Editorial

Death to Biologists
Death to Biologists
"In the last analysis it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions life puts to us."- Dag HammarskjoldDeath and dying are of fundamental importance to biologists and medical doctors. Yet, their study is a backwater of research that deserves far more attention. In a PubMed search, "aging" papers outnumber "dying" papers by 10 to 1, and "sex" outnumbers "dying" by 20 to 1.Death and dying are not being taught, either. Of the three top-selling human biology textbooks,

Opinion

Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Good
Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Good
Courtesy of Dr. Ronald Phillips, U. of MinnesotaThe granting of intellectual property rights is intended to stimulate innovation. The twin goals of encouraging innovation and promoting access to inventions require a balancing act between the scope of protection and limits on proprietary rights. In the United States and elsewhere, the government subsidizes research extensively.For developing countries, access to new products, particularly drugs and seeds, is often a question of life and death. Th

Letter

The Original Biotech
The Original Biotech
Cetus Corporation, and not Genentech (as stated in your article1), was the first US biotechnology company. Cetus was established across the bay in Berkeley in 1971, five years before Genentech. Although it merged with Chiron in the 1990s and no longer is a separate entity, Cetus had the pioneering vision that led to the establishment of the worldwide biotechnology industry and to the most important discovery of this industry, namely PCR, for which Cetus employee Kary Mullis received the Nobel Pr
Fast PCR
Fast PCR
"Fighting Fraud with DNA"1 claims that high-speed PCR is "too expensive now, but probably not in 10 or 20 years. There will have to be some breakthroughs in amplifying and reading faster ...." We have already built PCR instruments that amplify DNA fragments of 100 to 2000 base pairs through 30 PCR cycles in 1.3 to 10 minutes. In our fastest run to date, a 91 bp DNA fragment was amplified through 30 PCR cycles in 78 seconds.Michael NelsonMegabase Research Products Lincoln, Neb. mnelson@pcrjet.com
How Well Do Embryonic Stem Cells Work?
How Well Do Embryonic Stem Cells Work?
The two papers covered in the Hot Paper feature1 are interesting, but the real question is whether the animal models are of any use as models for idiopathic human Parkinson disease (PD).My own view is that the original fetal neural grafts did not work as well as people expected, not because the tissue was inappropriate, but because the notion of grafting dopaminergic cells into the striatum is itself such an imperfect approach. It is now well established2 that in PD, neuronal loss (apparently sp
Nonverbal Talk
Nonverbal Talk
I was as intrigued by what Gary Marcus didn't say in his Research Vision article1 as by what he did say. Specifically, how might his arguments be modified if non-human primate communication is largely nonverbal?Roger Fouts of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, Central Washington University, told me of an instance in which video data capture revealed two adolescent chimpanzees signaling and accepting an invitation to play with a half-second rise of both eyebrows (private communicat

Notebook

Stemming the tide
Stemming the tide
Andrzej KrauzeThe number of European researchers who leave Europe for greener pastures abroad has continued to make headlines on a regular basis in recent months. Time magazine, for example, reported in January that some 400,000 European science and technology graduates now live in the United States, and the European Commission says that only 13% of European science professionals working abroad intend to return home. More recent studies from Germany question whether the picture is as gloomy as t
Is there a doctor on board?
Is there a doctor on board?
Chances are you've never seen a laboratory like the one supervised by Chip Maxwell. Pulsating Day-Glo fluorescent lights flash off brushed aluminium walls as Maxwell places his hands on an opaque plastic hemisphere sprouting from the countertop. Maxwell, an environmental engineer at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, rubs it with his eyes closed. "What does that instrument do?" asks a woman from Kentucky, raising her camera to capture the scientist at

Feature

Vaccines: Victims of Their Own Success?
Vaccines: Victims of Their Own Success?
Perhaps in no area is the divide between the developed and developing worlds as striking as it is for vaccines: While healthcare consumers in economically advantaged nations worry about risk, in developing nations compelling need forces a focus on potential benefit. "People in the United States want a quick solution, not prevention, so they prefer drugs to vaccines. Elsewhere, people are afraid of drugs and side effects, and prefer vaccines," says Shan Lu, a primary-care physician who has worked

