July 2010

Volume 24 Issue 7

The Scientist July 2010 Cover




Contributors Peter Satir, a native New Yorker, became interested in ciliary motility when he saw protozoans swimming for the first time at Bronx High School of Science. Satir is currently a distinguished university professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the anatomy and structural biology department, where he researches the mechanisms of primary cilia signaling, evolution of cilia, ciliogenesis, and nanotechnology using molecular motors. The questi

All the News That's Fun to Print

By Sarah Greene All the News That’s Fun to Print Scientific dialogue and that in the popular press can diverge radically. Why not explain that natural selection has already “engineered” the most invidious creatures imaginable? It’s a fun time to be a biologist. The Science paper from the J. Craig Venter Institute on reengineering a Mycoplasma cell using the techniques of synthetic biology stole the media spotlight for several wee


Mail Synthetic Bio, Meet “FBIo” If the FBI wants to help protect scientists from bioterrorism, strategy needs to be first on this list, not last. Unless the FBI understands that, they won’t get anywhere. Scientists will be justifiably reluctant to work with law enforcement until they can be assured that the policies and procedures that led to the Steve Kurtz persecution have been fundamentally changed. Any lab that messed up a


Eavesdroppings Science Quotations of the Month © Brucie Rosch “From the point of view of aesthetic and intellectual elegance, it is a bad experiment. But it is nevertheless a big discovery...It proves that sequencing and synthesizing DNA give us all the tools we need to create new forms of life.” —Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson on the Venter synthetic biology paper in Science, quoted in Edge.org. “The price we wil

Litter bug

By Tia Ghose Litter bug Toxoplasma gondii protozoan, colored transmission electron micrograph (TEM) © Dr. Klaus Boller / Photo Researchers, Inc. When Melissa Miller, a veterinarian at the Department of Fish and Game in Santa Cruz, wrote an International Journal of Parasitology paper describing how a cat parasite that causes brain lesions was reaching Central California’s sea otters in 2002, she also put out a press release. Reporters were intrigue

Alphabet soup

By Richard P. Grant Alphabet soup Why are we here? It’s a question that’s puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. “Every human society has its story of how everything began,” says William Martin, who studies evolution at the University of Düsseldorf. “Scientists do, too. It’s a fundamental human need. We want to know where we belong in the bigger picture.” One of the biggest unknowns is how th

TOP 7 FROM F1000

Top 7 From F1000 Image by Tamily Weissman and Jean Livet / Harvard University 1. Mice have it licked » Imaging of many cortical neurons simultaneously in live mice maps crosstalk between specific neuron clusters, showing how brain circuits remodel while mice learn a task—in this case licking of water in response to different smells. T. Komiyama et al., Nature, 464:1182–86, 2010 Eval by Noam Ziv, Technion, Israel; Mark Mayford, Th

One on One: Cell talk

One on One: Cell talk Martin Humphries on a paper that uses single-molecule techniques to resolve an important biological controversy. Cells bind to and communicate with the extracellular matrix via transmembrane integrins, enabling cells to respond to changes in their environment. To increase integrins’ affinity for ligand, the cell induces a process called “activation.” The details of how activation occurs, however, have been a mystery


Is the Synthetic Cell about Life?

By Gregory Kaebnick Is the “Synthetic Cell” about Life? A bioethicist explores the soul of Venter’s new life form and of his experiment © 2010 Francesco Francavilla / www.francescofrancavilla.com The announcement that the J. Craig Venter Institute has succeeded (finally) in synthesizing the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides—inserting it into a cell of Mycoplasma capricolum whose genome had been removed, and creating a fully functioning My

Scientists vs. Engineers

By H. Steven Wiley Scientists vs. Engineers One prefers the unknown, the other can’t stand it. Now more than ever, we have to find a way to get along. We are starting to get to a point where the engineering sciences can make a real impact on our progress. In the past, I have heard there was conflict between the “two cultures” of science and the humanities. I don’t see a lot of evidence for that type of conflict today, mostly because my

Eyelashes Up Close

By Peter Satir Eyelashes Up Close Cilia are a must-have appendage, and they do much more than swat bodily currents—indeed, new research is suggesting they play an important role in development and disease. © Dennis Kunkel / Visuals Unlimited When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek looked down at a prokaryote through his simple microscope made of a single mounted lens back in the 1660s, he discovered the first organelle. Captivated by the fluttering “legs

Brain, Interrupted

By Megan Scudellari BRAIN, INTERRUPTED It affects thousands per day, yet has no treatment, and receives only a small fraction of the funding allocated to much less common diseases. Now, researchers studying traumatic brain injury are making a last-ditch effort to transform the field. MedicalRF.com On a sunny Friday, postdoc Suzanne McKenna pulled into a left turn lane in Cary, NC, and stopped, waiting for the light to change. It was time to wrap up a few err

