June 2010

Volume 24 Issue 6

The Scientist June 2010 Cover




Contributors For 16 years, Carmen Sapienza has been a faculty member of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia. He says that once scientists sequenced the human genome, Mendelian diseases became more completely understood, however, most “people in hospital beds aren’t dying from Mendelian diseases.” There’s clearly a lot more to learn, and in "Sticky Fingers", Sapienza and his colleague Ionel Sandovic

Our Science, Our Selves

By Sarah Greene Our Science, Our Selves Gender biases are deep, entrenched, and persistent. What science stands to lose as a result. There’s reason to fear greater disparity in coming years. This month’s Careers feature ("Are Women Better PIs?") opens with a story from Sue Rosser, author of the recently published Women, Science, and Myth: Gender Beliefs from Antiquity to the Present. In 1973, as a postdoc in zoology at the University of Wis


Mail A Better Mouse Let's take a dynamic, adaptive ecology (cancer) and while paying lip service to its complexity actually study it like a static system.1 Let's take a chronic, degenerative disease of aging (Parkinson's) and study it in healthy young rodents given an acute injury. Let's ignore that we know that health and disease are processes with complicated interdependencies and then wonder why our models fail to be predictive. And let


By Jef Akst Wiki-annotating Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an electrically integrated network of bacteria. Photo by Bruce Arey and provided by Yuri Gorby Have you ever been told you couldn’t get funding because you weren’t asking for enough of it? Sounds absurd, right? That’s how Richard J. Roberts of New England Biolabs in Massachusetts felt when he heard over and over from funding agencies that they simply didn’t have a

Dr. Chocolate

By Chris Tachibana Dr. Chocolate Gilbert W. Arias / Seattle PI “Here, put on this hair net,” says Andy McShea. He walks through the showroom of the Theo Chocolate factory, past heaps of chunky samples on gleaming slate. McShea is the Chief Operating Officer of the 4-year-old company, which he describes as the fastest-growing organic, fair-trade chocolate producer in the country. He’s known as Doc Choc, because he came to Theo Chocolate

TOP 7 FROM F1000

Top 7 From F1000 © Mark Kostich 1. How snakes see heat » Finally, an explanation for the long-standing mystery of how snakes sense warm-blooded prey from just their body heat, sometimes at a meter’s distance—the “wasabi receptor” TRPA1, which detects chemical irritants in mammals, has evolved in pit vipers to respond to heat. E.O. Gracheva et al., Nature 2010 Apr 15, 464(7291):1006–11. Evaluated by Roger Hardi

Make mine a double

By Richard Grant Make mine a double After their first snifter, they get a little hyperactive. A little bit more, and they start to stagger. Eventually, given enough to drink, they fall over and can’t get back up. Sound familiar? It does to Anita Devineni at the University of California, San Francisco, who has been looking at alcohol preferences—not in humans, but in Drosophila. In the process, she has developed a method that may help

3D Science

3D Science Ken Yamada discusses a paper that presents a new relatively cheap and easy way for scientists to grow cells in three dimensions. The role of dimensionality is a growing field in cell biology, but many labs cannot afford new tools that let cells grow in three dimensions—which could, in theory, better represent what happens in vivo. As a member of F1000’s Faculty of Cell Biology, Ken Yamada at the National Institute of Dental and C

Open Biology's Quest to Explode Data

By John Wilbanks Open Biology’s Quest to Explode Data A “science commons” at the data-intensive layer will encourage scholarly collaboration and communication—and spur drug discovery. “Network of Networkers” by Alex Pico using the Cytoscape gene network tool. Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and the founder of 3Com, observed that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the numbe


Think Outside the Bio-Box

By H. Steven Wiley Think Outside the Bio-Box We like to complain, but it’s a great time to be a biologist—as long as you don’t just think about academia. The idea that having a position at a research university is the best job possible is specious. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal listed the best jobs in America, based on their associated work environment, income, hiring outlook, physical demands, and stress factors. Biologist w

How a proposal becomes an earmark

By Bob Grant How a proposal becomes an earmark © tim tomkinson Attracting an earmark isn’t always as simple as shaking the right hands in the back halls of Congress. “I think it’s really a misunderstanding to think that this all ends with a Congressman sneaking language into some bill that then gets passed in the middle of the night as part of some omnibus appropriation and ‘boom’ it’s done,” says URI Pres

How to get an earmark

By Bob Grant How to get an earmark An earmarkable research project should… 1. Result in a direct economic impact that benefits the local area or the United States as a whole. 2. Have clearly defined timelines. 3. Mesh with a clear goal held by a particular federal agency. 4. Employ the unique knowledge, skills and/or capabilities of local experts, units, or institutions. 5. Have a direct, positive effect on local and state stakeholders. 6. Add s

