you’ve invented an automated tool, colleagues in other labs could very likely benefi

Home-Base Biotech

By Katherine Bagley Home-Base Biotech African and international efforts are boosting the continent’s biotech industry—for now. Employees of Aspen Pharmaceutical Research Laboratories, which produce generic drugs including AIDS medicines, sort tablets in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. © AP Photo / John MCconnico As H1N1 spread from continent to continent in 2009, there was growing concern over the severity of swine

Power Couples

By Victoria Stern Power Couples © Carl Wiens Three highly productive couples give advice on how to balance life at home and in the lab. Elizabeth Guenthner, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, might have thought twice about agreeing to go out with her internal medicine intern Gary Nabel, had she known their first date would turn out like a scene from Pulp Fiction. While deciding what to order, a masked man appea

Transfer RNA Model, 1975

By Deborah Douglas Transfer RNA Model, 1975 A wire model of tRNA. Top left is the “anticodon loop.” Courtesy of Deborah Douglas / MIT Museum In 1965, Cornell biochemist Robert Holley deciphered the 77 nucleotide sequence of transfer RNA. Three years later, Holley was awarded the Nobel Prize for this work, but already the race to determine tRNA’s three-dimensional structure was in full swing. At least six laboratories around the world

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