Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 31 – 10 April


Choosing a scientific vocation can involve challenging and unanticipated decisions, often with no tour guide to follow. While a love of science can lead to varied and fulfilling careers, it may be lonely trying to evaluate the next step to take. Some scientists may hop from the lab bench into industry while others progress up the academic research ladder. Others decide to leave research behind and explore science communication,  teaching, setting up their own business or working in technical roles outside of the lab.  Recently, initiatives such as “This is what a scientist looks like” and the #IamScience discussions, have shone a bright light on scientific career trajectories. In this week’s latest Soapbox Science series, the focus has been on interesting examples of scientific career transitions hearing from different contributors, all of whom use their scientific background in their current jobs, asking each of them the same questions: how did you decide on your career path, what are your motivations, and what does the future hold? Below is a summary of all of the post in the series, you can also follow the conversation online using the #Transitions hashtag.

A solar system more populous than ours?

“Which star has the most planets surrounding it?” asks Eric Hand in the News Blog.  It’s no longer the Sun, according to an astronomer who says he can identify nine planets orbiting the bright, nearby star HD 10180 (pictured).

“Now that Pluto is not a planet, this system is likely more planet-rich than the Solar System,” says Mikko Tuomi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Astrophysics Research at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, UK. Tuomi’s analysis, accepted for publication on 6 April by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is a re-interpretation of 190 measurements made between 2003 and 2009 by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a spectrograph on the 3.6-metre La Silla telescope in Chile, which looks for periodic wobbles in a star caused by the tug of its planets. The 2010 announcement from the HARPS teamidentified five planets, with suggestions of a sixth and seventh.


You can find out more about the study which was based on a classical, or frequentist, approach, in the post.

Largest feathered dinosaur!

Leila Haghighat reveals in the News blog that palaeontologists have found evidence of the largest feathered dinosaur. The new species, Yutyrannus huali, is a member of the tyrannosaur family and may provide clues to the evolution of feathers:

Credit: Brian Choo

In a paper published today in Nature, Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and his colleagues describe finding the fossils of three Yutyrannus in the Yixian Formation of northeast China. The largest specimen is an adult dinosaur that lived 125 million years ago. At an estimated 9 metres in length and 1,400 kilograms in weight, it is substantially larger than any feathered-dinosaur species documented since the mid-1990s. Yutyrannus has long and bristly feathers, which the researchers suspect were used for insulation.

Find out why the Yutyrannus needed this extra insulation in the post.

The Power of Knowing

Julia Fan Li explains in the Trade Secrets blog that the TB infectious agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis remains difficult to detect as a result of today’s inaccurate diagnostic methods. Julia explains that modern-day TB diagnostic tools in developed countries are neither appropriate nor affordable for resource-poor environments. Two entrepreneurial efforts, one from the USA and one from India, both aimed at helping to improve point-of-care diagnostics, are profiled in the post:

Cepheid is the publicly-listed firm and the maker of the GeneXpert system.  GeneXpert allows testing for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of M. tuberculosis with real-time PCR and front-end sample processing in one self-contained closed cartridge; allowing DNA testing to be conducted in robust environments.  Cepheid was founded in California in 1996 with an initial concentration on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology.  After MEMS failed to produce the desired results the company refocused its efforts on a more robust approach using more traditional microfluidics.  Over the years, it has evolved from an industrial and biothreat focused firm to a clinical diagnostic company where medical applications of its technology makes up the majority of sales.  

Continue to the post to find out more.

Autism news

Rational pharmacological treatment of autism spectrum disorders can only occur when the genes and the molecular pathways disrupted in this disease are well-understood. Pamela Feliciano, in the Free Association blog, explains that three papers in Nature by Matthew State and colleaguesEvan Eichler and colleagues and Mark Daly and colleagues, report the largest exome sequencing efforts in autism to date, involving nearly 600 trios and 935 further cases with the disease.

Altogether, the papers provide strong evidence for three new autism genes (CHD8, KATNAL2 and SCN2A) and support the idea that autism is an extremely heterogeneous disease, meaning that many genes can confer high-risk for the disease. Previously, scientists estimated that the number of high-risk autism genes was ~200. However, the new data suggests that there are likely ~1000 high-risk autism genes, which can and should be identified with further sequencing.  Last week, the CDC announced new data that shows that autism spectrum disorders currently affect 1 in 88 children in the United States.  While this complex set of debilitating developmental diseases are thought to have a significant genetic component, the genetic causes are mostly unknown. Currently, treatment for the disorder relies on intensive behavioral therapy.

How may this information be used in efforts to develop drugs for autism? Continue to the post to find out more.

Tara Oceans back home


Thomas Lemberger, reporting for The Seven Stones blog reveals in his latest post that The Tara Oceans expedition (oceans.taraexpeditions.org) arrived last Saturday in Lorient, France after sailing across the seas for more than 2 years. The aim of the expedition was to collect samples of planktonic life, recording physical, geographical and climatic parameters over a total of 153 stations:

A couple of weeks ago, on March 13, we were fortunate to be able to join Eric Karsenti who had just boarded Tara in the Azores. In this interview (listen) and an accompanying invited Editorial “Towards an Oceans Systems Biology” (Karsenti, 2012), Eric explains how the data collected by the expedition will help “understanding how populations of organisms are structured by their interaction with the environment and how such complex systems have evolved” in the marine ecosystem.

The integration of the collected biological and geochemical data into predictive models will represent a formidable challenge and will necessitate the development of appropriate analyses methods (Raes et al, 2011). But preliminary results already indicate that the data will provide exciting insights into the biodiversity of the marine environment: “it looks like there are many more eukaryotic species than bacteria and 90% of these species are unknown”.

Learn more about the expedition and its goals in the post.


In her latest  post, Scitable’s blogger, Ada Ao, is talking about a novel chemical called kartogenin that can simulate cartilage repair in mice via native stem cells. Ada discusses its potential, as well as the practical uses of chemical biology in regenerative medicine:

Johnson K et al. found a novel chemical they are calling kartogenin that can simulate cartilage repair in mice via native stem cells, and protect it from further damage by dialing down cartilage-degrading enzymes. This compound may have a huge impact on arthritis patients because this drug doesn’t simply reduce pair or slow cartilage erosion; it can promote repair without a complicated regiment of hormones and growth factors, which can have unintended side effects and be very expensive. Their report is a powerful example for the practical uses of chemical biology in regenerative medicine and proof that a single molecule can initial complex biological outcomes.

Find out more about the term “chemical biology” in her post.

The ‘perfect chaos’ of π

Many formulae in mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, reveals GrrlScientist in her latest post. But who first rigorously calculated the value for this irrational number and how was it done? She links out to a video exploring these questions in more detail:

Climate study.

In Paige Brown’s latest post, she interviews author Dr. Jeremy Shakun from Harvard University in order to learn more about his recent climate study.

The article in the April 2012 issue of Nature describes a study conducted by Jeremy D. Shakun and colleagues to confirm the link between carbon dioxide and climate change during the Pleistocene ice ages. What is even more sobering is that today, humans have brought CO2 levels up another 100 part per million more. “So we have done just as much,” Shakun said. “And in a century, we are looking to go up, going on as we are, by several hundred more. So 100 parts per million to end an ice age, and we are talking about people bringing it up many times more… this is NOT small potatoes what we are talking about here, what we are doing withCO2. This is big stuff, big changes.”

Sobering indeed.


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