$2.5 million for new antibody technique

By Bob Grant $2.5 million for new antibody technique © tim tomkinson At North Dakota University, it was a flock of geese in the rural reaches of the upper Midwest that ended up attracting earmarked money from Washington, DC to Grand Forks. A goose farm 64 kilometers west of the university was looking for something it could do with all the leftover goose blood it was accumulating. The goose herders sought help from researchers at UND, and in 2008 they got

+$20 million for brain imaging institute

By Bob Grant +$20 million for brain imaging institute © tim tomkinson Some earmarks have had a lasting effect. A $10 million earmark in the 1997 energy appropriations bill helped launch a project that was then called the National Foundation for Functional Brain Imaging—later known as the MIND Institute, and now the Mind Research Network (MRN)—headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The nonprofit organization comprised a collaborative effor

Shock and Age

BY RICHARD MORIMOTO Shock and Age The accumulation of misfolded protein marks the accrual of years as the body ages. Could heat shock proteins be used to reduce the effects of aging and diminish the risk of disease by untangling improperly folded proteins? © Thom Graves What does a molecular thermometer look like? This seemed to be a simple question, not much different from the many science fair projects I had done in grade school and high school

Carpe Datum

By Karen Hopkin Carpe Datum Embracing new tools and ideas—even a switch from literature to science—Gregory Petsko has seized every opportunity to understand enzyme function and to make science matter. © Leah Fasten A Rhodes scholarship changed Gregory Petsko’s life—before he even set foot in England. Petsko, now a professor of biochemistry and chemistry at Brandeis University, majored in classical literature as an under-g

Sticky fingers

By Ionel Sandovici and Carmen Sapienza Sticky fingers A single protein recognizes different sequences in different organisms and drives speciation. Computer graphic of a two zinc-finger peptide (yellow) binding to a DNA (red and blue) molecule. © KEN EWARD / BIOGRAFX / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY Homologous recombination physically links together chromosomes at the first division in meiosis by sharing DNA strands between chromosomes. This creates genetic variat

Splicing markup

By Richard Grant Splicing markup Julie Blencowe The paper: R.F. Luco et al., “Regulation of alternative splicing by histone modifications,” Science, 327:996–1000, 2010. (ID: 2000983) The finding: Alternative splicing, or the shuffling of exons that ultimately become an mRNA message, is one of the “last of the fundamental gene expression mechanisms we don’t understand,” said Tom Misteli from t


Budget genome

By Richard Grant Budget genome Courtesy of Jay Shendure The paper S.B. Ng et al., “Exome sequencing identifies the cause of a Mendelian disorder,” Nat Genet, 42:30–35, 2009. (ID: 1600956) The finding: Tracking down the genetic cause of inherited diseases is time consuming and expensive. But Jay Shendure of the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences found a way to make it a whole lot easier. Instead of

Micro vs. micro

By Edyta Zielinska Micro vs. micro © Dr. Yorgos Nikas / Photo Researchers, Inc. The paper: C. Melton et al., “Opposing microRNA families regulate self-renewal in mouse embryonic stem cells,” Nature, 463:621–26, 2010. (ID: 1899956) The finding: In 2007, when Robert Blelloch from the University of California, San Francisco knocked out most microRNAs in embryonic stem (ES) cells, he noticed that the cells could no longer s

Milica Radisic: Mending broken hearts

By Lauren Urban Milica Radisic: Mending broken hearts © Hill Peppard Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, and Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. Age: 33 One night while working in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grad student Milica Radisic saw how “beautifully and perfectly” an individual cardiomyocyte was pulsating when she

Let the Data Flow

By Kelly Rae Chi Let the Data Flow Rethink your data analysis tools for flow cytometry. Since its invention in the 1960s, flow cytometry—a technique used to identify and sort specific populations of cells—has extended its reach beyond immunol-ogists to those performing diverse assays in both the basic and clinical research arenas. Whether you are using the technology to detect rare stem cells or to diagnose blood disorders, the vast improvement

Building Better Proteins

By Bob Grant Building Better Proteins Antibodies are big business. And emerging technologies to optimize their therapeutic potential may make them even bigger. A virus (blue) surrounded by immunoglobulin (IgG) molecules. The Y-shaped antibody molecules have two arms that can bind to specific antigens, marking pathogens for destruction by immune cells. © TIM VERNON / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY There are approximately 24 monoclonal antibody therapies on th

Are Women Better PIs?

By Edyta Zielinska Are Women Better PIs? Do women excel as leaders or are they more critical of female subordinates? Some research-based advice for leaders and their employees. © Jennifer Borton When Sue Rosser was doing her postdoc in zoology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she got pregnant with her second child. She went to her principal investigator (PI) to discuss how to proceed with her project. He said there was no way her

US Malaria Deaths, 1870

By Lauren Urban US Malaria Deaths, 1870 While malaria still kills over 1 million people each year, most of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa—the United States has been free of the disease since 1951. In the 19th century, however, malaria was extremely common within the United States, with over 1 million cases reported during the Civil War alone. The map below depicts deaths from malaria in 1870—10 years before the malaria parasite

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