November 2010

Volume 24 Issue 11

The Scientist November 2010 Cover




Contributors The highlights of biochemist S. Lawrence Zipursky’s 25-year-long career in neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, are the surprises he’s unearthed along the way. Topping his list is one gene in particular, Dscam, which codes for tens of thousands of different protein products that may help give neurons distinct molecular signatures (p. 40). “I didn’t think that kind of recognition specificity existed in


We Must Face the Threats

By Sarah Greene We Must Face the Threats Reading between the lines of a top-ranked Faculty of 1000 article Science at its most exciting: arguable and demanding refinement Numbers employed to determine a scientist’s career have always seemed dodgy. Just ask Eugene Garfield, creator of the citation index and the impact factor, who has written, “The use of journal impacts in evaluating individuals has its inherent dangers.” Yet where mov


Mail On the Media Re: “Why Trust a Reporter?”1 Good journalists are after a story that fits the facts they can garner through their investigations. And they don’t think that everyone out there owes them information or a living. If you don’t want to reveal information, you say so, and the journalist who knows his/her place in the scheme of the things will take that for what it is. Plus, in most cases, there are other plac


Eavesdroppings Science Quotations of the Month © James O’Brien Some have said that honeybees are messengers sent from the gods to show us how we ought to live: in sweetness and in beauty and peacefulness. —From Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University Because we have, in truth, learned nothing from the [human] genome other than probabilities. How does a 1 or 3 percent incre

A model relationship

By Amy Maxmen A model relationship Scaptomyza flava mating on Arabidopsis thaliana Courtesy of Noah K. Whiteman University of Arizona biologist Noah Whiteman wasn’t looking for treasure in the dog park where he regularly exercised his hyper Hungarian sporting dog, Tilla, during his postdoc days at Harvard between August 2006 and January 2010. But that’s what he found when he spotted mustard-yellow flowers with bumpy leaves while following Tilla d

Infection plagues IQ?

By Richard P. Grant Infection plagues IQ? As a nation’s economy develops and its standard of living rises, the average intelligence of its inhabitants also increases. But why? In what Faculty of 1000 Member and University of Münster evolutionary biologist Joachim Kurtz calls a “thought-provoking” study, Christopher Eppig suggests that healthier inhabitants could be the answer: Infectious diseases are rarer in developed nations than they ar

Primate business

By Carrie Arnold Primate business A female study subject (with twins) scent marking at the Duke Lemur Center David Haring/Duke Lemur Center Sniffing the armpit of a sweaty T-shirt seems like it would give you more information about a person’s laundry habits than their potential qualities as a mate. But an array of complex signaling chemicals in sweat and other secretions allows humans and other primates to determine just who would make the best partner.

Top 7 From F1000

Top 7 From F1000 1. How cilia talk» Primary (non-motile) cilia use membrane proteins in their role as a coordinator of the cell’s signaling pathways. New findings show how a cilium retains those membrane proteins—a barrier at its base made up of proteins called septins. Q. Hu et al., Science, 329:436-39, 2010. Evaluated by Y. Barral, ETH; M. Wirschell & W. Sale, Emory; H. Folsch, Northwestern; Y. Yamashita, U Mich; M. Bettencourt-Dia


Genome blossoms

By Cristina Luiggi Genome blossoms Tom Misteli on the effort to produce the most detailed 3-D model of a eukaryote’s genome to date Understanding how DNA is folded, wound up, and packaged inside nuclei provides an additional layer of biological information to what’s written in the base pairs sequences. F1000 Faculty Member and National Cancer Institute cell biologist, Tom Misteli, discusses a paper that presents a high-resolution map of the yeast gen

On Plasmids

Ever since I’ve been a practicing molecular biologist, we’ve used plasmids as vehicles for genetic engineering. Or, more accurately, we’ve used the entire range of extragenomic information that can replicate inside cells. That would include viral vectors, which have been harnessed for use in both prokaryoti

The Devolution of Evolution

By Leonid Moroz The Devolution of Evolution Why evolution and biosystematics courses must be included in all biomedical curricula. Nearly 40 years ago Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” How is it, then, that so few newly minted PhDs in the biological sciences have taken any formal graduate school courses in evolution or biodiversity? This fosters a knowledge gap that can become difficult t

Elemental Shortage

By Brendan Borrell ELEMENTAL SHORTAGE The world is running out of cheap phosphorus, the element that lies at the heart of great agricultural advances and thorny environmental problems. Biologists are only now beginning to understand what it means for evolution and human health. James Elser at a study site in southern Norway Although a limnologist in Phoenix and a molecular biologist in Atlanta have never met before, a single element ties them together.

