Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of nature.com blogs, SciLogs.com and Scitable: 17 – 30 August

Tear Down These Walls

In the latest Soapbox Science guest post, Buddhini Samarasinghe outlines her thoughts on the importance of science outreach and the two things that stand in the way of public access to science; the paywall and the jargon-wall:


Two things stand in the way of public access to science. The first is obviously the paywall: the second is something that I describe as the ‘jargon-wall’. The language of science is precise and meticulous; it has to be. Somewhere along the way, it has also become esoteric, foreign and inaccessible to the public by existing only within the confines of the ivory tower of academia. This has contributed to the chasm of scientific ignorance we see today, and it has created a deep divide that could impede human progress.

Join in the growing discussion on Buddhini’s post. 

Mouse study illustrates how foreign herpes DNA triggers immune response

Until now, researchers lacked evidence from animal experiments to back up the theory of how DNA from pathogens first triggers the ‘innate’ immune response. Liz Devitt explains recent progress in the Spoonful of Medicine Blog:

Previously, immunologist Zhijian “James” Chen, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and his colleagues showed that when bacteria or viruses wile their way into host cells—either by tricking cell receptors to allow entry or getting engulfed by the cell membrane—their foreign DNA activates an enzyme called cyclicguanosine monophosphate–adenosine monophosphate synthase (cGAS). This enzyme then binds to the intruder’s DNA and triggers the next step in the cascade of immune events: the production of a second messenger, a small molecule called cyclicguanosine monophosphate–adenosine monophosphate (cGAMP).

Continue to the post to find out more about this research.

Swedes claim confirmation of element 115

Swedish researchers have reported strong evidence for the formation of element 115, some 9 years after Russian researchers first claimed to detect a nucleus with 115 protons. Eugenie Samuel Reich expands on this in the News Blog:

A team led by nuclear physicist Dirk Rudolph of Lund University in Sweden formed element 115 by smashing isotopes of calcium into a film of americium at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. The scientists monitored the emissions of alpha particles and X-rays to try to fingerprint decay products.

“I am quite satisfied with the success of the experiment as such; it was not easy to get it scheduled in the first place, but then it went technically and scientifically very well, even on short notice,” says Rudolph.

Find out what the element may be called in Eugenie’s post. 

Mentoring: More than just a pair of hands

Nature Job’s blogger J.T. Neal, talks about his experience of mentoring in his guest post:

Our lab, like many labs, has been buzzing with high school and undergraduate summer students over the last several weeks. Many of these students have never set foot in a lab before, and this lack of training, coupled with a mentor’s already busy schedule, can lead to occupying junior mentees only with menial tasks, or worse, make-work (think organizing the lab chemicals alphabetically.) With summer winding down, I’ve taken some time to think about what I’ve learned from mentoring these students, to reflect on my own experiences as an undergraduate mentee, and to come up with a few tips to help new mentors and mentees make the most of the experience.

Read Neal’s tips in the post and feel free to share your own experiences in the comment thread.

Taiwan court set to decide on libel case against scientist


A Taiwanese court will rule on 4 September in a libel lawsuit filed by a petrochemical company against an environmental engineer whose studies had suggested that a plant operated by the company was causing higher cancer rates in its vicinity. Davide Castelvecchi explains more in the News Blog:

In December 2010 Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental engineer at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, presented evidence of increased cancer rates in residents living near a Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) hydrocarbon-processing facility in Mailao, Taiwan, at a scientific meeting. He also presented evidence in a press conference in November 2011.

In April 2012, FPG sued Tsuang for defamation, demanding that he pay US$1.3 million in damages and that he publicly apologise by publishing a statement in four major newspapers.

Further details can be found in Davide’s post. 

Discovery of gene variant lends muscle to understanding of statins’ side-effects

Liz Devitt reports in the Spoonful of Medicine Blog that the global market for statins has reached heart-stopping proportions, registering at almost $20 billion in 2012:

Image by Lightspring via Shutterstock.com

In the US, one out of every four adults over the age of 45 is on statins, making these medications one of the leading types prescribed. The drugs work by lowering the liver’s production of low-density lipoproteins, also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, which form the artery-clogging plaques that can lead to heart attack. But statins can cause significant side effects, ranging from sleeplessness to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and potential liver damage.

