Technology Profile

Presents for Profs
Peter Gwynne | Dec 14, 2003 | 4 min read
Newsday NODS OF APPROVAL A single breakout season can earn a major league baseball player the accolade of his own bobblehead doll. Scientists have a tougher time, though. Nobel laureate James Watson had to wait 50 years to earn head-nodding credibility; he joins a small pantheon of scientists so honored. Francis Crick, Watson's colleague in the discovery of DNA's structure, hasn't made the cut, but Albert Einstein has. And for the psychiatry world, Sigmund Freud nods approvingly. ($21.95; www
Thinking Beyond Tomorrow
Kelli Miller | Dec 14, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of Getty Images That discovery is fraught with unpredictability poses an enormous problem when evaluating research priorities and allocating funding. It also sends many scientists scrambling for cover when they are asked to prognosticate the future. The Scientist asked anyway. Research scientists, venture capitalists, patent attorneys, even a biomedical professor-turned-mystery author offered their opinions on what will be the hottest new technologies five years hence. Their response
Optical Slices of Life
Julia Boguslavsky | Dec 14, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of Cellomics  CRYSTAL CLARITY: Confocal microscopy provides unprecedented resolution of cellular structures Confocal microscopy, a decades-old technique,1 has experienced a relatively recent explosion in popularity. The technology's greatest impact has been felt in the life sciences, where its ability to generate crystal-clear images of biological structures and to monitor changes in living samples in real time enables functional analysis of biological processes. The key advant
Lights, Camera, Action in the Membrane
Laura Lane | Dec 1, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of AfCS-Nature Signaling Gateway (  A WORK IN PROGRESS Complex as it is, this cell signaling map isn't finished. But since every interaction shown is a potential point for therapeutic intervention, understanding the wiring of these messaging systems could deliver new drugs to the clinic. Signal transduction wasn't exactly the first thing that came to mind when my mother told me that she had medullary thyroid cancer. Thoughts of not having my mother aroun
High-Performance Computing On-Demand
Philip Hunter | Dec 1, 2003 | 9 min read
Michel Tcherevkoff Ltd. Grid computing is hot these days. With high-profile projects ranging from a search for extraterrestrial intelligence to a search for smallpox therapeutics, many researchers are looking to the grid as a way to get supercomputing power without dishing out supercomputing prices. The Grid Computing Info Centre defines a grid as "a type of parallel and distributed system that enables the sharing, selection, and aggregation of geographically distributed 'autonomous' resourc
Antibody Drug Development: On Target
Deborah Fitzgerald | Nov 16, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of Abbott Laboratories  BETTER LIVING THROUGH IMMUNOLOGY: Though the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is unknown, people suffering from the disease have an excess of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a) that accumulates in their joints. Abbott Laboratories' Humira, a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets TNF-a, helps prevent the inflammation characteristic of RA and inhibits the progression of structural joint damage. As soon as Köhler and Milstein described hyb
Microplate Reader Madness
Tariq Malik | Nov 16, 2003 | 10 min read
Courtesy of Cellomics The ArrayScan VTI HCS Reader Microtiter plates have become standard consumables in both research and clinical laboratories. Also known as microwells and microplates, microtiter plates essentially are flat trays bearing a number of isolated reaction chambers, from six to 1,536, and arranged in a 3n x 2n array (e.g., for a 96-well plate, n=4). All the plates share a common footprint (approximately 128 x 86 mm) regardless of manufacturer and configuration, so that robot
Hands-On Power
Mike May | Nov 16, 2003 | 6 min read
Courtesy of Mike Curtis  TAG, YOU'RE SICK! School children learn about communicable diseases with handheld computers and a program called Cooties. In the 1830s, Charles Darwin used a pen and paper to document finches and other fauna and flora in the Galápagos Islands. For the next century and a half, most scientists relied on the same tools to take notes or collect data. Today, Dave Anderson, associate professor of biology at Wake Forest University, follows in Darwin's footsteps--
fMRI: The Perfect Imperfect Instrument
Leslie Pray | Nov 2, 2003 | 10 min read
Courtesy of Chloe Hutton, Functional Imaging Lab  THICK OR THIN? The cerebral cortex thickness metric can be used to study the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer disease, epilepsy, mental retardation, and schizophrenia, and to investigate how brain function is affected in the abnormal regions. According to legend, functional neuroimaging can trace its roots to the stroke of noon on a day in the late 19th century, when Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso observed a sudden increase in
Hot Stuff: Annual Thermocycler Roundup
Aileen Constans | Nov 2, 2003 | 10 min read
Courtesy of Biometra Biometra's TGradient Things are getting hot in the thermal cycler world. Since The Scientist's last annual review of thermal cyclers,1 a number of vendors have updated their product lines, and several plan to release new products within the next year. With improved user-friendliness and visual appeal, the thermocycler class of 2003 features something for every user. Most thermal cyclers use thermal engines based on the Peltier effect, in which heat is transferred fro