Heads and Tales

By Karen Hopkin Heads and Tales Randall Moon has looked to tadpoles and stem cells for clues about embryonic development and cell fate. Now he has his eye on turning biology into therapy. RANDALL T. MOON Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Professor of Pharmacology, University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, Seattle Founding Director and William and Marilyn Conner Professor, UW Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine F1000: Faculty Mem

Cancers conversions

By Nancy Gavert and Avri Ben-Ze’ev Cancer’s conversions A developmental transition may be a useful model for tumor progression. A mammosphere Courtesy of Wenjun Guo Until recently, the universally accepted dogma in cancer research stated that replicating cells accumulate several rounds of mutations before becoming cancerous. According to that dogma, the mutations that result in metastatic spread throughout the body occur lat

Biosensor beacon

By Vanessa Schipani Biosensor beacon Courtesy of Carsten Grashoff, Brenton Hoffman, and Martin Schwartz The paper C. Grashoff et al., “Measuring mechanical tension across vinculin reveals regulation of focal adhesion dynamics,” Nature, 466:263-66, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The tool Mechanical force affects a wide range of biological phenomena, from DNA replication to strengthening bones, yet there was “no calibrated method of trac

Gateway to the cilium

By Richard P. Grant Gateway to the cilium Courtesy of John Dishinger The paper J.F. Dishinger et al., “Ciliary entry of the kinesin-2 motor KIF17 is regulated by importin-b2 and RanGTP," Nat Cell Biol, 12:703-10, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Primary cilia are tiny, hair-like organelles on the surface of cells, and are important in functions such as vision and smell. The composition of cilia membranes is different from the rest


Gut reactions

By Cristina Luiggi Gut reactions Courtesy of Ivaylo Ivanov, Dan Littman, and Doug Wei The paper H.J. Wu et al., “Gut-residing segmented filamentous bacteria drive autoimmune arthritis via T helper 17 cells,” Immunity, 32:815-27, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding The trillions of microbes that reside in the human gut shape their host’s immune system—for better or for worse. In a mouse model of autoimmune arthritis, Di

Boris Igić : A fertile mind

By Megan Scudellari Boris Igić : A fertile mind © 2010 Matthew Gilson Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago. Age: 33 In 1997, Boris Igić, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, was pursuing a degree in history. But after the third meeting of his first-ever course on evolution, he rushed out the classroom door and made a beeline to the registrar’s office, where he switched his major t

Tricking the Light—Fantastic

Techniques for achieving super-resolution imaging

The Undruggables

By Megan Scudellari The Undruggables Can young biotechs chasing elusive drug targets succeed where so many have failed? They think so. G-protein coupled receptors in the cell membrane Courtesy of Anchor Therapeutics and Arkitek Studios John Andrews finished his presentation and turned to the roomful of pharmaceutical employees. Chief scientific officer for NeurAxon, a small Canadian biotech developing pain therapeutics, Andrews braced himself for the o

Meet and Greet

By Cristina Luiggi Meet and Greet How successful networking will make you a better scientist © Howard G. Adams had a master plan for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) 150th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia in 1998. He had been invited to join a panel discussion, and arrived way before the bulk of the attendees in order to lay the groundwork for achieving his one goal: to shake the hand of then

The Pee-in-a-Cup Test, circa 1500

By Cristina Luiggi The Pee-in-a-Cup Test, circa 1500 Before X-rays and MRIs could peer inside the human body, physicians turned to bodily wastes, particularly urine, in order to make diagnoses. The practice of uroscopy arose from the observation that the color, consistency, smell, and even taste of urine change with different ailments. With a sample of the ailing person’s urine, physicians and laymen alike turned to widely popular illustrations known as urine whe

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