Illustration shows multiple hands holding phones displaying fake news on the screen.

Let's Keep Science Real

April Fools’ Day jokes about scientific findings risk spreading misinformation.

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modified from ©, implehappyart

The first day of April is abuzz with mischief in the air. Those aware of the prank tradition look over their shoulders all day, suspicious of everything and everyone—much to the annoyance of those uninterested in the custom. Many scientists partake in this tradition as well, channeling their intelligence into crafting convincing ruses to trick their colleagues, students, or advisors. Such antics often foster lab camaraderie and provide memorable stories for years to come. I fondly remember the times during my graduate studies when some of us fibbed about stolen bicycles and “lost” samples to incite momentary panic in teammates.

However, there is a limit, and innocent jokes can cause harm. In my opinion, any science joke that extends into the public realm is dangerous territory. When it comes to science communication, small lies pose a big risk. Scientists may post fake scientific findings on public platforms with an innocuous intent, expecting the readers to go through a rollercoaster of reactions: the initial shock on reading an outlandish claim and the eventual chuckle as they realize they fell for the ruse. This works in the ideal scenario, but life is hardly ever that simple. Some readers might miss a disclaimer while skimming a write up amidst their busy routines, or some might not check the platform on the following day when the update is issued. They may consequently believe the lie and share it, unintentionally propagating scientific misinformation. 

All year round, scientists and science communicators pride themselves on their abilities to disseminate accurate information to keep the world informed about the latest updates in science. I worry that if those in charge of upholding scientific integrity contribute to the spread of misinformation—even for a day—they could damage the trust and credibility they have built over time. 

It’s time to retire science fibs from the repertoire of April Fools’ Day pranks. If anyone believes the lies beyond the day, the joke is on the jester. Do you agree?

Submit Your Opinion

Conceptual image of DNA extraction on a blue background, with test tubes in the foreground.

How to Catalyze RNA and DNA Extraction Success

RNA and DNA extraction kits take formalin-fixed tissue samples by storm, enabling superior quality and yields.

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©, bluebay2014

Researchers extract RNA and DNA from biological samples as a starting point for various downstream biomolecular applications, such as next-generation sequencing, PCR, and microarray analysis. The general steps for nucleic acid extraction involve lysing cells, inactivating nucleases, and purifying the nucleic acid sample from leftover cell debris. Among the most important considerations for performing reliable RNA and DNA extraction are the final sample’s purity and yield, as these variables greatly affect downstream workflows.1 Isolating RNA and DNA from fresh tissue, cell samples, and agarose gels is relatively straightforward and efficient. However, isolating nucleic acids from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples is no easy task, given the chemical damage that tissue-preserving formaldehyde imparts.2

          Conceptual image of nucleic acid extraction from a formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sample, with the tissue shown in the background and a magnifying glass with colored bands of nucleic acid in the foreground.
Extracting higher quality and higher yields of RNA and DNA from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue samples allows researchers to maximize biobanked materials for a wide variety of applications.

FFPE tissue samples allow scientists to glean useful information from the architecture of preserved cells and tissues, but formaldehyde preservation crosslinks proteins and nucleic acids and disrupts nucleotide sequences.3,4 As a result, the quality and yield of RNA and DNA from FFPE samples is often poor, which limits downstream applications that require sufficient starting material. There are significant benefits to extracting adequate quality and yields of nucleic acids from FFPE samples. For example, taking advantage of biobanked archival materials such as tissue biopsies expands the scope of basic cancer and immunology research, medical diagnostics, therapeutics development, and retrospective and prospective clinical studies.

Researchers using standard extraction protocols that heat samples to eliminate formaldehyde-induced crosslinks face poor yields and nucleic acid quality and therefore seek new technologies that enable RNA and DNA extraction from FFPE samples. For example, Biotium’s RNAstorm™ and DNAstorm™ kits enable yields of more amplifiable RNA and DNA from FFPE tissue samples, compared to other methods. These kits use catalytic CAT5™ technology, which allows researchers to more efficiently remove formaldehyde crosslinks under gentler conditions, generating more amplifiable DNA and RNA for downstream applications.