Research

Magicicada
Magicicada
Tammy Irvine, http://www.rearviewstudio.comBig, loud, and astonishingly clumsy, periodical cicadas dally underground for nearly their entire long lives (17 or sometimes 13 years) and then emerge all at once by the millions, in May, when the soil has warmed to the mid-60s. The males form choruses in the trees, belting out love songs loud enough to damage human hearing. Each female selects just one troubadour, mates, and lays her eggs in twigs; then all the adults die. The process takes only three
Tracking the Red-Eyed, Sluggish, and Ear-Splitting
Tracking the Red-Eyed, Sluggish, and Ear-Splitting
© Chris Simon, University of ConnecticutTwo cicadas mate.It's a bit tricky, getting a tiny drop of Super Glue in exactly the right place on a cicada's thorax. Martin Wikelski must affix his microtransmitter far enough forward so that it doesn't interfere with her wings, because her wings, and how far she flies with them, are why Wikelski, a physiological ecologist at Princeton University, is spending a cloudy May morning watching ungainly red-eyed insects struggle out of their exoskeletons
Meiosis Models Face Tough Scrutiny
Meiosis Models Face Tough Scrutiny
A TALE OF TWO MODELS:Courtesy of Douglas K. Bishop and Denise Zickler, © Elsevier ScienceThe double-strand-break repair model (A) posits that during meiotic prophase I, crossovers (COs) and noncrossovers (NCOs) begin with a double-strand break (DSB) of a DNA helix. Cleavage of a structure known as the Holliday junction (HJ) ultimately generates both COs and NCOs. A newer model (B) proposes that COs still arise from HJs (right) but that NCOs come from a pathway called synthesis-dependent str
Crossing the Frontlines in Mucosal Immunity
Crossing the Frontlines in Mucosal Immunity
WORKING IN CONCERT:Courtesy Katherine L. Knight and Ki-Jong Rhee © 2004 American Association of ImmunologistsLeft is a section of appendix following introduction of Bacteroides fragilis; right is a section of appendix following introduction of B. fragilis plus Bacillus Subtilis. B. fragilis alone results in no gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) development while the combination shows a B lymphocyte follicle (red dots).Commensal or nonpathogenic bacteria have established a mutually benefi

Hot Paper

Building a Better Mouse Genome
Building a Better Mouse Genome
Cindy MageeWhen hobbyist Chobei Zenya wrote The Breeding of Curious Varieties of the Mouse in 1787, he probably never imagined the impact that mouse breeding would eventually have on biomedical and genetic research. During the past two centuries, the "fancy mice" once prized by breeders have evolved into the multitude of inbred strains now used to study complex genetic traits and to model human diseases. In the past 40 years, mouse biology has exploded, as scientists added to the heap with trans

Vision

Panning for T-cell Gold
Panning for T-cell Gold
A COMPLICATED UNION:Image redrawn from Ann Rev Biochem, 72:717–42, 2003Antigens bound by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules interact with T-cell receptors (TCRs) at the heart of the interface for T-cell recognition. But, many other players are involved. Massive polyvalency within this confined space may compensate for low-affinity receptors, giving added sensitivity.In some ways, science resembles gold mining: Eager practitioners congregate around rich veins of discovery whil

