Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, NPG staff blogs and Scitable: 13 – 19 August

A “high” point for genomics

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The News Blog revealed this week that the raw sequence of the Cannabis sativa genome was posted on Amazon’s EC2 public cloud computing service by a new company called Medicinal Genomics. And in case you’re wondering: the DNA was extracted and prepped for sequencing in a laboratory in Amsterdam!

McKernan says he was turned on to the idea of sequencing cannabis by a 2003 publication in Nature Reviews Cancer about the many potential uses – including fighting cancer – of cannabinoids. C. sativa makes about sixty of the compounds. Although THC has gotten the most attention, McKernan hopes his company’s data will help scientists explore a few of the others, and perhaps guide plant breeding programs to generate new Cannabisstrains.

McKernan used his own cash to launch Medicinal Genomics. You can find out more about his company and their scientific research in the post.

Out of this world

This week GrrlScientist asks us, Have you ever seen a ghost? Spoken with a dead person? Had an out-of-body experience? All these questions were inspired by Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book, Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there. In her review of Wiseman’s book, she explains the premise and why she recommends reading it:

Each chapter investigates a paranormal “phenomenon” such as fortune telling, out-of-body experiences, mind control (I was especially interested to learn how to avoid being brainwashed), and prophecy. Each chapter includes short “How To” guides that provide a variety of interesting optical illusions and psychological tests that the reader can try on her own. Beyond reinforcing the points being made, these guides also provide fodder for entertaining one’s family and friends at parties and for winning bar bets.

You can find out more about this book in her review.

Learning / evolution

Tom Webb, in his latest post, Biodiversity, babies and books has been discussing how children’s story books can shape learning science and how, as a scientist, he just can’t help spotting their errors:

As a scientist reading these books, of course, I tend to pick up on little natural history inaccuracies, and can’t help dwelling on them. I am perfectly happy to accept talking animals and fanciful storylines, but get the number of legs wrong on a caterpillar and it will bug me forever!

In his discussion he gives examples of some of these children’s books and you can find out why Chris Wormell’s story, One Smart Fish, a clever attempt to tell the story of evolution, bugs him.

Comic Explanation

David Basanta, explains that, with the help of a XKCD comic strip, University of Pennsylvania scientists have found a way to engineer killer T-cells to recognise and target leukaemia cells:

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Find our more about this scientific milestone in his post.

Passion for Science

Graham Morehead has been discussing the Moments that altered his world. In his anecdotal post, he reveals why he decided to study science, detailing the event that opened his eyes to the world of Physics:

I stopped eating and just stared at him. I couldn’t believe it. I had always assumed that time was an utterly immutable thing. Time can be changed? It felt the way I imagine an earthquake would feel. Time itself had been torn asunder. I felt my whole reality pulled like a rug from under my feet, and it felt great! I knew from that moment on what I wanted to study.

Do you have a defining moment that made you want to study science? Feel free to share your memories in his comment thread.

Like Graham, there are other science enthusiasts, taking science to a whole new level…. in their garages! Scitable’s Eric Sawyer has been weighing in on the promises, demands, and risks that this garage scientists or “biohackers” movement represents:

As you’re reading this there is an amateur scientist, somewhere, doing an experiment. Community lab spaces are cropping up across the globe where ordinary people can get together to pool resources and brain power to come up with new technologies. Many are tinkering with electronics, but some are dabbling with living systems.

Read Eric’s thoughts in his post and feel free to have your own say.

On STEM and SoNYC

Science Online NYC (SoNYC) is a montly discussion series held in New York City (and live-streamed) where each month panellists talk about a specific topic related to how science is carried out and communicated online. On August 24th, the focus will be on niche groups, from scientists in developing countries to science mums. To complement the conversation, on Of Schemes and Memes we have been exploring the world of the minority scientist, and over the last week have hosted a series of guest posts. Our first instalment from Jeanne Garbarino, a Postdoc at Rockefeller University, considered some of the underrepresented groups within science. In our second instalment, Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer discussed her role as the vice-director of Ciencia Puerto Rico, a non-profit, grassroots organization which promotes science, research and scientific literacy in Puerto Rico. In our next post we heard from Subhra Priyadarshini, an award winning science journalist, editor of Nature Publishing Group’s India portal Nature India and manager of the Nature India blog, Indigenus. She talks about life for scientists in India:

Given the background, it should look like it is really hunky-dory for scientists working in India. Though good science and research are happening in some brilliant pockets of India, things are not as cheerful in a majority of labs. The lion’s share of scientific R&D in India is government controlled. The pet peeves of a lot of scientists stem from the bureaucratic handling of science — poor pay and personal development opportunities, lack of amenities and stifling work environments where new ideas are not allowed to flow freely.

Stay tuned for more posts and don’t forget to tune into SoNYC on Wednesday.

An infectious Song

The Spoonful of Medicine blog report that the singer and multi-instrumentalist Björk released a song last week called Virus from her forthcoming album, Biophilia. It’s not every day you hear a song inspired by infection and not only that – she didn’t release the tune as a standard digital download; instead, the song takes the form of an interactive app:

The app — available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch — is a game, wherein the player navigates a viral attack on human cells. Small green viruses march toward cells with jangling nuclei to penetrate the cellular membranes. Once the viruses inject their DNA inside, the strings of nucleic acids attack the host cell’s nucleus, replicating and spreading.

Preview Björk’s app/ song above and find out more in their blog post.

Finally

Viktor Poór presents, The real evil scientist.

If only science were so simple… Have a great weekend!

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