September 2010

Volume 24 Issue 9

The Scientist September 2010 Cover




Contributors Anna Marie Pyle is a professor at Yale University who works on unraveling RNA folding and the dynamic process of RNA assembly (p. 34). Her love for science was seeded by her physician father and blossomed during a childhood spent playing in the Sandia National Laboratory’s backyard in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I was always surrounded by people who loved science and nature,” she says. From an amateur chemist who’d mix and bub


Mail Eyelashes Up Close Fascinating article by Peter Satir about cilia’s role in development and disease.1 I wonder if improper immune responses like vasculitis might be caused by degradation of the non-motile cilia on the mast cells along the lumen. The known chemical responses to foreign matter in the bloodstream which trigger inflammation through the histamine reaction along with leukocyte activity might be intimately linked to the sensi


Eavesdroppings Science Quotations of the Month © Hadley Hooper “It’s still acceptable in [the UK] for people to say, almost as an aside, while drinking their claret, ‘Of course, I don’t understand science, I did classics.’ You’re not considered to be a philistine....But [this] should be like driving around without a seatbelt….It should become just an unacceptable thing to do.” —Brian Cox, phys

Guerilla science

By Katherine Bagley Guerilla science Armed with a master’s degree in chemistry from Oxford University, Richard Bowdler did the unexpected—he took a break from the lab, started work as a memory consultant, and took a gig dreaming up eccentric games for a British music and arts festival. For 3 years, Bowdler organized wheelchair races and set up driving ranges for golfers who hit eggs and fruits rather than balls at the annual Secret Garden Party, hel

TOP 7 FROM F1000

Top 7 From F1000 Wikiagk / wikimedia commons 1. Gene + virus + injury = disease? » New details on how the interaction of genes and environment results in disease: A bowel disease resembling Crohn’s needs a specific mutation, virus, and injury to develop in mice. K. Cadwell et al., Cell, 141:1135–45, 2010. Eval by A. Baum and A. Farcia-Sastre, Mt Sinai; C. Karp, Cincinnati Children’s; C. Weber and J. Turner, Univ of Chicago. http://bi

Metal therapy

Metal therapy Jon Zubieta talks about the promise of new metal-based compounds in treating cancer. Platinum-based compounds, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, are among the most powerful and widely used chemotherapeutic drugs. Their platinum centers bind to the DNA of cancer cells, ultimately triggering apoptosis. Unfortunately, resistance to these drugs is fairly common across a variety of cancer types. Inorganic chemist and F1000 member Jon Zubieta discusses th

Redesigning Scientific Reputation

By Bo Adler, Luca de Alfaro, and Ian Pye Redesigning Scientific Reputation Rewards and incentives for online collaboration can make better science. © Greg Mably The current system of peer-reviewing scientific publications has the momentum of centuries, and is still ruled by a rigid cycle based on its original print medium. The review phase must be complete before publication takes place; once the work is published, it cannot be updated. While insightful comme


Crowdsourcing Drug Discovery

By Stephen Friend Crowdsourcing Drug Discovery Fact: The current system of finding new drugs is not working. Here’s what to do about it. Are we in denial about the state of drug discovery? This is a question I recently asked a room full of leading thinkers from the pharmaceutical, academic, and nonprofit worlds assembled for a Wellcome Trust meeting on precompetitive boundaries in drug discovery. At the time, I certainly thought so. The current system for d

Touching RNA

By Anna Marie Pyle TOUCHING RNA RNA can bind and sense the shapes of other molecules by feeling them with its backbone— and not just its bases. What gives RNA molecules this remarkable versatility? Illustrations by Magda Wojtyra he molecular world has always been part of my mental furniture. I grew up on the outskirts of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, famed for its research on energy, materials, and nuclear weapons. My dad was a

Why Trust A Reporter?

By Edyta Zielinska WHY TRUST A REPORTER? What science writers are looking for and why it behooves you to answer their calls. here was a time when the public saw newspaper reporters as heroic figures. In those days, “Men wore hats and pounded away on the typewriter with two fingers,” says neuroscientist Richard Ransohoff, whose father was a beat reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer and Post and Times-Star through the early 1960s. His father “kn

Web Gems

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Winners of The Scientist Labbies - 2010

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Catalyzing RNA

By Sean P. Ryder Catalyzing RNA Finding hidden ribozymes in eukaryotic genomes 3D structure of a hammerhead ribozyme Cossa Giacomo / pdb file 1RMN Once thought to be a biological rarity, self-cleaving RNA enzymes—ribozymes—are being discovered in increasing numbers, thanks to new search tools. Now, in addition to studying their unusual chemical properties, scientists will be able to identify ribozymes in useful

Careless expression

By Cristina Luiggi Careless expression Courtesy of Sigal Ben-Yehuda The paper M. Meyerovich et al., “Visualizing high error levels during gene expression in living bacterial cells,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 107:11543–48, 2010. The finding Bacteria are not perfect when deciphering DNA into proteins. Sigal Ben-Yehuda and colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that transcriptio


Bright moves

By Jennifer Welsh Bright moves Courtesy of Anna Chuen Chuen Jang and Denise Montell The paper X. Wang, et al., “Light-mediated activation reveals a key role for Rac in collective guidance of cell movement in vivo,” Nature Cell Biology, 12:591–98, 2010. The finding When Denise Montell and her team at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine engineered an actin cytoskeleton-regulating protein

A piston proton pump

By Richard P. Grant A piston proton pump Courtesy of Rouslan Efremov, Rikke Schmidt Kjaergaard, and Leonid Sazanov The paper R.G. Efremov et al., “The architecture of respiratory complex I,” Nature, 465:441–45, 2010. The finding Although the molecular machines that power ATP synthesis via trans-membrane proton gradients are well known, how the gradient is created in the first place is

Outsourcing your RNA

By Jeffrey M. Perkel Outsourcing your RNA How to get the most molecular bang for your buck when you send your RNA away “The essence of the scientific enterprise,” says Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” “[is] the Joy of Discovery.”1 But that doesn’t mean it’s practical or even feasible for researchers to do all the discovering themselves. Take RNA expression analysis. With microarrays and next-gen sequencing, in situ

Botanical Biopharming

Green-thumbed biotechs say they can use plants to make drugs faster, cheaper, and better than top pharmaceutical companies.

Shaping Your Postdocs

By Jennifer Welsh Shaping Your Postdocs How to whip your postdocs into researchers you would want to collaborate with. © Getty Images / Jordi Elias In 1990, fresh out of his first postdoc, David Woodland walked into his very own lab at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. All he wanted was to dive into the viral immunology that he had spent years thinking about, but found that a lot of his time was consumed by the other tasks that come with being

The Discovery of Penicillin, circa 1928

By Cristina Luiggi The Discovery of Penicillin, circa 1928 It was the wonder drug of the 20th century: A yellow liquid that seeps from the spores of the Penicillium fungal mold and contains a compound that shatters the cell walls of bacteria responsible for common diseases such as pneumonia, strep throat, scarlet fever, syphilis, and meningitis. With steep reductions in human mortality rates and drastic improvements in quality of life, penicillin may very well be one of

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