October 2010

Volume 24 Issue 10

The Scientist October 2010 Cover




Contributors Philosopher-turned-biochemist Yves Barral has a hard time explaining where he’s from. He usually settles for: “I am, for sure, from this planet.” Born in Mexico City to African-born parents, he spent most of his childhood in various parts of France. He currently resides in Zürich, where he runs his own lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and studies the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to understand how h

Social Experiments

By Richard P. Grant Social Experiments Can blogs and new media tools make science work better? Scientists who do blog often get very defensive. “Usenet won’t change your life,” said the supervisor to the graduate student. The year was 1993 and the student was me. Today that warning against time-wasting seems even more pertinent: new social media tools—Facebook, Twitter, weblogs—have so lowered communication barriers t


Mail Peer review: Rejected? Re: “I Hate Your Paper,” 1 the real problem is that publications have lost their purpose. The point of publication is to inform the scientific community of really important findings and to contribute to the growth of knowledge. When I hear—as I typically do when a speaker is being introduced—that some very senior scientist has hundreds of publications, I always wonder: do any of them matter? We


Eavesdroppings Science Quotations of the Month Avi Spivak We’re not really attracted to each other, we’re attracted to each other’s microbes. —Yale University microbiologist Jo Handelsman, quoted in an August 2010 The Scientist article about how gut flora affects the ability of male fruit flies to attract a mate We are realizing that conservation is not about managing wildlife as much as it is about managing ourselvesR

Congo calling

By Chris Tachibana Congo calling Jackson scans a forest swamp on a recent expedition in the Republic of Congo. Courtesy of Kate Jackson This past spring, Kate Jackson gave a biology final in Walla Walla, Washington, and the next day, after strapping on her leg braces, she flew to the Republic of Congo. Jackson, a herpetologist, writer, and faculty member at Whitman College who studies the reptiles of Central Africa, was gearing up for her fifth expeditio

Spite's roots

By Richard Grant Spite’s roots Steinernema carpocapsae Courtesy of Allen Szalanski Spite seems to be a uniquely human phenomenon, but examining interactions among organisms you’d never peg as vengeful is giving scientists some insight into how the rather nasty behavior arose. It’s difficult to see how spite could evolve: what benefit is there in punishing another party at the cost of harming one’s own reproductive fitness? “Six years

Scientist as subject

By Kerry Grens Scientist as subject By a fortuitous twist of genetic fate, a small percentage of humans, roughly one in 100, are able to resist infection to HIV. Wouldn’t it be even more fortuitous if one of these exceptional people, prized by scientists as walking exemplars of what a therapy might ultimately accomplish, happened to be an AIDS researcher as well? Meet James Hoxie, director of the Penn Center for AIDS Research at the University of Pennsylvania.

Top 7 From F1000

Top 7 From F1000 1. How fat causes diabetes» There are new molecular links between obesity and diabetes—a high-fat diet in mice activates proteins associated with obesity, but these changes can be reversed by a well-known diabetes drug, suggesting the same pathway may also cause insulin-resistance. J.H. Choi et al., Nature, 466:451-56, 2010. Evaluated by L. Hamann, Novartis; M. Andresen, OHSU; P. Webb, TMHRI. Free F1000 Evaluation Related Articles


Shrinking birds

Shrinking birds Ary Hoffmann discusses a paper reporting that many kinds of birds are getting smaller as a result of global warming. Global temperatures have risen an average of 0.6 degrees Celsius in the last century. What effect that may have on the planet’s species is hard to predict, but a recent paper evaluating data from more than 100 different bird species over the past 5 decades found that many of them have shrunk in size. F1000 Faculty Member

Americas Stem Cell Mess

By Josephine Johnston America’s Stem Cell Mess Other countries have laws that provide researchers with legal and moral clarity. Modified From © Klaus Guldbrandsen / Photo Researchers, Inc. It’s hard not to feel sorry for American embryonic stem cell (ESC) researchers. Over the dozen years since the cells were first derived, they’ve been expected to meet federal rules that change with each president, research guidelines from the National Acad

One of the Good Guys

By H. Steven Wiley One of the Good Guys Being someone who shares cell lines and reagents can be more satisfying than being a famous PI at a major lab. Small scientific conferences are great if you enjoy learning. You can take in the latest advances in your field during the scientific sessions and then hear about how your colleagues are doing afterwards—generally over a beer. I was having a particularly good time with some younger colleagues at a meeting las

The Gates of Immortality

By Yves Barral The Gates of Immortality Did biology evolve a way to protect offspring from the ravages of aging by creating a physical barrier that separates the parent from its young? Dr. Stanley Flegler, Visuals Unlimited he idea that every organism must age was a concept that surprised many biologists. For a long time, aging was thought to be a process occurring only in multicellular organisms. The reason for this arguably odd presumption was that we knew so


By Jef Akst Recess Fish, reptiles, and even some invertebrates appear to play. But when is it play, and not something else? And why do animals do it? Illustrations by Kaitlin Beckett During a visit to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, biopsychologist Gordon Burghardt decided to peek in on a Nile soft-shelled turtle its keepers affectionately called “Pigface.” Pigface had been a zoo resident for more than 50 years, and Burghardt had seen him

The One True Path?