Briefs

Finding an Alzheimer-FAT link
Finding an Alzheimer-FAT link
© 2004 Nature Publishing GroupConstantly on the run, membrane-bounded organelles (MBOs) in neurons deliver proteins from cell bodies to axons. A recent study by Scott Brady and colleagues at the University of Illinois suggests that disruption of this anterograde fast axonal transport (FAT) may contribute to Alzheimer disease pathogenesis via a novel pathway locally regulating glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) activity.1According to this study, cyclin-dependent kinase 5-inhibition allows pro
Combing for Ancient DNA
Combing for Ancient DNA
Courtesy of The Natural History Museum, LondonSome liken DNA recovery from ancient sources to genetic time travel. But contamination remains a significant challenge, and museum curators cringe about recovery methods that involve drilling into bone and teeth. To overcome this concern, researchers in the United Kingdom have refined a method to extract genetic material from ancient hair.Thomas Gilbert, then a student in Alan Cooper's laboratory at Oxford University, says he tired of porous ancient
Pattern Prediction
Pattern Prediction
© 2004, National Academy of SciencesBiological patterns often develop in a mathematically predictable way. Fifty years ago Alan Turing invoked differential equations describing the interaction of an activator molecule and its inhibitor, a so-called reaction diffusion mechanism, to describe biological pattern formation. "People have suggested the model but without having any strong experimental evidence to back it up," says mathematical biologist Kevin Painter at Heriot-Watt University, Edin

Patent Watch

Milking Mammals for Membrane Proteins
Milking Mammals for Membrane Proteins
Producing membranous proteins in large quantities isn't difficult, but producing them as part of a membrane is. That's a problem, since the proteins must be part of a membrane to be functional. But if you want a membrane protein expressed, "we'd be the ones to do it," says Harry Meade, senior vice president of research and development at GTC Biotherapeutics in Framingham, Mass. GTC was recently awarded US patent 6,743,966 for a method to do so.The method, explains Meade, is based on the natural

Software Watch

Mining Cancer Arrays with Oncomine
Mining Cancer Arrays with Oncomine
Courtesy of OncomineEach week it seems a new study comes out about applying DNA microarrays to cancer. The data are generally publicly accessible, but not conveniently so, as they are scattered about the Web or available only by E-mail.Arul Chinnaiyan, director of the University of Michigan Pathology Microarray Center in Ann Arbor, decided to collect all the data and put it in a single place, along with some bioinformatics tools to help cancer biologists interpret the information.The result is O

Gadget Watch

Fun With Luciferase
Fun With Luciferase
Courtesy of RobmarCommon sense says that biotechnology is not child's play, but to former surgeon Bruce Bryan, it is. Bryan founded Pinetop, Ariz.-based Prolume to develop a line of glow-in-the-dark toys based on the luciferin/luciferase reaction, the same process behind firefly light and chemiluminescent assays.The idea dates back to Bryan's childhood, when he observed sea creatures lighting up the water during a scuba diving excursion. As an adult he tinkered with bioluminescence and eventuall

Technology

Cancer Immunotherapy Inches Forward
Cancer Immunotherapy Inches Forward
PRIMING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM:Thom GravesScientists are working on several approaches to coax the immune system into attacking cancer. Here, artificial antigen-presenting cells are used to stimulate the patient's own tumor-specific T cells.Like a modern army, the human immune system possesses an array of sophisticated cellular and molecular detection systems and weaponry. Against most pathogens these forces mount a formidable defense, but not when the disease in question involves the body's own cell

How It Works

Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorter
Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorter
Nearly 35 years since Stanford researcher Leonard Herzenberg and colleagues developed the first fluorescence activated cell sorter (FACS), the instrument has become the immunologists' key tool. Immunology journals are chock-full of flow-cytometry profiles, the characteristic plots that such instruments produce.But cytometry is just half the story. The instruments also allow researchers to purify specific cell populations based on the presence or absence of particular characteristics. And therein

