February 2011

Volume 25 Issue 2

The Scientist February 2011 Cover




Contributors “The greatest thing about science is being the first to know something,” says Fred Grinnell, a cell biologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.“That’s such an incredible high.” Grinnell, who researches wound repair and tissue engineering, also enjoys pondering the philosophy of science. In an essay Grinnell writes about the dubious nature of scientific knowledge, one of the topics explored in his book Eve

To Err is Human

By Sarah Greene To Err is Human This is your brain on emotions. Researchers bring their own values and passions to the lab bench. I was delighted to see a couple recent F1000 evaluations that strayed from traditional peer-reviewed literature. F1000 Members Frank Harrell, a biostatistician at Vanderbilt Medical School, and Daniel Beard, a bioengineer at the Medical College of Wisconsin, independently evaluated an article by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker

News & Opinion


The Evidence Argument   Re: about the use of evidence in medicine: “Evidence-based” is a simplistic and misleading buzzword. A single well-documented case is valid evidence, but the self-proclaimed “evidence-based” promoters and practitioners attack it as “anecdotal.”


Speaking of Science

Speaking of Science Fertnig / ISTOCKphoto.com Even the most unreasonable postdoc is more reasonable than a two-year-old. And the distraction strategies you apply to a two-year-old work equally well in the lab. So being a mum has probably made me a better lab manager. —Cambridge University molecular geneticist Fiona Watt, profiled in The Scientist (Jan. 2011) We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that some—perhaps many—cherished g

Jaume and the Giant Genome

The Japanese canopy plant's impressive DNA may confer novel evolutionary strategies.

Puzzle Me This

By Graeme Stemp-Morlock Puzzle Me This VisualField / ISTOCKphoto.com What substance is supposed to have no effect but can make people feel better, has no chance for a big monetary payoff but is worth billions, and is used in virtually every rigorous clinical trial but has no single, universal formulation? The answer is the placebo. Hallmarks of good biomedical research, placebos are used throughout the world in double-blind, randomized controlled trials. A

Down but Not Out

By Richard P. Grant Down but Not Out HIDDEN JEWEL Normal cells do not grow and divide forever. Even before they get old and die, many cells in the body are quiescent: temporarily out of the proliferative cell cycle, waiting for a signal to wake up and become active again. Cells grown in culture will also enter such a state, either because they’re too crowded or have run out of nutrients. Princeton University’s Hilary Coller recently found that s

Parasites Unite!

By Cristina Luiggi Parasites Unite! Gabriele Sorci discusses how invaders can band together to more effectively infect hosts. Any given mammalian immune system mixes it up with trillions of individual microorganisms, viruses, and macroparasites on a regular basis. These foreign invaders can cooperate with each other to create conditions favorable for the colonization of their host. University of Bourgogne evolutionary ecologist and Faculty of 1000 Member, Gabriele S

Top 7 From F1000

Top 7 From F1000 James Cavallini / Photo Researchers, Inc. 1. Immune response feeds parasite » Salmonella is able to outcompete resident gut microbes by deriving energy from the inflammatory immune response that is supposed to combat the pathogen. S.E. Winter et al., Nature, 467:426-29, 2010. Evaluated by P. Malik-Kale & O. Steele-Mortimer, NIAID; E. Guccione & D. Kelly, Univ Sheffield; M. Vijay-Kumar & A. Gewirtz, Emory Univ; D. Alpers, Wa


Do Fruit Flies Dream of Electric Bananas?

By Björn Brembs Do Fruit Flies Dream of Electric Bananas? Visualizing neuronal activity in small brains over four dimensions Lucy Reading-Ikkanda Some people are amazingly focused, energized, and attentive. Others always seem to have their heads in the clouds, dreaming the day away. One might think that our brains doze off and switch to a resting state when we let our minds wander, but research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visuali

At the Tipping Point

By H. Steven Wiley At the Tipping Point Data standards need to be introduced—now. Andrzej Krauze There comes a time in every field of science when things suddenly change. While it might not be immediately apparent that things are different, a tipping point has occurred. Biology is now at such a point. The reason is the introduction of high-throughput genomics-based technologies. I am not talking about the consequences of the sequencing of the human g

Face to Face with the Emotional Brain

By Ahmad R. Hariri & Paul J. Whalen Face to Face with the Emotional Brain Amygdala responses to the facial signals of others predict both normal and abnormal emotional states. An understanding of the brain chemistry underlying these responses will lead to new strategies for treating and predicting psychopathology. Ikon Images / Corbis One of our favorite scientific studies of the past few years is a laboratory assessment of how people react to strangers,

The Genes of Parkinsons Disease

By Bobby Thomas and M. Flint Beal The Genes of Parkinson’s Disease The minority of Parkinson’s cases now known to have genetic origins are shedding light on the cellular mechanisms of all the rest, bringing researchers closer to a cause—and perhaps a cure. Gerald Slota It took centuries for the slumped posture, trembling hands, poor balance, and cognitive impairments that characterize Parkinson’s disease (PD) to be recognized as manifest

Opening a Can of Worms

A father’s determination to help his son resulted in an experimental treatment for autism that uses roundworms to modulate inflammatory immune responses. Can the worms be used to treat other diseases?