Learn more about Biotium's unique RNAstorm™ and DNAstorm™ FFPE Extraction Kits.

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Colorful assortment of genes in a glass jar and hands entering the picture presenting different numerical guesses.
Estimates of how many genes are encoded in the human genome have changed over time, as has the definition of a gene.

How Many Genes Are in the Human Genome?

Twenty-one years after the Human Genome Project, scientists still debate how many genes humans have.

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designed by imran chowdhury

At the turn of the century, while awaiting the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP), scientists organized an informal sweepstake for researchers to guess the number of genes in the human genome. Early guesses of 100,000 in the early 1990s crept down closer to 50,000 later in the decade. In the end, a much smaller number claimed victory: 25,947, which was closest to the then estimate of 24,500.1 However, 21 years later, the count is still ongoing. 

     Photo of Steven Salzberg
Steven Salzberg, a computational biologist at Johns Hopkins University, uses computational methods for analyzing DNA and genomes. He has worked on genome assembly projects ranging from viruses to plants to animals, including the Human Genome Project. 
Johns Hopkins University

With the sequence in hand, a bigger question emerged: what's a gene? Around the HGP era, many scientists defined a gene as any region of the genome that encodes a protein, and gradually converged on the number of protein-coding genes.2 But according to other definitions of a gene, the count doesn’t end there. “On top of the 20,000 protein-coding genes, we have another 15,000 or 20,000 noncoding genes,” said Steven Salzberg, a computational biologist at Johns Hopkins University. 

Salzberg noted that many of those might not turn out to be genes under another definition of a gene, which is any section of the genome that produces a protein or RNA that the body uses, thus incorporating functionality into the definition.2,4 “We only know the functions for less than 5% of them, so they might just be noise,” said Salzberg. 

Scientists still don’t know the exact number, but Salzberg is optimistic that new technologies will help refine the gene catalog. For him, this is more than a counting exercise. Medical research and practice rely on a detailed catalog of human genes. “If there's a gene that's not annotated, it's not known. They won't look at it,” said Salzberg. “We'd like to be able to reassure them [that] all the genes are known.”

  1. Salzberg SL. BMC Biol. 2018;16(1):94
  2. Amaral P, et al. Nature. 2023;622(7981):41-47.
  3. International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium. Nature. 2001;409(6822):860-921.
  4. Pertea M, et al. Genome Biol. 2018;19(1):208.
Illustration of blood moving through a vein.

How to Preserve Blood Sample Integrity for Proteomic Analysis

Novel innovations for stabilizing the plasma proteome in whole blood samples provide researchers with more confidence in their protein analysis. 

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©, ExperienceInteriors

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Blood is a complex mixture of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets suspended in fluid containing coagulation factors and other proteins, known as plasma. Because this biofluid comes into contact with most tissues, researchers can use blood for proteomics-based biomarker discovery and validation, where they have already detected protein biomarkers for diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.1,2 

          A photo of the Protein Plus BCT™ for whole blood samples. 
The Protein Plus BCT™ stabilizes whole blood samples to reduce preanalytical variation in the detected protein levels. For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.

In the absence of stabilization, blood cells undergo ex vivo degradation and/or activation over time, which can hinder downstream analysis.3 Additionally, differences in the preanalytical procedure, such as the collection tubes employed, the time elapsed between drawing and processing, and the blood sample storage temperature, can cause changes in the sample’s proteomic landscape.4,5 As a result, researchers must process these samples as quickly as possible to ensure accurate analysis.

