Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 24 – 27 January

Neurological diseases

The Action Potential blog is discussing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in their latest post, reporting on a paper from this week’s Nature. Lawrence Goldstein and colleagues go right to the source and purify skin fibroblasts from AD patients with the intent to turn them into neurons for study:

The authors took skin cells from 2 patients with familial AD (the genetically-inherited version), 2 patients with sporadic AD and 2 control patients. These cells were reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and subsequently directed to form neurons. Neurons were purified to around 90% with cell sorting techniques, were allowed to mature and then were tested to determine whether the resulting cultures presented signs of neuronal maturity (for example, making synaptic contacts and exhibiting mature electrophysiological signatures.) 

Find out more about these culture models in their post and what this means for AD research.

Onto another neurodegenerative condition – Parkinson’s disease. Blogger Nsikan Akpan reports that Israeli nanotech specialist, Hossam Haick, is convinced the “stuff” we exhale can answer fundamental questions about our health. His lab has developed a disease breathalyzer – dubbed the “NA-NOSE” – which can sniff out the early stages of Parkinson’s disease:

The connection between brain injury and “diseased” breath is oxidative stress. It is abundant in the damaged regions of the Parkinsonian brain. Occasionally, the byproducts of oxidative stress leak into the bloodstream and travel to the lungs where they are exhaled. These metabolites are known as volatile organic compounds or “VOCs”. Haick’s theory is healthy individuals exhale a different “breath print” (pattern of VOCs) relative to patients with Parkinson’s disease (Fig. 2). Disease-specific breath prints are deciphered by the NA-NOSE, which is comprised of 20 gold and platinum nanoparticle sensors.

Can this technique distinguish between Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders such as AD? Continue to the post to find out more.

Learning science

This week’s guest post is by Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer and the author of five books, the most recent being The New York Times best seller, The Poisoner’s Handbook. In her guest post she looks at how she is able to weave science into a story so well that it becomes a fundamental part of the story, helping people to learn more about science:

I sometimes think of this more subtle weaving of science into a story as a kind of subversive education.  And I think it matters.  Because the audience, the one beyond the inner circle of the science literate,  matters. If we believe what we say – that science communication is important because it helps us build a community with greater understanding of research  – then we need to be creative in the ways we reach far and wide into that community. We need to care about the science disenfranchised as well as the science savvy. I don’t suggest this is the only goal of science communication or that my approach is right for every story or every book. But I will tell you that I hear from some surprising readers, mostly recently a 5th grade boy. I like connecting with that diverse audience. And that I think experimenting with telling science stories has made me better at what I do.

In a similar vein, blogger Eric-Wubbo Lameijer is discussing how to learn physics in his latest post. He imparts his advice for those wishing to study:

First of all, if you happen to be a girl, beware of ‘stereotype threat’, which is more or less the collective prejudice in a society about girls and physics/maths. In reality, there does not seem to be a noticeable difference between math and physics performance between boys and girls, at least when girls are tricked into thinking that a maths test is not about maths. Stereotype threat tends to give people a feeling of unease, which distracts from thinking about and paying attention to the questions. Quite a lot has been written about stereotype threat, for now the best solution seems to be to be aware of its existence.

Read his post for more top tips and advice.

The fast future

Paige Brown reveals that genome sequencing technologies approaching the speed of those seen on the big screen in the futuristic film GATTACA, could soon be a reality:

Jiahao Wu, a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana State University, is working on one groundbreaking innovation to reading the human genome, a process known as nanoscale DNA sequencing, under the guidance of award-winning Professor Dr. Steven Soper. Wu believes that cheap ‘microchips’ equipped with tiny channels, channels small enough to allow single DNA molecules to be manipulated and analyzed individually, could revolutionize point-of-care genetic testing.


You can watch a video above which explains more and continue to Paige’s post to find out more about this research.

An underground neutrino facility

The News blog reports that forty leading theoretical physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, have written to the US Department of Energy (DOE) urging it to build an underground facility to study subatomic neutrinos.  Their plea is a boost for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment, an estimated $1.3 billion complex with detectors being housed in the Homestake mine inSouth Dakota, and 1300 kilometers away at Fermilab inBatavia, Illinois, where particle accelerators would generate beams of neutrinos and antineutrinos (see graphic below).

We … are writing this letter to note the pressing scientific need for having a large underground detector, linked to a long baseline intense neutrino beam,” say the signatories, which include Nobelists Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, Sheldon Glashow of Boston University, and Frank Wilczek of MIT.

You can find links to the original letter, as well as more information in the post.


The Spoonful of Medicine blog this week has a post explaining that the current controversy over the publishing of H5N1 research is good news for one unlikely group: bioethicists:

One of those bioethicists is David Magnus, director of Stanford University Center for Bioethics in California. Writing today in Science Translational Medicine, Magnus and his colleagues argue that IRBs are ill-equipped to provide consultation to researchers on thorny protocol design issues in translational areas such as DNA banking and stem cell therapies because IRBs are already overseeing protocols as regulators..

Do you think there are pitfalls to having a regulatory body in a consulting role? Share your thoughts in the comment thread.

America‘s science decline?

Finally GrrlScientist is linking out to a video where American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson uses a few maps to describe America’s diminishing contributions to the world of scientific research:

What do you think about this news?


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