Tools and Technology

Genome-Scale Model Predicts Gene Regulation
Genome-Scale Model Predicts Gene Regulation
BUILDING A BETTER MODEL:Metabolic and regulatory networks may be expanded by coupling high-throughput phenotyping and gene expression data with the predictions of a computational model. (Reprinted with permission, Nature, 429:92–6, 2004).Most people like their predictions to pan out, but Markus Covert is glad when his fail. That's because he has developed a genome-scale mathematical model of the transcriptional interactions that regulate bacterial metabolism. The model's mistakes lead to n
Shifting Away from Gel Shifts
Shifting Away from Gel Shifts
While researchers have long relied on electrophoretic mobility-shift assays (called gel shifts) to identify which transcription factors bind to DNA samples, the method can be time-consuming and requires the use of radiolabeled nucleotide to track protein-DNA complexes.Now Novagen http://www.novagen.com, a brand of San Diego-based EMD Biosciences, is offering a new alternative to gel shifts with its NoShift Transcription Factor Assay Kit. The kit eliminates gels altogether, immobilizing DNA insid
Microscopy, Digital-Style
Microscopy, Digital-Style
Courtesy of LeicaLeica Microsystems http://www.leica-microsystems.com, Bannockburn, Ill., has released the DM6000 B, the latest in its new DM line of digital research microscopes. The system includes a host of automated features: an automatic recall function for all settings, fully automated interference contrast, a five-step fluorescence intensity manager, and single-key switching between contrasting techniques, all designed to reduce the tedium of research microscopy, says product manager Jill
Standardizing IHC Work
Standardizing IHC Work
Courtesy of Chemicon InternationalSmall research labs that can't justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on a sophisticated automated immuno-histochemistry (IHC) staining system can still Courtesy of Chemicon International benefit from more standardization. Enter the IHC Select Manual Staining System, released last October by Temecula, Calif.-based Chemicon International http://www.chemicon.com.Chemicon's device, which has a list price of $1,495 (US) for the basic kit, holds 40 capillary-g

Profession

Ongoing Battle over Transgenic Mice
Ongoing Battle over Transgenic Mice
Adecade-long war over genetically modified mice still rages. In 1994, Klaus Rajewsky's laboratory at the University of Cologne in Germany created the first transgenic conditional knockout mouse.1 With this mouse, researchers could turn on a genetic mutation at a specific period of development in a specific type of cell. Rajewsky assumed that his mouse would soon be used in labs throughout the world. Simply pleased with his research success, he never considered applying for a patent on a mouse. "
SEC and FDA Join Forces Against Biotech
SEC and FDA Join Forces Against Biotech
A biotechnology stock, ImClone Systems of New York City, served as the root of Martha Stewart's insider-trading conviction, and life-science lawyers say that the biotech industry is ripe for more securities-related cases. Largely in response to the ImClone debacle, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) initiated new policies that make it easier for these two agencies to cooperate on biotechnology cases. "Biotech has been hot for the last co
Massachusetts Should Team Up on Biotech
Massachusetts Should Team Up on Biotech
Courtesy of Neil W. Van DykeMassachusetts contends for the forefront of life-sciences research and development. Nonetheless, some business leaders worry that Massachusetts could fall behind, because this state lacks a formal link between industry and the state's public and private academic institutions. An ongoing roadmap, however, aims to keep Massachusetts on track as a leader in biotechnology.Academic-industrial partnerships generate widespread benefits in other states. In a report on the nee
How to Write a Business Plan
How to Write a Business Plan
Interdisciplinary communication is tricky business. Ecologists andmolecular types may use certain lingo, but PhDs and MBAs speak entirely different languages. That can mean trouble for a business plan.Business and science make up one of the riskiest marriages around. Still, many MBAs and PhDs take this plunge because of the potential for blockbuster profits. However, even a solid scientific idea, one that fills a gap in the market, can sink for lack of business savvy, says Tom Fitzsimons, direct

Closing Bell

Fake Method for Research Impartiality (fMRI)
Fake Method for Research Impartiality (fMRI)
For decades, the behavioral sciences have been at a dramatic disadvantage to the hard sciences. When a biologist hypothesizes that the addition of a particular ligand to a cell will cause a certain gene to turn on and thus produce a certain protein, all she has to do is to introduce the enzyme and then test for the protein. If it's there, she publishes a paper; if it's not, she quietly discards the work.The psychologist has a much steeper hill to climb. Let's say he's trying to prove his hypothe