Impure Genius

By Karen Hopkin Impure Genius Lewis Cantley has made a career of turning chemical contaminants into groundbreaking discoveries—including novel lipids, potent inhibitors, and kinases involved in cancer. LEWIS C. CANTLEY Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School Chief, Division of Signal Transduction, Director of Cancer Research Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center F1000 Section Head: Cell Signaling Porter Gifford I didn’t set out to

Anne-Claude Gingras: Perfecting Proteomics

By Jef Akst Anne-Claude Gingras: Perfecting Proteomics Photograph by Matthew Plexman Photography Assistant professor of molecular genetics, University of Toronto, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. Age: 38 Anne-Claude Gingras liked science from a young age, but had never considered a career in research. Until she tried it one summer in college, that is. “The minute that I started doing experiments I realized that this is somet

When Stress Is Good

By Christina M. Warboys, Narges Amini, Amalia de Luca, and Paul C. Evans When Stress Is Good Fast blood flow protects against atherosclerosis: implications for treatment Andrew Swift The formation of atherosclerotic plaques within arteries underlies most forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease in which inflammatory cells (e.g. leukocytes) and lipids accumulate to form a plaque within the artery wall, underneat

The Great Escape

By Richard P. Grant The Great Escape 3D4Medical / Photo Researchers, Inc. The paper L.A. Knodler et al., “Dissemination of invasive Salmonella via bacterial-induced extrusion of mucosal epithelia.” PNAS, 107:17733-38, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding When the Salmonella bacterium infects eukaryotic cells, it becomes encased in membrane-bound vacuoles. How it escapes from these vacuoles and infects other cells was a mystery until now


Time and Temperature

By Richard P. Grant Time and Temperature Joseph Takahashi (An artistic representation of the SCN in black on a colorful background) The paper E. D. Buhr et al., “Temperature as a universal resetting cue for mammalian circadian oscillators,” Science, 330:379-85, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding The body’s circadian rhythms are regulated by a “master clock” in the brain, whose tempo is set by light-dark cycles, while t

Losers Fight Back

By Richard P. Grant Losers Fight Back Dr Adam Schindler and Dr David Sherwood (Anchor cell invasion initiates uterine-vulval attachment during C. elegans larval development) The paper M. Portela et al., “Drosophila SPARC is a self-protective signal expressed by loser cells during cell competition,” Dev Cell, 19:562-73, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding During development and aging, animal cells that have been weakened by mutation, infe


By Kelly Rae Chi Freeze-Frame Tricks for probing a cell’s moving parts Close-up of an actin tail (green) with a kinase involved in catalyzing actin mobility (red) at the tip Curr Biol, 20:697-702, 2010 ln the daily life of a cell, vesicles and organelles shuttle along filament tracks, DNA unwinds, and mRNA is delivered to its proper destination. Cell motility—the movement of cells and their internal parts—is crucial to biology, often a matte

Alternative Agriculture

By Vanessa Schipani Alternative Agriculture The debate over genetically engineered crops rages on, but other technologies offer new hope for sustainable farming. Genetically modified soybean plants in a petri dish Bayer Cropscience AG In November 2010 a federal judge in California ordered that 256 acres of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beet seedlings be ripped from the ground. The first court-ordered destruction of GE crops in the United States, the ru

Rewards of Risk

By Megan Scudellari Rewards of Risk Secrets to scoring big money grants for innovative, out-of-the-box research Charles Lieber, 2008 National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award Winner Photo by Stu Rosner Photography Charles Lieber was ready to do something new. A renowned nanoscientist at Harvard, he had developed a number of nanoscale materials for electronic and computing applications, but had long wanted to try his hand at biological p

The Evolution of Credibility

By Frederick Grinnell The Evolution of Credibility The winding path that an interesting result takes to become a bona fide discovery is just one of the topics covered in this new book on the practice of science. Oxford University Press, 2011 When I was a graduate student in biochemistry at Tufts University School of Medicine, I read an abridged version of Montaigne’s Essays. My friend Margaret Rea (a.k.a. Marci Trindle) and I spent hours wandering around B

Book excerpt from Everyday Practice of Science

By Frederick Grinnell Book excerpt from Everyday Practice of Science In a selection from Chapter 3, “Credibility: Validating Discovery Claims,” author Frederick Grinnell details the difficulty in making discoveries that buck current scientific paradigms “Challenging the prevailing thought style” Nobel Laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi’s prescription for discovery was seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else

Capsule Reviews

By Bob Grant Capsule Reviews Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality by Hannah Holmes Random House (To be published February 22, 2011) Fast becoming adept at probing the science behind being human, science writer Hannah Holmes, author of 2009’s The Well-Dressed Ape, is at it again with Quirk. This time around Holmes dissects human personality into five distinct components: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousne

Light Therapy, circa 1939

By Cristina Luiggi Light Therapy, circa 1939 Around the turn of the 20th century—before sunscreens hit the market and the damaging effects of UV radiation were widely appreciated—physicians saw the sun mostly as a source of healing. Sunlit spas nestled high in the mountains became very popular among those who could afford them, and color lamps for treating a variety of illnesses were common fixtures in many rooms. Experiments on microorganisms, animals, and

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