March 2011

Volume 25 Issue 3

The Scientist March 2011 Cover




Contributors Mysteries have always appealed to Manel Esteller, a self-proclaimed “aficionado” of Sherlock Holmes. “I like the possibility to deduce a whole starting from a minimal clue.” Trying to solve the mystery surrounding the molecular genetics of endometrial carcinoma during his PhD program at Universidad de Barcelona led him to devote himself to epigenetics, after he found that pure genetics was unable to explain his results. He move

Epigenetics and Society

By Andrew D. Ellington Epigenetics and Society Did Erasmus Darwin foreshadow the tweaking of his grandson’s paradigm? We can expect that epigenetics will be held up as the forerunner of that bastard child of Creationism, Intelligent Design. The potent wish in the productive hour Calls to its aid Imagination’s power, O’er embryon throngs with mystic charm presides, And sex from sex the nascent world divides… R


Mail Climate Change and Health While all of the problems associated with global warming can initially be countered to some extent in some, most, or all places given enough capital outlay for technology, etc., the basic problem this article1 points out is that, at some point in time, if global temperatures continue to rise, there will eventually not be enough resources everywhere to handle things. For example, the increasing incidence of malar

Speaking of Science

Speaking of Science Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Oxford How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequently how poor will be his results, compared with those accumulated by Nature during whole geological periods! —Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species (1859) Why them? Why is this species [the New Caledonian crow] on a small island in the Pacific able to not just use but to manufacture a variety of tool

Character Flaws?

By Vanessa Schipani Character Flaws? The West African forest gecko, which Fujita and Leaché determined to be at least four distinct species Piotr Naskrecki / Minden pictures Imposing distinct separations on the fluid process of evolution inevitably breeds disagreement on what exactly constitutes a species. On Christmas Eve, 1856, Charles Darwin wrote in a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker, botanist and friend: “It is really laughable to see what differe

Mitotic Hijacker

By Richard P. Grant Mitotic Hijacker HIDDEN JEWEL When a cell divides, its duplicated chromosomes have to be shared equally between the two daughter cells. Cells manage this feat by lining up replicated chromosomes along their equators during mitosis, and then pulling sister chromatids apart to the right destinations. But Theileria, an intracellular parasitic protozoan, also needs to divide when its host cell undergoes mitosis. Dirk Dobbelaere and colleagu

Resistant to Failure

By Cristina Luiggi Resistant to Failure Vance Fowler’s postdoc Sun-Hee Ahn Duke University Medical Center In 2006 Duke University clinician Vance Fowler found the perfect animal model to investigate a question that had been bugging him ever since he started his residency at the university’s medical school in the mid-1990s: Why were some patients much better at fighting off bacterial infections than others? Scanning research on more than 20 differ

Imprinting Diversity

By Cristina Luiggi Imprinting Diversity Joachim Messing talks about how genomic imprinting may be a strong driver of diversity. Sexual reproduction yields offspring with two copies of the same gene, one from each parent; but in an epigenetic phenomenon known as genomic imprinting, only one copy of certain genes is turned on or off, depending on which parent contributed it. Imprinted genes are stamped by patterns of DNA methylation or histone modification during g

Top 7 From F1000

Top 7 From F1000 3d4medical / photo researchers inc. 1. Drug helps, doesn’t hurt, lung disease » Respiratory distress syndrome patients treated with a neuromuscular blocker are more likely than those on a placebo to survive 90 days, and show no increase in muscle weakness—a common concern among doctors. L. Papazian et al., N Engl J Med, 363:1107-16, 2010. Evaluated by A. Benson & I. Douglas, Univ Colorado and Denver Health; M. Grop

The Mark of Faith

By Robert E. Kingston The Mark of Faith Testing a central tenet of epigenetic regulation A fundamental problem in biology concerns how the genomic information present in fertilized eggs can give rise to the full spectrum of stably differentiated cell types required to form vertebrates and invertebrates. In the 1930s, C.H. Waddington’s largely observational mammalian embryology studies, which defined this problem, were central to establishing the field of epige


Another Revolution Needed?

By Fahd Al-Mulla Another Revolution Needed? Counting the many plagues that threaten research in the Middle East and North Africa region Andrzej Krauze Scientists around the world face obstacles during their research—a rejected manuscript, a failed funding application, an illegible electrophoresis gel. But these annoyances are simply par for the course when doing science. In the Middle East, however, scientists are up against much steeper challenges&#

Infographic: Epigenetics - A Primer

By Stefan Kubicek Infographic: Epigenetics—A Primer There are many ways that epigenetic effects regulate the activation or repression of genes. Here are a few molecular tricks cells use to read off the right genetic program. INFOGRAPHIC: Click to view full image illustration ©2011 Tolpa Studios, Inc. What makes the ~200 cell types in our body remember their identity? What prevents them from becoming cancer cells? Why do we inherit some traits from

Epigenetic Changes in Cancer

By Manel Esteller Epigenetic Changes in Cancer The study of how covalent marks on DNA and histones are involved in the origin and spread of cancer cells is also leading to new therapeutic strategies. Lung cancer close-up MOREDUN ANIMAL HEALTH LTD/SPL / Gettyimages Much of the current hype in epigenetics stems from the recognition of its role in human cancer. Yet, intriguingly, the first epigenetic change in human tumors—global genomic DNA hypomethylatio

Environmental Impact

By David Berreby Environmental Impact Research in behavioral epigenetics is seeking evidence that links experience to biochemistry to gene expression and back out again. Jasper James / Gettyimages In the late 1970s, when Hans Reul was a student running gels on the rich soup of proteins around DNA and RNA, he found himself wondering about the function of those nongenetic molecules in his samples. “I asked my supervisor, ‘What are those proteins down

