Of Schemes and Memes Blog

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


Hundreds of translucent creatures that biomedical researchers rely on for genetic insights settled into new digs this week as researchers opened a newly refurbished and expanded animal repository called the European Zebrafish Resource Center, reveals Kathleen Raven in the News Blog:

Housed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in southwest Germany, the center can maintain 400,000 live fish at maximum capacity in more than 3,000 tanks, and will include lab space for on-site zebrafish in vitro fertilization. Uwe Strähle, a geneticist at KIT, told Nature Medicine by phone after the ribbon-cutting ceremony that European zebrafish researchers eager to preserve their hard-won transgenic and mutant lines may begin submitting eggs to the center. Currently the center houses 300 transgenic lines but Strähle expected the collection to expand to hold thousands of lines in the next five years.

The zebrafish repository.


This post is also cross-posted on Nature Medicine’s Spoonful of Medicine blog.

Gulf states on track for knowledge-based economies

According to the recently released “industrial map” from the Gulf Organisation for Industrial Consulting (GOIC), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are on their way to have knowledge-based economies by 2020. House of Wisdom blogger, Mohammed Yahia elaborates:

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have put this high on their agenda to diversify their economies, prepare for a post-oil future and ensure more sustainable development.

Qatar is leading the Gulf region in science spending , paving the way for the small state’s vision to become a science hub in the region. It currently spends 2.8% of GDP on scientific research, which is higher than the global average of 2.5%. While all three countries have attracted Western universities to open up local campuses, Qatar has attracted the largest number of these to it’s Education City, says the report.


Qatar Science & Technology Park

Continue to the post to find out more.

Placebo for Psychogenic Illnesses?

In the latest Soapbox Science postKaren S. Rommelfanger asks what happened to the 18 teenage girls in Le Roy, New York who had sudden onset of mysterious symptoms of intrusive and involuntary tics and body movements? Did they get better because they had a belief in getting better– the “placebo effect”?

Because, “It’s not all in my head.”

This is the sentiment resonating among the 18 teenage girls in Le Roy, New York who had sudden onset of mysterious symptoms of intrusive and involuntary tics and body movements.  Numerous videos of Dr. Drew episodes flood the Internet showcasing the girls’ unusual fidgeting, twisting, and uncontrollable twitching while their mothers worry at their sides.

Ultimately, the girls were diagnosed with Conversion disorder or mass psychogenic illness, conditions wherein psychological stressors versus “organic” pathology are thought to be literally converted to physical manifestations of symptoms (some more dramatic than others, ranging from paralysis and tics, to blindness and seizure-like movements)

Arguments about whether or not something is, “in your head” are changing as neuroscience continually illuminates new mechanisms for mental processes and mental illnesses. Continue to Karen’s post to find out more.


Daniel Cressey reports in the News Blog that hummingbirds manage to maintain complete control over their aerial position, even when their tiny bodies are being hammered by raindrops:

These minute birds — which use their amazing hovering skills to harvest nectar — have to feed almost daily or they will perish. Given that they inhabit regions that are not exactly arid, they are almost certain to be forced to fly in the rain at some point.

Armed with five Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna), a garden water-gun and a laboratory, Victor Ortega-Jimenez and Robert Dudley of the University of California, Berkeley, aimed to work out just how much it cost the birds to do so.

Learn more in this slightly “John Woo-esque” video:

Peculiar protactinium

In Nature Chemistry’s monthly ‘in your element’ article (subscription required), Richard Wilson from the Argonne National Lab presents some peculiar aspects of protactinium’s history and properties. More details in The Sceptical Chymist’s latest blog post by Anne Pichon:

Protactinium isn’t really so well-suited to extensive, thorough, detailed characterization — it is rare, difficult to isolate, highly radioactive and toxic. It further confused chemists by its seemingly contradictory properties. Was it a transition metal, as its pentavalent oxidation state seemed to suggest? An actinide, owing to its tetravalent oxidation state available on reduction? The situation became clearer once the place of actinides in the periodic table was established — yet protactinium still differentiates itself from most actinides, find out how in the article.

Despite a period of activity related to thorium-based nuclear power, protactinium hasn’t elicited much interest in terms of practical applications. Its electronic structure however, especially owing to its 5felectron, makes it a very valuable element in computational studies to understand the reactivity of 5felements. As Richard Wilson observes, “[protactinium’s] future contributions to chemistry may well come from where Meitner and Hahn first found it, in silico”.

Find out more in Anne’s summary.

Olympic Health Legacies

Nature Network blogger, Pete Etchells is talking about how to keep everyone healthy and safe during the eagerly awaited Olympics:

With some 10 million tickets having been allocated, making sure that health hazards are monitored, outbreaks are contained and people are kept healthy is no small feat. We can’t predict everything that will happen in London this year, but we can draw upon a vast amount of experience from people involved in previous Olympics.

One such veteran is Dr Jat Sandhu, the Regional Director for the Public Health Surveillance Unit in Vancouver, Canada. The unit is part of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the host health jurisdiction for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Two years ago his team was tasked with monitoring public health during the Games, and responding quickly to any issues that came up. I recently caught up with him, and asked him about his work.

Read more notes from Pete’s interview with Dr Jat Sandhu in his post.

What is “Detox”?

Scitable’s latest guest blogger,  Kyle Hill is talking about “detoxification” in her post. She talks about toxins; what they are and whether they cause diseases:

“Toxins,” the indistinct targets of detox products, are widely claimed to be the root of all disease and wholly man-made. Even though they are the main focus of these products, toxins are rarely if ever specifically defined, usually meaning some chemical that may negatively affect your health.

The way that many of these detox products work involves some sort of change in diet, ingestion of chemical products or folk remedies, or even enemas, each of which are supposed to flush out the aforementioned toxins and thus restore health to the body. Examples of detox products would be the popular detox foot pads, which claim to remove toxins through the bottom of your feet, and coffee enemas, which are supposed to wash away the harmful substances residing in the body’s intestinal tract.

Of course, the entire idea of commercial detox products would fall flat if we could demonstrate that “toxins” are not the source of all disease, that the products do not have any effect when tested, that they rely on misconceptions about the body, or that these toxins are not actually toxic.

Feel free to join in the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comment thread. 

Dictionary for lab notebooks

Finally, in Viktor Poór‘s latest cartoon, he helps to decipher the scribbles and abbreviations found in lab books:


  1. Report this comment

    Jim Picklet said:

    Haha that’s awesome. Zebrafish are great.

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