December 2010

Volume 24 Issue 12

The Scientist December 2010 Cover




Contributors Irish geneticist W.H. Irwin McLean has devoted the better part of the past two decades to studying rare, single-gene skin disorders. His work on these diseases led him to filaggrin, “a really weird gene,” that plays a role in the development of dry, flaky skin. Surprisingly, mutations in that same gene are also involved in complex allergic disorders such as atopic eczema and asthma. McLean is a professor of human genetics at the Univer


Mail Thumbs Up for Blogging I absolutely agree that blogging is an excellent tool1 that allows us to extend our voices beyond the lab or scientific journal, whether it is for the purpose of getting suggestions or for finding a collaborator. However, there are many other aspects that affect the daily lives of scientists. Venturing in to the realm of the “confessional” blogosphere shouldn’t necessarily be labeled as “fluffy&


Eavesdroppings Speaking of Science Only_Fabricio/stock photo Nobody will deny that there is at least some roughness everywhere. ————————————————————— Smooth shapes are very rare in the wild but extremely important in the ivory tower and the factory.—Mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (Born Nov. 20, 1924; died Oct. 14, 2

72-Hour Ribs

By Chris Tachibana 72-Hour Ribs Photo by Ryan Matthew Smith from Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking Raw beef short ribs go into a clear bag and the air is sucked out, encasing them in sealed plastic. The bag is immersed in a 54°C water bath; three days later the meat is deboned, blowtorched, and smoked. This is scientist/chef Chris Young’s idea of barbeque. The recipe is just one of many that celebrate the scientific side of fine cuisine i

Feeling Sleepy?

By Richard P. Grant Feeling Sleepy? “I just couldn't wake up.” It sounds like the classic excuse for arriving late to work. But anesthesiologist Max Kelz and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have found evidence that our brains contain a stark barrier to changes in arousal states—from wakefulness to unconsciousness or back the other way. They dubbed this phenomenon “neural inertia.” Understanding this property of the br

Infectious Curiosity

By Jessica Wapner Infectious Curiosity The Hepatitis C virus NS3 serine protease (in gray) James Griffith, Vertex Pharmaceuticals The course of virologist Charlie Rice’s career changed with one phone call in 1989. Then at Washington University in St. Louis, Rice was the country’s leading yellow fever expert. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to Stephen Feinstone, an FDA scientist asking about a vaccine for the disease that had just won agenc

Still Ticking

By Cristina Luiggi Still Ticking Paul Ehrlich on why unchecked population growth continues to be a time bomb. The human population is set to hit the seven billion mark next year. Paul Ehrlich, entomologist, conservationist, and author, in 1968, of the seminal book on human overpopulation, The Population Bomb, discusses a recent article by ecologists Charles Hall and John Day that reconsiders a perennial question: is there a limit to our growth? (American Scientist,


Top 7 From F1000

TOP 7 From F1000 Unlimited, Inc. 1. How cilia talk» New findings show how primary (nonmotile) cilia retain membrane proteins needed to send and receive extracellular signals—a barrier at the base of cilia made up of proteins called septins. Q. Hu et al., Science, 329:436-39, 2010. Evaluated by A. Wittinghofer, Max-Planck Inst; J. Axelrod, Stanford; M. Labouesse, CNRS; S. Feng and W. Guo, U Penn; M Bettencourt-Dias, IGC; Y. Yama

Evolving the Scientific Method

By Kevin Kelly Evolving the Scientific Method Technology is changing the way we conduct science. Images: Wikipedia (from top): Library of Alexandria; Francis Bacon; Robert Boyle; Karl Popper (courtesy of LSE library); Placebo (courtesy of Elaine and Arthur Shapiro); Zuse Z3 computer (courtesy of Deutschen Museum in München) Science is our most potent invention because it has given us a method to keep reinventing it. All our collective knowledge and experti

The Allergy Gene

By W. H. Irwin McLean The Allergy Gene How a mutation in a skin protein revealed a link between eczema and asthma. Greg Betza It was a tense Friday afternoon in October 2005. Four of us in the lab had been working furiously that week in the fear that our results would be scooped at any moment. (It was an unfounded worry, but we had no way of knowing that at the time.) We had recently found the first mutation in a gene associated with a relatively common skin dise