Best Places to Work Postdocs, 2011

By Cristina Luiggi Best Places to Work Postdocs, 2011 Setting up your own scientific laboratory is no easy task, but this year’s respondents are using their postdoc experiences to prepare for the challenge. The postdoctoral years are a critical time in a budding scientist’s career. Decades ago, doing a postdoc was a voluntary option for new PhDs who were not quite ready to commit to a permanent position. Now postdoctoral positions are required trainin

Survey Methodology

Survey Methodology Survey Form: A Web-based survey form was posted at from September 8 to November 29, 2010. Results were collected and collated automatically. Invitations: E-mail invitations were sent to readers of The Scientist and registrants on The Scientist Web site who identified themselves as nontenured life scientists working in academia, industry or noncommercial research institutions. The survey was also publicized on The Scientist

Survey Questions

Best Places to Work Postdocs

Ready, Reset, Go

By Karen Hopkin Ready, Reset, Go Rudolf Jaenisch enjoys climbing mountains, rafting rapids, and unraveling the secrets of pluripotency—knowledge that could someday lead to personalized regenerative medicine. RUDOLF JAENISCH Professor of Biology, MIT Member, Whitehead Institute F1000 Head of Faculty, Genomics & Genetics Porter Gifford It was a misbehaving virus that drew Rudolf Jaenisch to epigenetics. As a postdoc in Arnold Levine’s

Ted Cohen: Travelling for TB

By Amy Maxmen Ted Cohen: Travelling for TB Porter Gifford Assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health. Age: 37 From as early as he can remember, Ted Cohen wanted to address tangible problems. Armed with a medical degree from Duke and an MPH from the University of North Carolina, he headed north to pursue a doctorate in public health. His Harvard School of Public Health mentor, Megan Murray, introduced him to the study

The Footprints of Winter

By Ralf Müller and Justin Goodrich The Footprints of Winter Epigenetic marks laid down during the cold months of the year allow flowering in spring and summer. Iain Sarjeant / ISTOCKIPHOTO.COM Many plants that grow in climates with a cold winter require growth for several months at low temperatures—a process called vernalization—to promote flowering in spring, when days lengthen and temperatures increase. Without this period of cold, plants wo


Come Inside

By Richard P. Grant Come Inside Lesley McKeane, MRC Visual Aids (virus) The paper D.L. Mallery et al., “Antibodies mediate intracellular immunity through tripartite motif-containing 21 (TRIM21),” PNAS, 107:19985-90, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Antibodies work by activating the complement cascade, preventing invading microorganisms from entering cells, or binding to a pathogen and marking it for destruction by immune cells. Now,

Bitter Pill

By Richard P. Grant Bitter Pill 3d4medical / photo researchers inc. The paper D.A. Deshpande et al., “Bitter taste receptors on airway smooth muscle bronchodilate by localized calcium signaling and reverse obstruction,” Nat Med, 16:1299-304, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Stephen Liggett and colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine set out to identify the G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) involved in the cont

Calcium Kicks

By Richard P. Grant Calcium Kicks Medi-Mation ltd / Photo researchers inc. The paper M.D. Fuller et al., “Molecular mechanism of calcium channel regulation in the fight-or-flight response,” Sci Signal, 3:ra70, 2010. Free F1000 Evaluation The finding Pounding heart, tight muscles, and rapid breathing are all familiar effects of the “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline receptors turn on protein kinase A (PKA), which opens ca

Sequence Analysis 101

A newbies guide to crunching next-generation sequencing data

Taking Time for Baby

By Bob Grant Taking Time for Baby Having a child changes everything. But it doesn’t necessarily have to disrupt your research while you’re out on leave. Alicia Timme-Laragy with baby Collin Erik Timme Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) postdoc Alicia Timme-Laragy was overjoyed at the birth of her first son, Collin, in March 2008. She had made all the preparations for his arrival and for a 10-week maternity leave from her work in the WHOI l

The Birds and the Bees

By Tim Birkhead The Birds and the Bees A recent book exposes what Darwin got wrong about sexual behavior in birds, and what his error tells us about the evolution of scientific knowledge. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011 For more than 100 years, it was widely assumed that the majority of female birds were sexually monogamous. Charles Darwin himself seems to have started that little rumor. In 1871’s The Descent of Man, he is quite explicit: “The female, th

Book excerpt from The Wisdom of Birds

By Tim Birkhead Book excerpt from The Wisdom of Birds In Chapter 9, “Darwin in Denial,” author Tim Birkhead explains how Darwin’s failure to recognize avian female promiscuity resulted in a century of misconceptions about sexual selection On a small area of waste ground outside the Andalusian town of Gaudix half a dozen middle-aged men are preparing for a contest that will determine their social status for weeks to come. Five of the men each carr

Capsule Reviews

By Bob Grant Capsule Reviews Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby Berkley Publishing Group (March 2010, in paperback February 1, 2011) In Asleep, science writer Molly Caldwell Crosby awakens the specter of a rapacious disease that killed more than one million people all over the world in the 1920s. Encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, emerged from the ashes of World War I to

Medicinal Alchemy, circa 1512

By Cristina Luiggi Medicinal Alchemy, circa 1512 Related Articles The art of alchemy Stem cell alchemy The discovery of DNA, circa 1869 During the Middle Ages, alchemists developed sophisticated ways to tap the medicinal powers of the Earth’s bounty. Depending on the ailment being treated, flowers, herbs, spices, minerals, and animal flesh all potentially held cures, which could be extracted employing methods not unlike those used by modern organ

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