Coupling In Vitro Transcription and Translation
Amy Adams | Oct 19, 2003 | 9 min read
Click for larger version of in vitro transcription/translation diagrams (57K) Cells are, at a fundamental level, protein-production facilities. So naturally, when researchers need to make some particular protein, they should let the cells do the work for them. But living cells are not terribly good at making exogenous proteins; some proteins are toxic, while others are degraded or simply clumped into insoluble aggregates called inclusion bodies. These days, scientists sometimes take a minima
Sorting Out Citation Management Software
Mike May | Oct 19, 2003 | 8 min read
For most researchers, just keeping up with the scientific literature proves taxing. Actually organizing it in a useful way--to create a bibliography, for example--is even harder. That job can virtually handle itself, however, if a scientist uses bibliographic software. Casual discussions about bibliographic software spawn a range of replies from scientists. Molecular biologist Ted Able of the University of Pennsylvania says, "Yes, I do use bibliographic software. It is absolutely a necessity
Body by Science
Aileen Constans | Oct 5, 2003 | 10+ min read
Ned Shaw Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake describes a gruesome future for organ transplantation: Pigoons, genetically altered pigs that grow surplus human organs. Though this scenario may never come to pass, it is easy to see why the science of human replacement parts ignites the dystopian imagination: It was not too long ago that Charles Vacanti of the University of Massachusetts and coworkers injected a polymer scaffold seeded with cartilage cells into the back of the mouse and created
Scaling Up Cell Culture
Josh Roberts | Oct 5, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of New Brunswick Scientific  WAY BIGGER THAN A T-225: The CelliGen Plus bioreactor with packed-bed basket option. The packed-bed system is fully scaleable, from 500 mL to 150 L. Scientists routinely press eukaryotic cells into service as organic factories, cranking out everything from antibodies to viruses. How much biomass these researchers need to conduct their research, however, varies. Individual researchers can generally get what they need to coat the wells of an ELISA plat
Assays Galore
Lanette Fee | Sep 21, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of BD Biosciences Pharmingen  COLOR CODING: Multiplexed bead-based assays, like BD Biosciences' Cytometric Bead Array (shown), test for multiple analytes in a single vial. The key is in the colors: one hue indicates the bead ID, and the intensity of the second, how much protein has been captured. In today's fast-paced research environment, technologies for speedy, cost-efficient analyses reign supreme. As part of this general trend, techniques for multiplexing, that is, simultan
Checking the Alignment
Jane Salodof Macneil | Sep 21, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of European Bioinformatics Institute  KNOWLEDGE GAPS? Sequence alignments offer clues to both the function and evolution of novel genes. But a bewildering array of algorithms and parameters leaves many researchers unable to use these programs to their fullest potential. In the beginning, there was Needleman-Wunsch, which begat Smith-Waterman, which begat FASTA, which begat BLAST, and so on. Peel away the information technology jargon surrounding these alignment algorithms, and a
Tissue Microarrays Coming of Age
Laura Lane | Sep 7, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of Marisa Dolled-Filhart, Robert L. Camp, and David L. Rimm  CORE TECHNOLOGY: Images of a breast cancer tissue microarray core immunofluorescently stained with (clockwise from top left) a rabbit pan-cytokeratin antibody, an Estrogen Receptor antibody, and DAPI, allowing for differential fluorescent tagging of each. If there's anyone who can appreciate tissue microarrays, it's histology technician Sabina Magedson. Having worked in a pathology laboratory at M.D. Anderson Cancer Ce
Gene Transfer Technologies
Josh Roberts | Sep 7, 2003 | 8 min read
Courtesy of Qbiogene  GOT LACTOSE? 3T3 cells expressing b-galactosidase (which converts lactose into glucose and galactose) after transfection with Qbiogene's jetPEI reagent. Laboratories are loading mammalian cells and tissues with exogenous DNA more routinely and more successfully than ever before. The means available to deliver the DNA--lipofection, transduction, electroporation, and so on--seem to be increasing at a staggering rate, whether measured in terms of published protocols, c
Microarray Data Analysis: Separating the Curd from the Whey
Philip Hunter | Aug 24, 2003 | 7 min read
For biologists, DNA microarrays present at once unprecedented opportunities and monumental challenges. In the opportunities column, microarrays produce genome-wide gene expression snapshots, facilitating a migration from gene-by-gene hypothesis-driven research to a relatively unbiased "discovery mode." The challenges broadly include data quality, analysis, and interpretation--that is, reaching an accurate and useful biological conclusion from the correlations identified within the data. Prog
Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics
Angelo DePalma | Aug 24, 2003 | 9 min read
Courtesy of Thermo Electron For years, mass spectrometry has been de rigeur in chemistry labs. Recently, though, it has become a mainstay of proteomics research, too. Two years ago, investment bank UBS Warburg identified proteomics as the fastest- growing application of mass spectrometry, a prediction borne out at this year's American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) annual meeting, where more than 1,100 of 2,227 presentations discussed some aspect of proteomics. It took a confluence of t