One of the most common side effects is muscle pain and injury, which afflicts up to 38% of people taking statins. Now, researchers have hit upon a new gene variation that could explain why some individuals are less prone to this type of adverse reaction to such drugs.

More information on this can be found in Liz’s report. 

Virus pinpointed in US dolphin die-off

Lauren Morello reveals in the News Blog how more than 300 bottlenose dolphins have stranded themselves along the US East Coast this summer, and now researchers think they know why: they are sick…

Preliminary tests suggest that cetacean morbillivirus, a cousin of the virus that causes measles in humans, is killing dolphins from New York to North Carolina, officials with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said today.

Since 1 July, 333 dolphins have beached themselves, more than twice the normal yearly average for that stretch of coastline, prompting NOAA to declare an ‘unusual mortality event’ on 8 August.  Many of the dolphins that have washed up have borne signs of disease, including severe weight loss and skin and mouth lesions.

Initial tests for antibodies in 33 of the animals have confirmed that 32 are positive or ‘suspected positive’ for cetacean morbillivirus, says Teri Rowles, who coordinates the agency’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Further genetic tests have confirmed the presence of the virus in some of those dolphins, while necropsies have found lesions consistent with morbillivirus.

More on this in Lauren’s post. 

Pitch-drop custodian dies without witnessing a drop fall

Brian Owens reports some sad news in the News Blog. John Mainstone, who for 52 years tended to one of the world’s longest-running laboratory experiments but never saw it bear fruit with his own eyes, died on 23 August after suffering a stroke:

Mainstone had been looking after the pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia since he arrived at the university as a physics professor in 1961. The experiment, set up in 1927 by the university’s first head of the physics department, Thomas Parnell, consists of a sample of tar pitch slowly running through a funnel (see ‘Long-term research: Slow science‘).

Learn more about John’s scientific career in Brian’s post.

Homosexuality not a disease, says Lebanese Psychiatric Society

Hazem Zohny in the House of Wisdom Blog, discusses a statement made last month by the Lebanese Psychiatric Society (LPS) declaring that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. The statement reads:

“Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need to be treated.

Homosexuality in itself does not cause any defect in judgment, stability, reliability or social and professional abilities.

The assumption that homosexuality is a result of disturbances in the family dynamic or unbalanced psychological development is based on wrong information.”


The statement puts Lebanon in step with prevailing medical practices, which have largely not considered homosexuality a disorder since 1973. More on this here.

 The ‘Serious Scientist Myth’

SciLogs blogger Matt Shipman looks at why we think most scientists don’t talk to reporters, when they actually do:

This is how I feel when I think about the “Serious Scientist Myth.” (Image: LaurMG)

I just read yet another paper that says most scientists actually do engage with reporters, at least once in a while. I’ve written about related findings twice in the past month, and I’m starting to wonder where people have gotten the idea that scientists don’t (or shouldn’t) talk to reporters about their work. (See previous posts here and here.)

At issue is something I’ll call the “Serious Scientist Myth.”

The Serious Scientist Myth is the idea that “serious” scientists don’t talk to reporters, or that scientists who promote their work are not dedicated researchers. I know that this idea exists (and seems to be prevalent), because I have friends and colleagues in academia (at my university and elsewhere) who are hesitant about talking to reporters because they are afraid of what their peers might think.

Is Rabies Really 100% Fatal?

 Scitable blogger Julia Paoli, looks at whether Rabies is 100% fatal in her latest post:

Sanofi Pasteur (via Flickr).

 Jeanna Geise was only 15 years old when she became the world’s first known survivor of Rabies without receiving any vaccination. Her miraculous survival has not only challenged a time-honored scientific fact, but has also brought about a new method of Rabies treatment, known as the MilwaukeeProtocol. It had long been thought that Rabies is 100% fatal in humans who are not vaccinated. However, to the surprise of the medical world, Jeanna showed that fatal the virus can be beaten sans vaccination.

First, a little background info on Rabies is required to understand the full impact of Jeanna’s case. Rabies is an ever present virus; found on all continents except for Antarctica, rabies kills over 55,000 people each year. Fortunately, rabies is100% preventable in humans thanks to the Rabies vaccine (first created byLouis Pasteur). The vaccine can be administered at two different times: given pre or post rabies exposure. 


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