The Scientific Muse
Steve Bunk | Nov 26, 2000 | 6 min read
The worldwide impact of discoveries over recent years in genetics is evident, but also worth considering is the potential effect on the performance of biology. Could these achievements spark an upsurge in creativity elsewhere within the life sciences? The reason this may be likely is that, since the dawn of the 20th century--and even earlier, going back to Gregor Mendel's experiments--the gene has been an abstraction par excellence, a chemical entity described without direct evidence of its exi
Confessions of an Ex-Fly Pusher
Ricki Lewis | May 1, 2000 | 8 min read
Two decades ago, I sat at Herman J. Muller's desk at Indiana University, pushing flies as he once did. Looking back in light of the recent unveiling of the Drosophila melanogaster genome sequence,1 I realize that I was struggling in the Dark Ages of genetics, when we worked by inference rather than scanning databases of A,T, C, and G. If I labored in the Dark Ages, then Thomas Kaufman, my mentor, received his training in the Stone Age; Muller was positively Precambrian. Back in the 1970s,
Curiosity and the Scientific Method
Steve Bunk | Apr 2, 2000 | 6 min read
Graphic: Cathleen Heard The amazing strides forward in biomedical research over the past two decades, led by an American triumvirate of academia, industry, and government, are not without accompanying concerns. One such worry is that curiosity could become an endangered justification for the conduct of life science. Basking in the sun of its results, biomedical research in particular may risk becoming too results-oriented. Increasingly, universities and teaching hospitals are turning to private
Breaking Barriers to Participation in Cancer Clinical Trials
Robert Finn | Feb 20, 2000 | 6 min read
This issue of The Scientist chronicles many promising areas of cancer research, comprising a wide range of approaches to the treatment and prevention of our second-leading cause of death. But before any of these disparate approaches can begin to affect the rate of cancer mortality, they must pass through the bottleneck of human clinical trials. The pace of new ideas through the clinical trial process can seem maddeningly slow to patients and researchers alike. It takes far too long to get safe
Gene Therapy's Trials and Tribulations
Henry Miller | Feb 6, 2000 | 6 min read
When I was a medical resident at Harvard Medical School's cancer center, I had an experience that was both unnerving and illuminating. In the wee hours of the morning, I was about to give a patient her scheduled dose of an experimental chemotherapeutic agent, but I had trouble getting the air bubbles out of the syringe. So there I was, muttering and tapping on the syringe, when the patient suddenly sighed deeply ... and died. Had all gone smoothly, I'd have given the drug 20 seconds earlier, she
Is Science Religious?
Steve Bunk | Nov 7, 1999 | 7 min read
If the struggle between religion and science for the amorphous prize of truth had a flashpoint, it might have been 1633, when Galileo revealed the results of his observations supporting the Copernican theory that Earth and the other planets move around the sun. Nowadays, amid countless words written about the still testy relationship between the two institutions, a refrain can be found that perhaps does not enjoy the prominence it deserves. This is the contention that science is actually among t
A Liberating Aerial Bombardment
Miriam Rothschild | Jul 26, 1987 | 4 min read
In November 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, I was solving trematode life cycles in the Marine Biological Station at Plymouth. Before the fighting began I had received an impressive-looking form from the Royal Society asking for details of my qualifications, and announcing that as a scientist I was placed in a reserved occupation and could not volunteer for any form of national service should hostilities commence. I therefore continued with my work (I had already qualified as a
Hunt the Paradox and Fate May Smile
Lord Dainton | Jul 12, 1987 | 5 min read
Pasteur's dictum "Chance favors the prepared mind" is in my experience a truism, but! would add that whether the mind is prepared may itself be a matter of chance. It certainly was in my case. I became a chemist because of a rather poor chemistry teacher at my secondary school. Later in life he became director of education for Lancashire and was knighted, which is perhaps only another illustration that an indifferent understanding of chemistry is not necessarily a bar to advancement in other fi
Kicking Joe McCarthy Out of the Lab
John Edsall | Jun 28, 1987 | 4 min read
In April 1954, I was one of thousands of biomedical scientists who gathered as usual for the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). On this occasion, however, we received an unexpected shock. Rumors were circulating—with circumstantial detail that left little doubt as to their truth—that some highly regarded investigators, previously supported in their unclassified research by the U.S. Public Health Service, had found their grant appl
Rewriting the Book on Nucleic Acids
Jean Brachet | Jun 14, 1987 | 4 min read
Every cultured person today has heard of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis. But nucleic acids were not so well-known in 1927, when Albert Dalcq asked me to study the localization of "thymonucleic acid" in ovarian eggs (ovocytes). Biochemistry textbooks merely said that there are two kinds of nucleic acids, "animal" and "vegetal." Thymonucleic acid, a typical animal nucleic acid, had a queer sugar residue, which makes it a DNA. Plant nucleic acids, like zymonucleic acid from yeast, contained a pento
A Serendipitous Contamination
Lowell Hokin | Jun 1, 1987 | 4 min read
All cells receive messages via hormones, neurotransmitter molecules and growth factors. These molecules bind to protein receptors in the cell membrane and relay their information in the form of "second messengers" to the cell's interior. It has long been known that cells contain a vitamin-like substance called myoinositol. Our discovery 35 years ago that cell-surface receptor activation leads to increased metabolic turnover of an inositol-containing phospholipid, phosphatidylinositol (PI), was s
At Home on the Intellectual Range
Alice Rossi | May 17, 1987 | 4 min read
At 10 I wanted to be a chemist, and at 16 a poet. At 18 I entered college as an English major but soon realized that I loved social science courses more than literature courses. In dismay, I consulted a college career counselor, who suggested social science as a compromise between a humanities discipline and a biological science. So I became a sociologist (though if the truth be known, I still hanker after biology and harbor a secret ambition to write a novel). After majoring in sociology I wen
An Inspired Flash in the Fog
Js Forrest | May 3, 1987 | 4 min read
Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits prepares. —Louis Pasteur During the 1920s, more than 400 small power stations provided Britain's electricity supply. These local generating stations were owned by municipalities, local authorities and private companies, and operated at various voltages and frequencies: 50, 40 and 25 Hz, and direct current. It was recognized that this situation was far from ideal, not to mention uneconomic, as each local station had to p
'Like Joining a Select Club'
Michael Woodruff | Apr 19, 1987 | 4 min read
John Keats has vividly described his excitement on seeing for the first time Chapman's translation of Homer. I had a somewhat similar experience in 1942. During my early surgical training in Australia, the only grafts I learned about, apart from blood transfusion, were autografts of skin, bone and fascia, and allografts (called homografts in those days) of cornea. I was iguorant of the numerous attempts by surgeons to use allografts of skin, and of the long controversy about whether these did or
A Geological Near-Miss
Ae Mourant | Mar 8, 1987 | 4 min read
The hypothesis that the present distribution of the continents is due to the breaking up and drifting apart of the fragments of a single continent was first put forward in 1912. However, largely because of the First World War and the extreme antipathy to German science and scientists that followed it, the hypothesis remained not only unaccepted but almost unknown for many years in the former allied countries such as Britain and America. I first heard of it in 1923 from an American physicist at O