To reduce the preanalytical variability, scientists can collect whole blood samples within evacuated blood collection tubes (BCTs), such as the Protein Plus BCT™, which stabilizes the samples prior to processing. This collection tube maintains the draw-time concentrations of plasma proteins at ambient temperatures for up to five days after blood draw, depending on the protein, by reducing platelet activation, hemolysis, and the release of contaminating blood cell proteins. Consequently, blood samples collected and stored in these tubes better represent the blood found in circulation, which results in more accurate proteomic analysis.

Read more about stabilizing proteins in whole blood samples

A white and tan mother rat watches over several rat pups.

Babies on the Brain

In rats, motherhood leaves long-term biological signatures in a brain region that is crucial for learning and memory.

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©, Liukove

Pregnancy is a time of massive physiological upheaval that disturbs every major organ system in the body. “We’re often told, ‘don’t worry, it all resolves afterwards,’” said Liisa Galea, a behavioral neuroendocrinologist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. “But does it really? Or is there a long-lasting signature? I’ve always been fascinated by that.”

     Liisa Galea smiles at the camera while wearing a purple shirt and black jacket.
Liisa Galea studies how sex-specific factors such as pregnancy affect brain health and disease.
Paul Joseph

In a new study in rodents, Galea identified some of these signatures of motherhood in the brain, describing persistent differences in markers of neuroinflammation and plasticity.1

In humans, research suggests that male and female brains age differently in the context of both health and neurodegenerative disease, but the mechanisms underlying these complex sex differences are not fully understood.2,3 “We need to understand what kind of female-specific experiences might be driving increased risk or resilience,” said Galea.

To begin unraveling this mystery, Galea and her team examined cellular and molecular differences in the hippocampi of rats with zero, one, or two litters of pups.1 They found that rats with one or two litters had higher levels of post-synaptic density 95 protein—which plays a key role in the ability of neurons to alter their connections with each other—compared to non-mothers, both shortly after giving birth and in middle age. While rats without pups experienced a decline in neural stem cells with age, mothers had similar neural stem cell densities at both time points. In middle age, rats with two litters had greater densities of microglia, the brain’s immune cells, compared to rats without pups.

“I found the conclusions to be insightful,” said Jessica Bradshaw, who studies maternal brain health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and was not involved in the study. “This highlights that even a healthy pregnancy can have short-term and long-term effects on the brain.”

Crystalline ball-and-stick model representation of a molecular structure.

Prioritizing PARylation in DNA Damage and Repair

Measuring cellular poly ADP-ribosylation can unlock new anticancer strategies and approaches.

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BPS Bioscience

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          An infographic describing the workflow for the LysA™ Universal PARylation Assay Kit. Cells are lysed, creating a protein lysate solution. The lysate is then probed with antibodies to determine the amount of PARylation using chemiluminescence.
The LysA™ Universal PARylation Assay Kit is a sandwich ELISA-based kit designed to measure and quantify the amount of total poly ADP-ribosylation present in cell extracts.
BPS Bioscience

ADP-ribosylation, the attachment of ADP-ribose to proteins, is a common eukaryotic post-translational modification. It exists in two forms: mono ADP-ribosylation (MARylation), where individual units are attached to the protein in question, and poly ADP-ribosylation (PARylation), where proteins are bound to multi-ADP-ribose unit chains and branches. PARylation is integral to many key cellular functions, including signaling modulation and DNA repair.

Poly ADP-ribose polymerases (PARPs) mediate ADP ribosylation. Scientists have discovered seventeen PARP families in humans, but only members of the first five PARP families are capable of PARylation, with PARP1 being the most abundant.1 PARP1 is a prominent part of DNA repair pathways, detecting and binding to both single-stranded and double-stranded breaks. PARP1 then recruits repair proteins to the damage site by auto-PARylating itself.2 If DNA is excessively damaged beyond repair, apoptotic pathways shut down DNA repair mechanisms, characterized by PARP1 cleavage.3

