Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 14 – 20 April

FoldIt Game

Rebecca Hersher recalls in the Spoonful of Medicine blog that only two years ago, FoldIt made headlines, when players of the online protein-folding video game took three weeks to solve the three dimensional structure of a simian retroviral protein used in animal models of HIV. Rebecca recounts that Seth Cooper, the game’s co-creator, captured the attention of the crowd at the TEDMED medical technology conference inWashington,DC by recounting how thousands of players competed in that FoldIt challenge despite the lack of prize money or prestige:


But the hidden news, the ‘Easter egg’, so to speak, was that Cooper and his collaborators are updating FoldIt to leverage the power of online gaming to create new proteins—enzymes that could form the basis of novel drugs or improve how they are manufactured. This freshly expanded enzyme design platform for FoldIt saw initial success in January, when gamers using an early version created a blueprint for an enzyme that lab tests indicate speeds up a type of biosynthetic reaction used in the production of a variety of drugs—including the cholesterol medication lovastatin—by almost 2,000%.

Find out more about the game in Rebecca’s post.

Seth was also one of the panelists at the inaugural Science Online Seattle event which took place on Monday night and is co-presented by nature.com. Read more about the event, including a Storify and link to the livestream archive, in our write-up.

How researchers network

Nature Job’s blogger, Rachel Bowden  reveals that researchers rely heavily on networking at conferences and seminars and make little use of personal introductions, online social networking or proactive self-promotion, according to a report published by UK researcher development organisation Vitae:

Vitae surveyed almost 500 researchers at eight UK universities and found that less than a fifth regularly use online social networking to develop existing work contacts or make new ones. Only 14 percent feel comfortable asking someone they know to introduce them to an important person in their field, and 85 percent rarely send copies of their work to these prominent individuals.  

Overall, researchers’ networks show several characteristics of a ‘good’ network as recognised by career theory, such as a large number of work-related contacts spread across a wide geographical area. However, the people researchers know through their work also tend to know each other, which can limit the effectiveness of the network.

Do you agree with this research? Share your experiences on the post.


This week’s Soapbox Science post is by spaceflight historian, Amy Shira Teitel. She is discussing the Exomars project and the History of Mars Exploration, asking, “Can Russia Help?”

In February, President Obama revealed NASA’s budget for 2013. At $17.7 billion the agency is taking a hit, but the biggest loser is the agency’s Mars program which has been allocated $318 million less than last year. This funding cut has forced NASA out of ExoMars, the joint mission with the European Space Agency (ESA) designed to culminate with a sample return mission. Without NASA, ESA is left in pieces; the US agency was responsible for the launch vehicles and interplanetary spacecraft, not to mention substantial funding. Now, ESA is hoping the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos will take NASA’s place. This partnership could be without payoff since neither country has had great luck with Mars. Particularly Russia, whose missions have been thwarted by the mythical galactic ghoul.

Artist’s impression of Beagle 2 on Mars. Credit: NASA.

What do you think? Join in the growing online conversation.

Unwarranted hype surrounds new blood test for depression

Leila Haghighat, in the News Blog, discusses a paper published this Tuesday in Translational Psychiatry that prompted media claims about the development of the “first blood test to diagnose depression in teenagers.” She explains that psychiatrists say more data is needed about the reproducibility and accuracy of the test before it ends up in the clinic:

In the paper, scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois looked to identify blood biomarkers for early-onset major depression disorder (MDD) in 15-to-19-year-olds. They identified a set of 11 genes whose proteins are expressed at low levels in the blood of adolescents with MDD. The genes are mostly involved in neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration. 

Continue to the post to find out more.

Neural Prosthetics

Action Potential’s blogger, I-han Chou is on the road (attending a symposium at MIT: New Insights on Early Life Stress and Mental Health). In his latest post he talks about neural prosthetics, an exciting interface between basic research and technology:

Cochlear implants have already demonstrated their utility for replacing/enhancing auditory function, and more and more promising advances are coming out all the time in retinal implants. Motor prostheses are another exciting area with the promise to restore motor control to paralyzed individuals and today’s paper  by Lee Miller  and colleagues represents another step towards a potential prosthetic for spinal injury patients. The paper describes an advance in functional electrical stimulation (FES), a procedure by which signals from motor cortex are decoded and used to directly stimulate the arm muscles, bypassing the spinal cord……If a picture says a thousand words, I don’t know how many a movie says, but the video clips associated with the paper explain what the animals could and couldn’t do with the FES better than I ever can:

Examples of Monkey J executing the ball grasp experiment during normal, FES and catch trials.

Monkey T executing the ball grasp experiment during FES and catch trials.

Find out why these papers are interesting from I-Han’s editorial standpoint, in the post.


Pete Etchells is discussing a news release this week which claims you can “Bring water into exams to improve your grades:”

The observational study looked at 447 students across a number of years taking their exams at the University of East London. The results suggested that around a quarter of the students took bottles of water into exams with them, and after taking into account academic ability, these students showed an improvement of around 5% in their exam grades. While the researchers admitted that they didn’t know precisely why this might have occurred, suggestions included the “theory is that information flows more freely between brain cells when they are well hydrated” and that “water consumption may also alleviate anxiety, which is known to have a negative effect on exam performance”.

Pete explains his issues with this report in his post.

Growing Sunflowers!

GrrlScientist is discussing an interesting group participation project for the Manchester Science Festival: growing sunflowers!

Today’s video is a good beginning for a Monday morning in spring. It tells you a little about Fibonacci numbers in nature, a subject that Alan Turing was studying before he died. This video also tells you about an interesting “citizen science project” being held by the upcoming Manchester Science Festival that you can participate in: growing sunflowers!

Homeopathy Awareness

This week was Homeopathy Awareness Week! Viktor Poór’s latest cartoon explains how much should you pay for a homeopathic remedy:

You can also hear Lee Turnpenny’s thoughts on Homeopathy Awareness Week in his post, “The fertile ‘philosophy’ of homeopathy.”




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