Mendel upended?

I was interested in this story1 when the 2005 paper came out, suggesting that Arabidopsis mutants could revert to wild type, and I started doing some experiments to test Susan Lolle and Robert Pruitt's ideas. My early data seemed to support the notion that reversion was happening (although it was not consistent with RNA-mediated reversion).

When Steve Jacobsen's paper came out I decided to grow hothead in isolation. I chose two isolated environments, and out of about 1,500 plants I didn't see any revertants. So I stopped working on this project because, like most of the community, I believed Jacobsen's results. But, I was never totally comfortable with this because of my early data. I'm glad Lolle is working on finding out how much outcrossing contributes to reversion and am anxious to see her results.

Emily Updegraff
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

"I'm glad Susan Lolle...

This is a nice in-depth update on a very controversial topic. If the accelerated reverse mutation mechanism exists as more than a passing anecdote, it will affect models of population evolution, since "Muller's Ratchet" would then no longer be applicable. Small populations are considered by this model as doomed to endlessly accumulate mutations, and thus degenerate in the absence of sexuality. This would no longer be the case. Maybe the rotifers would be a good place to look for more examples, since they seem to have managed many millions of years of successful evolution/existence without sexuality.

John Collins
Helmholtz Zentrum F. Infektionsforschung — HZI
Braunschweig, Germany


1. A. Gawrylewski, "
Mendel upended?" The Scientist, 22(2):30—6, February 2008.

Ray Wu remembered

My husband (Prabir Ray, PhD) and I were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to spend a couple of postdoc years in Ray Wu's (1928—2008) 1 lab in Ithaca, NY. Unquestionably, he was a pioneer in the field of molecular biology, and his research cast a wide net that covers the core of this discipline. Most importantly, he was a humble and kind human being. He would be fondly remembered and sorely missed by those whose paths had crossed his.

Anuradha Ray
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA


1. A. Katsnelson, "
Geneticist Ray Wu dies," The Scientist News Blog, Feb. 19, 2008,

Needling into addiction

Re: "Needling into addiction," which describes the biological reasons why acupuncture might curb addiction, 1 I have a unique viewpoint. As a licensed acupuncturist who has worked in a drug rehab facility that has an inpatient setting, I have seen the positive effects of acupuncture in treating addiction, regardless of the type of drug. There are improvements in sleep quality, a decrease in anxiety, depression, and pain levels, as well as various other positive outcomes. Of course, the patient has to be willing and wanting to quit; if not, then nothing works.

Michelle Solomon
The Narrow Pathway
Richardson, TX


1. K. Grens, "
Needling into addiction," The Scientist, 22(2):20—3, February 2008.

Familiar news?

Re: "New direction for gene therapy," 1 I have heard it hundreds of times before that a new material, new particle, new nanoparticle, another new tweak will solve the issue of site-specific delivery of drugs. But do you know what? After 30 or so years of practical experimentation, and after some 100 years since Paul Ehrlich first voiced a concept that was later given a "sexy" name of a "magic bullet," none of these promises has seen the light of day in achieving a practically useful drug delivery. The field needs to first recognize the fundamental requirements of site-specific delivery to biological sites, and, with recognition of biological concepts, develop new approaches. So far, most of the "advances" told us only what we want to hear, without finding an effective solution.

Karel Petrak
PJP Innovations, Inc.
Houston, TX


1. A. Katsnelson, "
New direction for gene therapy," The Scientist News Blog, Feb. 7, 2008.

Josh Lederberg, remembered

My first encounter with Josh Lederberg (1925—2008) 1 as a Stanford faculty member was at a scientific presentation in a small conference room. Josh entered carrying a stack of journals and a paper sack lunch. Josh appeared to be paying little attention to the presentation; he rummaged in his sack with gusto for lunch items and read the journals intently. About 20 minutes into the talk he interrupted with a devastating barrage of insightful questions that revealed he had followed the talk better than any of the rest of us.

Larry Kedes
Keck School of Medicine, UCLA
Los Angeles, CA

I had the great pleasure of knowing Josh Lederberg over a span of more than five decades. Josh and Ed Tatum had just set microbial genetics on a new course, with conjugation in Escherichia coli K-12. In rapid succession came replica plating, indirect selection of drug-resistant mutants, then limited and general transduction. Josh had a unique gift for recognizing important questions and finding direct approaches leading to their resolution, as he did in demonstrating mitochondrial self-replication and the action of penicillin to produce spheroplasts. Josh laid the conceptual foundation for our understanding of the gene: cis/trans effects (cistron); recombination unit ('rit'); mutational unit ('mit'); and physiological unit ('phit'). Josh spelled out a conceptual basis for the genetic control of antibody formation, and more recently, the recognition of the 'biome' as the true genetic complement of multicellular organisms. Few scientists have opened so many doors that have provided insight into life's processes.

S. Gaylen Bradley
Penn State College of Medicine
Hershey, PA


1. A. Gawrylewski, "
Joshua Lederberg dies," The Scientist News Blog, Feb. 4, 2008,

Editor's Note: Please click "Saying Goodbye" for a tribute to Joshua Lederberg by president and founding editor of The Scientist, Eugene Garfield.

Already open access?

In "Harvard first to force open access," 1 Joe Esposito speculates that Harvard's decision to ask its researchers to publish in open-access [OA] journals may encourage traditional publishers to purchase OA companies. Possibly, but I don't anticipate this will produce a major shift in the way consumers of information view or use OA. As long as you have an Internet connection and the e-mail address of the corresponding author, open access is, in a sense, already available. That is very welcome, but possibly the one thing that has stopped OA publishing from becoming the phenomenon that it was hoped to be.

Authors tend to mind their bottom line like anyone else, and they are usually happy to send a PDF of their article to anyone anywhere in the world if requested.

Michael Morris
University of Sydney
Sydney, Australia


1. A. Gawrylewski, "
Harvard first to force open access," The Scientist News Blog, Feb. 13, 2008.


In the March article "Spine control" (22[3]:66), the microRNA listed should read miR-134. Also, in the article "The people's CSO" (22[3]:77—9), Millennium Pharmaceutical's compound MLN4924 was incorrectly written as MLN4942. The Scientist regrets the errors.

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