PARylation is reversible and is undone by PAR erasers such as poly ADP-ribose glycohydrolase (PARG). This serves two main functions. First, it allows PARP proteins to maintain functionality by returning them to their inactive forms. PARG inhibition results in increases in sensitivity to DNA damage and disrupted DNA replication. Second, it prevents parthanatos, a caspase-independent cell death mechanism caused by cytoplasmic poly ADP-ribose accumulation.4

Given their roles in DNA replication and repair, it is unsurprising that scientists have targeted both PARP and PARG for anticancer efforts.2,4 Here, PARylation is an indicator of approach efficacy, and products such as the LysA™ Universal PARylation Assay Kit from BPS Biosciences gives scientists precise measurements in an easy-to-use package. Based on sandwich ELISA, this kit is capable of qualitative and quantitative measurements, includes controls and standards, does not detect MARylation, and is linear within the 100pM to 20nM PARylation range. Accurate PARylation measurements drive continued work on PARP- and PARG inhibitor-based therapeutic approaches, whether used alone or in combination with other strategies.

Learn more about measuring PARylation

An illustration of a female astronaut working on DNA experiments in space.

A Space Sequence Saga

Astronaut Kathleen Rubins and her samples do not settle when it comes to space biology.

Image Credit:

Modified from ©, Photoplotnikov, VoronaArt, D things, Nobi_Prizue, setory; designed by Ashleigh Campsall

          Kate Rubins conducts experiments on the ISS.
NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins was the first person to sequence DNA in space. She uses a Microgravity Science Glovebox, which provides a sealed environment for experiments on the ISS.

NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins trained as a biologist and led a lab group at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research studying the genomics of infectious disease. In 2009, when an opportunity arose, she applied to be an astronaut and has never looked back. In 2016, Rubins became the first person to sequence DNA in space.1

Why did you want to test sequencing in space?

We really wanted to sequence since it is such a powerful technology with applications in both human health and research studies. For instance, for spacecraft environmental monitoring, we take swabs, put them on culture plates, send them back to land, and ship them to a lab for standard culture-based methods. The point that we start interrogating a sample to the point that we get the answer could be up to two weeks. In the meantime, we have people living inside the closed environment of the spacecraft, so it is a big risk. If we can sequence, we have a quick and dirty way of taking a census of any microbes of concern. 

What kind of biology experiments in space excite you?

The nice thing about doing experiments in microgravity is that the cells do not settle to the bottoms of the dishes. We can build structures and have the cells grow on them or culture them free floating in vessels. This has applications for building up tissues. Some people are thinking about bioprinting on board; some are looking into how cells interact with each other. Cytoskeleton work is probably super interesting without gravity. There are a lot of basic science related interesting questions about what happens to biological systems without gravity that we can address in space and then bring the answers back to applications on Earth. 

  1. Castro-Wallace, S.L., et al. Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 18022.
Hamster pups sleep on sawdust bedding.

Unveiling the Mysteries of Hibernation and Torpor

Neuroscientist Siniša Hrvatin explores how animals initiate and regulate states of dormancy.

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© ISTOCK.COM, Vichai Phububphapan

The biology of how some mammals naturally enter dormant states has always fascinated Siniša Hrvatin, a neuroscientist at the Whitehead Institute. Now, his group explores how the brains of animals initiate and regulate torpor and hibernation, and how the cells of hibernators withstand colder temperatures.

     The researcher Siniša Hrvatin wears a blue shirt and smiles at the camera. He stands in front of a painting.
Siniša Hrvatin studies torpor and hibernation in animal models to uncover the underlying mechanisms of these physiological adaptations. 
Gretchen Ertl

How are hibernation and torpor defined?

During prolonged periods of food scarcity, many animals enter a state that helps them conserve energy by slowing down their metabolisms and dropping their body temperatures. This acute state is known as torpor. The entire period, which can last several months during which animals go in and out of torpor many times is called hibernation.

How does your team study these states?

