Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 25 February – 2 March

Stem cells put women on fertile ground

GrrlScientist has been reporting on one of the biggest science news stories of the week. She explains that by using cutting-edge technologies and some imagination, a Harvard professor and his team find that ovaries in women of reproductive age contain stem cells which give rise to mature oocytes. You can find out more in this Nature Video below:

Also discussing stem cells is Scitable’s blogger and postdoctoral research fellow, Ada Ao. In her post, Borrowing ideas, she discusses the common features between stem cells and cancer cells, illustrating how easy it is for ideas to cross-pollinate between niche fields:

The terms “cancer stem cell” (CSC) or “tumor-initiating cell” (TIC) has crept into cancer biology lexicon during the past decade. The main thrust of this hypothesis supposes that the bulk tumor contains a subpopulation of cells that spawns a tumor-the seeds, if you will. These cells are also believed to be responsible for treatment-resistance and recurrence. The idea makes intuitive sense. Stem cells and CSCs share much of the same awkward biological features (namely self-renewal, quiescence, and differentiation), and they are both fundamentally different from normal somatic cells in terms of growth kinetics. These differences may be enough to allow CSCs to evade traditional chemo- or radio-therapies, and these residual cells may initial another tumor at a later time. However, it is unclear if CSCs are native stem cells run amok, cancer cells that somehow acquired stem-like characteristics or something else entirely.

Continue to her post to learn more about this research. For further reading on stem cells you can read reports from Qatar’s International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy in Doha, in the House of Wisdom blog.

Real Stars! 

Subhra Priyadarshini, reveals in the Indigenus blog that Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor made it to celestial stardom when fans chose to buy a star in his name in the Orion constellation for his birthday. Last year another star, Shah Rukh Khan got his name etched on lunar soil when fans named the ‘Sea of Tranquility’ crater after him. Subhra discusses the issues with this fad:


Bollywood stars Shahid Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan have already gone ‘celestial’.

In the wake of this new-found craze among Indians to ‘name a star’, here’s some reality check:  the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the internationally recognized authority which designates all heavenly bodies according to globally accepted rules. The IAU clearly “dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of ‘selling’ fictitious star names or ‘real estate’ on other planets or moons in the Solar System.”

Continue to the post to find out more.

The Work-Life Tightrope

Nature Network blogger, Tom Webb is revealing his thoughts on juggling science and a family life, as well as getting sick:

So factoring in your (mercifully short) commute, that’s approximately 40 hours + scraps to dedicate to work. The very idea of a 70-80 hour week is simply not compatible with such a regime, but, like many others, you accept this. You accept that you will always be surrounded (and inevitably overtaken) by colleagues more willing and able than you are to make the requisite sacrifices. You accept the fact that you are effectively working part-time – despite exceeding your contracted hours, and receiving none of the compensations and considerations due to the part-time worker – and you accept this because the balance you’ve found seems to work just about OK.

How do you juggle your work-life tightrope? Do you ever teeter? Join in the growing online conversation. 

B Cells

Rebecca Hersher, reporting for the Spoonful of Medicine blog, reveals that recent evidence suggests B cells, once thought to fight infection solely by producing antibodies, might also prevent disease without them:

In the traditional view, antibodies specific to a bacterium or virus are produced by B cells and maintained against future infection by certain classes of T cells as part of the slow-but-smart ‘adaptive’ immune response. However, it seems that B cells also play an important role in the short-term immediate immune response to pathogens.


Recent research on this expanded B cell function was thought to apply only to bacterial infection, but today’s paper in Immunity suggests it also applies to viral infection. The study demonstrates that mice without adaptive immune systems, whose B cells have been rendered incapable of producing antibodies, nonetheless survive infection by vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a pathogen closely related to rabies that attacks the nervous system.

Rebecca explains that immunologists are quick to warn that these findings do not undercut the importance of vaccines, which guard against future infection by priming B cells to create antibodies against a particular pathogen. You can find out more in the post.

The Promise & Pitfalls of Public Outreach

Explaining the nuances of scientific research to a lay audience has never been easy and there are still steps that scientists can take to communicate effectively about their work. Matt Shipman, in his Soapbox Science series, The Promise & Pitfalls of Public Outreach, has already discussed what Scientists, Science Writers and PIOs Should Expect From Each Other . In his next instalment Matt talks about being a science journalist with no scientific background, offering advice for all parties:

When writing about research findings, I usually start by asking what question or challenge the researchers were setting out to address. This can take a while. If the relevant scientists phrase things in technical language, I’ll ask them to define the terms. Then I ask them why they found this problem interesting. Sometimes it is pure intellectual curiosity. But usually the research question is one element of a much broader scientific question. Science is an iterative process, and the findings from a single research project may move us incrementally closer to understanding the genetic basis for a disease, how we can boost the efficacy of antibiotics, etc.

Do stay tuned for Matt’s final post published next month.

Mesoscale physics

Eugenie Samuel Reich has been reporting for the News Blog on a special session at the American Physical Society’s in Boston, Massachusetts. He explains that the future of physics will depend crucially on researchers’ ability to tackle phenomena at the mesoscale, an enigmatic realm that bridges quantum and classical physics:

But what exactly is the mesoscale, and what kind of research is needed to understand it? That question brought forth multiple overlapping answers. “This is a buzz word, so you’re free to define it any way you want,” said physics Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University in California, whose own answer was that the mesoscale was the scale of life, as described by emergent laws of nature that have to be discovered, rather than deduced. ‘Meso’ has been around as a catch-phrase for decades, but the term received a rush of attention at this meeting, in part because of an advisory committee charged to look into it by Bill Brinkman, the director of the Office of Science at the US Department of Energy. With a budget of nearly US$5 billion, the Office of Science is among the largest agencies supporting the physical sciences in the United States, and the largest and fastest-growing department within that office is Basic Energy Sciences, which is looking into the mesoscale as a possible area to fund.

Find our more in the post about the areas of study that could benefit from being considered mesoscale physics.

Homeopathy for fish

Viktor Poor’s latest cartoon is inspired by the Hortobágy Fish Farm Co., a fishery which treats the fish with homeopathic remedies:




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