By Jennifer Welsh The One True Path? Several groups of scientists are finding clues that suggest many major illnesses result from disruptions to one complex molecular cascade—insulin signaling. ndocrinologist Kevin Niswender and neuroscientist Aurelio Galli hadn’t really kept in contact since they parted ways after beginning their respective careers at Vanderbilt University in the 1990s. But about 10 years ago, Niswender, who went to medical school

Take Two Antibodies?

By Karen Hopkin Take Two Antibodies… Martin Raff has used antibodies to examine membranes, probe immune cells, and shine a light on nervous system function. But he doesn’t believe in waiting for the full story before publishing. Martin C. Raff Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London. F1000: Joint Head of Faculty, Neuroscience © Ben Mostyn It was the Vietnam War that led Martin Raff to a

Templates for a vaccine?

By Quentin J. Sattentau and Andrew J. McMichael Templates for a vaccine? New tools for HIV-1 antibody-based vaccine design Env is shown as a transparent mesh consisting of three gp120 molecules (red) noncovalently linked to three gp41 molecules (not modeled) on the surface of an HIV-1 virion. An area marking the CD4 binding surface is labeled yellow. Bill Schief, Dept of Biochemistry / University of Washington, Seattle The human immunodef


Shivering Shavenbaby

By Jennifer Welsh Shivering Shavenbaby Nicolás Frankel & David L. Stern The paper N. Frankel et al., “Phenotypic robustness conferred by apparently redundant transcriptional enhancers,” Nature, 466:490-93, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Are redundant copies of noncoding DNA sequences due to poor genomic housekeeping, or do they function to improve the organism’s chances of survival? David Stern at Prin

Auto-ups and -downs

By Edyta Zielinska Auto-ups and -downs Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc / Visuals Unlimited, Inc The paper S. Tsai et al., “Reversal of autoimmunity by boosting memory-like autoregulatory T cells,” Immunity, 32:568-80, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis develop over many years and result in chronic diseases that flare and subside. While trying to kill the cells responsible for t

Light traffic

Visualizing proteins is crucial for understanding normal cell function.

Ekaterina Heldwein: Crystallizing killers

By Jennifer Welsh Ekaterina Heldwein: Crystallizing killers © Jessica Scranton Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University. Age: 37 Structural virologist Ekaterina Heldwein, who goes by Katya, has followed a less-than-direct path to success in science. As a Russian chemistry undergraduate with a desire to live abroad but little money, she headed to the biochemistry graduate program at Oregon Health Sciences University

Harnessing the cloud

By Amy Maxmen Harnessing the cloud Free platforms for powering your genomics and proteomics data analysis using processing power rented in the sky No longer must biologists covet the computer clusters of their colleagues. Cloud-computing—computing power accessed over the Internet—lets biologists without their own computer cluster store and analyze floods of data. The main space for rent is on Amazon Web Services (AWS), where, for less than $1 per hour

Biotech on the Bayou

Efforts to develop Louisiana’s biotech industry are giving New Orleans scientists— and the local economy—a much needed boost.

You Arent Blogging Yet?!?

By Bob Grant You Aren’t Blogging Yet?!? Maintaining a blog can be a boon to your career, increasing your profile in the scientific community, connecting you to collaborators, and helping you land new grants or jobs. © Tomasz Walenta Microbial genomicist Jonathan Eisen had racked up an impressive publication record and thousands of citations long before he ever launched his über-popular evolutionary science blog, The Tree of Life, in Februar

Dr. James Fever Powder, circa 1746

By Jennifer Welsh Dr. James’s Fever Powder, circa 1746 Dr. James’s fever powder, patented by English physician Robert James, claimed to cure fevers and various other maladies, from gout and scurvy to distemper in cattle. Though its efficacy was often questioned, the powder had “a long tradition of usage,” from its introduction in 1746 well into the 20th century, says John Crellin, a professor of medical humanities at Memorial University of Newfoun

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