We use mice to study torpor. These animals don’t hibernate seasonally, but they enter torpor when acutely fasted. We previously identified a population of hypothalamic neurons that regulate natural torpor in mice.1 

More recently, we acquired Syrian hamsters, a laboratory animal model that hibernates. We plan to use them to study brain regions and neuronal populations that control hibernation. We also use in vitro approaches to study how cells from hibernators survive cold much better than cells from non-hibernators, a question we are investigating using tools such as genome wide CRISPR libraries.     

What are the applications of studying such biological states?

Hibernation and torpor are amazing adaptations found in many organisms that are not so different from humans. We could learn from them and use some of the mechanisms that mediate how animals naturally enter these states to potentially improve various aspects of human life. For instance, understanding how hibernators switch between metabolic states could inform us about human metabolic diseases such as obesity. Additionally, we could apply the understanding of how these animals survive prolonged periods at low temperatures to situations where we need to preserve tissues, such as organ transplantation. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

A woman looks shocked as a radioactive waste container leaks onto the floor in front of the exit door.
Mallory Havens never expected that a burst pipe in the laboratory would cause radioactive consequences.

When the Floor is Radioactive

During her routine tasks in the laboratory, Mallory Havens suddenly found herself navigating a toxic terrain. 

Image Credit:

Modified from ©, gmast3r, PrettyVectors, solargaria

In the late 2000s, as a graduate student in Michelle Hasting’s laboratory at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, I worked on targeting RNA splicing for disease therapy using radioactive isotopes to detect RNA expression. 

          Image of Mallory Havens wearing a white lab coat and blue gloves.
Mallory Havens earned her PhD at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. She is now a biologist at Lewis University where she studies the biogenesis of noncanonical RNA and pre-mRNA alternative splicing in disease.
Anthony Hinrich

One winter afternoon, our laboratory manager and I tried to raise the frigid temperature in the lab to a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Suddenly, a pipe burst above the door that was the only exit to the room. Hot water shot across the doorframe and straight into a container with liquid radioactive waste. 

At the time, we used phosphorous 32 (P-32), an isotope with relatively low levels of radioactivity and a short half-life in our experiments. Although we can work with P-32 for hours with minimal risk, we wanted to avoid any unnecessary exposure. 

As we watched the radioactive waste overflow onto the floor, we quickly climbed onto the lab benches and called for help. I’d never dealt with a spill quite like this, but we stayed composed, well prepared from our lab safety training. Once maintenance shut off the water, we went to work with the detailed clean up procedure.

We wiped up all the water and spritzed Fantastik, a handy household cleaner that removes isotopes. Then we used a Geiger counter and a scintillation counter to confirm that there was no residual isotope.

Later, we discovered that a fire had occurred in the lab many years prior, and the construction company repaired the damage. However, the company never replaced the insulation in the ceiling, which left a risk to the pipes. Thankfully, they replaced the insulation after this incident. 

It was a close call and a reminder to stay vigilant about lab safety. We never know when a burst pipe will test the importance of proper lab safety practices! The incident could have been much worse if we had neglected lab protocol and overfilled the waste container.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A scientist in the middle of the screen is in a lab coat in a laboratory on the left but is dressed in a suit giving a scientific presentation in a board room on the right.
A science startup can be a daunting but rewarding experience for some academic scientists.

Starting Up a New Endeavor

In his lab, Hashim Al-Hashimi investigated how RNA molecules move. Along the way, he founded a company.

Image Credit:

Modified from ©, Nadezhda Ivanova, Vladimir Kononok, aleksey-martynyuk; designed by Ashleigh Campsall

Hashim Al-Hashimi, a biophysicist at Columbia University and cofounder and advisor to the science startup Base4, was interested in how RNA molecules move during folding, ligand binding, and interacting with DNA. To study these events, Al-Hashimi developed a method of recording the 3D motion of RNA in vitro with nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and computational modeling, making movies of RNA motions. This technology formed the foundation for his startup company.