Survey Methodology

The Scientist Readers' Survey: Methodology Best Places to Work in Academia 2010 Survey Form: A web-based survey form was posted on the web using Infopoll software from September 9, 2009 - March 8, 2010. Results were collected and collated automatically. Invitations: E-mail invitations were sent to readers of The Scientist and registrants on The Scientist web site who identified themselves as life scientists with a permanent position in an academic, hospital

Survey Questions

The Scientist Readers' Survey: Survey Questions Best Places to Work in Academia 2010 Category Question Job Satisfaction My work gives me great personal satisfaction. Job Satisfaction My research activities are valued by my colleagues. Job Satisfaction My teaching activities are valued by my students. Peers My peers are excellent scientists. Peers There is a high level of coop

Radical Thinking

By Karen Hopkin Radical Thinking Tom Tullius has coopted the chemistry of free radicals and other energetic particles to unravel the structures of proteins, DNA, and the alliances they form. © Leah Fasten As a graduate student at Stanford University in the late 1970s, Tom Tullius hung upside down off piers to pluck gelatinous, green-blooded tunicates off the pilings. He took to the fields to harvest bag after bag of bean leaves. And he imported envelo

Destroy to Create

By Judith Stegmüller and Azad Bonni Destroy to Create The ubiquitin protein degradation system has a distinct role in neurogenesis. Neural stem cell culture. Fluorescent light micrograph of a group of neural stem cells (neurosphere) in culture, showing the stem cells migrating out of the central neurosphere (pale region). © Riccardo Cassiani-Ingoni / Photo Researchers, Inc. Destroying proteins may seem like an odd way of promoting new growth, but this


ATP: power and torque

By Richard Grant ATP: power and torque Courtesy of Daniela Stock The paper A.K. Lee et al., “The structure of the peripheral stalk of Thermus thermophilus H+-ATPase/synthase,” Nat Struct Mol Biol, 17:373–78, 2010. The finding Just like the turbines in a hydroelectric power plant, the revolving ‘turbine’ of the energy-generating ATPase requires a stationary component to counteract the rotation of proteins in the core. Daniela St

Skin of heart

By Richard Grant Skin of heart Dr Boris Strilic / Lammert laboratory The paper B. Strilic et al., “The molecular basis of vascular lumen formation in the developing mouse aorta,” Dev Cell, 17:505–15, 2009. The finding Ecki Lammert and colleagues at the University of Düsseldorf were looking to settle a debate: Do endothelial cells create blood vessels from expanding vacuoles, or do they flatten out and wrap into a hollow cylind

Power of one

Richard Grant Power of one © Sara Winter The paper J. S. Clark, “Individuals and the variation needed for high species diversity in forest trees,” Science, 327:1129–32, 2010. The finding For 50 years, ecological scientists have puzzled over why forests, which compete for the same few resources (sun, water, soil) are so diverse, when modeling predicts that such niches should yield low diversity. Now, Jim Clark of Duke Universit

Plant Matter Prowess

By Kelly Rae Chi Plant Matter Prowess Rooting out problems in biofuel production Plant matter is widely thought of as a promising alternative fuel source to petroleum. Of course, the key to unlocking lignocellulose—the main building block of plant cell walls and the most plentiful organic material on the planet—is to break down its hearty matrix of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin among others, and to do it as simply as possible. Turning pl

Fuel from Fallow

By Amy Coombs Fuel from Fallow Biologists seek to make energy from biodiesel waste. © MICHAEL AUSTIN After Rudolf Diesel debuted his peanut oil engine at the World’s Fair in 1900, it wasn’t uncommon to see hemp, tallow, and corn oil used for energy. But when fossil fuel prices dropped in the 1940s, biodiesel—a renewable fuel source made by separating methyl esters from glycerin in vegetable oil—fell into obscurity, and petroleum di

Administrating Science

By Lauren Urban Administrating Science Moving up in academia? How to take on administrative roles while still running a successful and productive lab. © KEITH NEGLEY When Susan Henry was a young professor of genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine she found herself acting as a liaison between graduate students and faculty; she says she just had a “knack” for that kind of work. Henry’s first administrative position was the dir

Perry's Arcana, 1810-1811

By Jef Akst Perry’s Arcana, 1810–1811 An architect by training, George Perry, Jr. from England was a self-proclaimed naturalist, publishing two largely graphical collections of the natural world—the Conchology, a large book that depicts shells of various species, and the Arcana, one of the first serial magazines of natural history. Each month, subscribers to the Arcana would receive a “little paper package” of loose-leaf pages—one to f

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