Meet some of the people featured in the August 2011 issue of The Scientist.

The Scientist Staff
Jul 31, 2011

In describing the small Scottish oil-shale and coal-mining village of Addiewell where he was raised, Tom Curran says, “Cancer was a fact of life and there was nothing anyone could do about it.” He has spent much of his career determined to change that perception. As a grad student he was unfazed by a lukewarm reception from a reviewer to his discovery of the fos oncogene: “While this manuscript lacks originality in its approach, it is probably acceptable for publication.” The gene has since been mentioned in over 22,000 papers. In his Thought Experiment, Curran, now a deputy scientific director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, offers ideas on how neuronal mutations during early development result in neurological, psychiatric, and perhaps even psychological dysfunctions.

As a child growing up in the mountains of northern England, Richard Bardgett was fascinated by the landscape—particularly the underlying soils. Now, he travels to field sites as distant as Tibet and the high Arctic to study how plant and microbial interactions within the soil change in response to shifting climate patterns. His feature, "The Root of the Problem," documents how these changes affect nutrient cycling through the soils, and how soils function as a source of, or sink for, excess carbon in the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for people to understand belowground soil communities, says Bardgett, Professor of Ecology at Lancaster University’s Lancaster Environment Centre. “Soils couldn’t be more important to food security and climate change.” Bardgett is an avid cyclist, runner, traveler, and enthusiast of wine. “And the more cycling and running I do,” he says, “the more I can enjoy my wine.”

A first-year PhD student at the Harvard School of Public Health, Michelle Rooks chose Wendy Garrett’s lab so she could study the interplay of human nutrition, gut microbiota, and cancer. “I am particularly interested in how you can use diet to improve health, and the contribution of diet and microbes to cancer prevention and treatment,” Rooks says. In their feature article, "Sharing the Bounty," the coauthors detail how an analysis of gut bacteria might contribute to understanding gastrointestinal cancers and how the manipulation of microbial communities might one day serve as a treatment option. Garrett, an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, is also the mother of two young children, but manages to make time for long-distance running (she once ran the Boston Marathon) and hiking. In her lab, set up just 18 months ago, she focuses on how intestinal microbial communities affect immune system function and how chronic intestinal inflammation increases cancer risk. Of her new graduate student, Garrett says, “what makes me so proud of her is that few people have bridged the gap between computational biology and wet lab experimentation. And Michelle is doing that.”