Equations that Spell Disaster

By Cristina Luiggi Equations that Spell Disaster Researchers are pinpointing the factors that combine to produce complex diseases. Juan Carlos Solon When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Category 5 storm caused such severe and lingering damage because it encountered the perfect combination of vulnerabilities: weak infrastructure, poor lines of communication, and a dysfunctional emergency rescue system. These conditions coale

Top Ten Innovations 2010

By The Scientist Staff Top Ten Innovations 2010 Innovative products that have the life science community buzzing. As the global economy continues to pull out of its recent precipitous nosedive, one mantra rings true from Beijing to Boston—innovation can save us. If developing interesting new technologies and products really is the lifeblood of economic health, then the life sciences industry is innovation’s beating heart. The Scientist rec

Methods Man

By Karen Hopkin Methods Man A fever fueled Stanley Fields’ invention of the two-hybrid system for detecting protein interactions. Happily, his passion for devising new ways to study biology’s messy problems still burns hot. STANLEY FIELDS HHMI Investigator Professor of Genome Sciences and of Medicine University of Washington, Seattle F1000: Head of Section, Genomics Kevin Casey Stan Fields was in need of funding. As an assistant professor at

At Home with Hostility

By Thomas Ruby and Denise M. Monack At Home with Hostility How do pathogenic bacteria evade mammalian immune surveillance to establish persistent infection? Tuberculosis infection Scott Camazine / Photo Researchers, Inc. Long-term bacterial infections pose several fundamental biological questions: How metabolically active are bacteria during a persistent infection? Are they dividing, or in a state of quiescence? And how do these bacteria evade the immune system


Spongy Genome

By Richard P. Grant Spongy Genome Sally Leys The paper M. Srivastava et al., "The Amphimedon queenslandica genome and the evolution of animal complexity," Nature, 466:720-26, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding The marine sponge Amphimedon queenslandica evolved from single-celled ancestors before the Cambrian explosion, making it one of the earliest multicellular organisms. However, when Bernard Degnan of The University of Queensland and c

Chloroplast Pinch

By Richard P. Grant Chloroplast Pinch Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh (Chloroplast) The paper Y. Yoshida et al., "Chloroplasts divide by contraction of a bundle of nanofilaments consisting of polyglucan," Science, 329:949-53, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding When a cell divides, it splits its organelles so that each daughter has the right starting material. But rather than using a band of proteins, Tsuneyoshi Kuroiwa at Rikkyo Univers

Counting the Core

By Richard P. Grant Counting the Core Henrik Jonsson / Istockphoto (Mitosis) The paper S. Ohta et al., "The protein composition of mitotic chromosomes determined using multiclassifier combinatorial proteomics," Cell, 142:810-21, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Despite the central importance of chromosomes, very little is understood about the more than 120 proteins present at the kinetochore, the complex of proteins involved in connectin

Playing Up the Single Life

By Amy Maxmen Playing Up the Single Life Single-cell applications to help you explore the tiniest great unknown As researchers probe deeper into cell physiology, they are increasingly bumping into cells’ individual personalities. Identical genetic material and location, it seems, doesn’t prevent two cells from behaving differently, and in some cases this intercellular variation changes cell function and fate. Fluctuations within individual cells may

Off the Beaten Path

By Jef Akst Off the Beaten Path Bench work isn’t for everyone. Find out about alternative careers available to biologists and how to transition out of research. Carrie O’neill © ImageZoo/Corbis Lisa Haile always liked biology. So she majored in the subject in college and then headed off to Georgetown University to earn her PhD in cell and molecular biology. While knee-deep in her research on cancer, however, her enthusiasm started to wan

An Honest Look at Biotech

By Jennifer Rohn An Honest Look at Biotech Working at a start-up biotech company was so intriguing that it begged to become the subject of a novel. Jennifer Rohn; Photo: Richard Grant What is truth? For a life scientist in academia, the answer lies somewhere inside a ragged and incomplete sea of data. These data may or may not be “truths” that stand the test of time. The literature is, of course, littered with the corpses of debunked data tha

The Philadelphia Chromosome, circa 1960

By Cristina Luiggi The Philadelphia Chromosome, circa 1960 Related Articles New Smoking Gun? Cancer Genetics Gets Personal New Medicine Means Research Rethink Less than a decade after Watson and Crick published their landmark paper on the structure of DNA, two Philadelphia researchers noticed that the blood cells of patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) had an unusually tiny chromosome. At a time when the genetic underpinnings of disease were unc

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