     A headshot of Hashim Al-Hashimi
Hashim Al-Hashimi is a biophysicist at Columbia University and cofounder of Base4.
Hashim Al-Hashimi

How did you begin your startup?

I kind of fell into it. My team showed that our RNA motion movies improved computational drug models that target RNA, and I was encouraged to patent the method. At the time, a member of the technology transfer committee, Michael Pape, approached me about starting a company with his colleague, Joshua Fairbank, based on my RNA movies. 

How do you balance your responsibilities as both an academic scientist and startup cofounder?

I typically spend a couple of hours a week attending company meetings with the team and assisting with pitches to potential pharmaceutical partners or consulting on collaborations. To manage my conflicts of interest, I have to report every year what efforts I’m putting toward Base4, any financial interests that I have in the company, and how I’m keeping the work in my lab separate from the work in my company. I also disclose my involvement with Base4 to new students and before conference talks or lectures involving my own work. It’s a bit of pain, especially the yearly form, but it’s manageable.  

What advice do you have for other academics interested in science startups?

A successful startup isn’t something you manufacture; there must be an authentic idea. You need to have the right partners, not just those who have the expertise, but who you get along with as people and can be transparent with because there will be stressful times and difficult decisions to make. Most importantly, make sure to be truly passionate about this project, because it needs continuous attention. Be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into this startup.  

Image of a brain section with various colors to denote different cell types (left) and different brain regions (right).
Researchers visualized the cell atlas of the whole mouse brain with  MERFISH. This coronal section of the brain shows cells colored by molecularly defined cell types (left) and molecularly defined brain regions (right).

A Cell-by-Cell Map of the Entire Mouse Brain

A colorful mosaic that maps the positions and roles of cells in the mouse brain offers insights into its functional complexities.

Image Credit:

The Xiaowei Zhuang Laboratory, Harvard University/HHMI

          Image of a smiling woman in a blue jacket as she stands next to a microscope.
Hongkui Zeng, a molecular and cell biologist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, uses powerful tools to elucidate the mysteries of the brain.  
Allen Institute

The brain is a complicated network of connections and functions, but its inner machinations remain an enigma. In a huge collaborative effort, researchers profiled millions of cells to chart a cellular map of a mouse brain.1

“This work identifies cell types and categorizes them as a way to lay the foundation to understand the structure and function of the brain,” said Hongkui Zeng, a molecular and cell biologist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

To build this atlas, researchers combined two complementary transcriptomics methods. Zeng and her team performed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) on millions of mouse brain cells to determine the gene expression profiles of individual cells and categorized more than 5,300 cell types. In tandem, Xiaowei Zhuang, a biophysicist at Harvard University, and her team, used their multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization (MERFISH) method to image the spatial organization of these cells across the mouse brain.2

          Image of a smiling woman in a grey shirt and black jacket.
Xiaowei Zhuang, a biophysicist at Harvard University, develops and uses imaging methods to shed light on a variety of biological systems. 
Harvard University

Integrating these two datasets played a critical role. “This information showed how numerous distinct cell types were assembled into this complex machine, such as our brain, and allowed us to predict many functionally important cell-cell interactions,” said Zhuang.

The atlas is a colorful mosaic; the colors in this image represent different cell types on the left and defined brain regions on the right side. It provides insights into how cellular location shapes function, such as the ventral part for basic survival and the dorsal part for adaptation.

The cellular complexity and diversity between the lower ventral and upper dorsal parts of the brain surprised the researchers. “We assumed that other parts of the brain would be similar to the cortex, but the organization and the cell types present were actually very different,” remarked Zeng.

The researchers consider the work to be a resource building project. This comprehensive map laid the foundation for the next stage of investigations, such as scaling up efforts to chart nonhuman primates and human brains.

April Digest crossword image

Science Crossword Puzzle

Put on your thinking cap, and take on this fun challenge.

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