Items filtered by date: July 2013

Why Congress Should Be Worried About the Endoplasmic Reticulum

Morphogenesis in biology always fascinated me. As a developmental neurobiologist at the bench, I studied how homeobox genes patterned the neural epithelium, the retina in particular, to understand the events that turn a flat sheet of epithelium into a three-dimensional hemisphere, the optic cup. Since I came of age scientifically during the “genetic revolution” era, I was mesmerized by the ability of that technology to alter the mouse genome and allow me to watch powerful genes operating in vivo. However, I also had at the back of my mind an idea for a different if complementary approach to genetics. I envisioned a new kind of theoretical modeling that could take into account the physical forces acting on single cells while shaping a developing tissue. In particular, when imagining the retina’s formation, I always thought of the role of mechanical forces on cells, bending the epithelium sheet into an optic cup, and how this must be achieved with the lowest possible energy consumption.

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The Perils of Reviewing Peer Review

As a recovering federal employee, I recognize that one of the biggest challenges the government faces in funding science is that of being truly Darwinian in a rapidly evolving scientific environment. Engineering natural selection doesn’t come easily to government funding agencies, which are often playing with one hand behind the back.

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Within the Genome: All One and All Different

On  a recent hot Sunday afternoon, my eight-year-old son, Davide, and I left “the girls” (mom and four-year-old daughter) at home to embark on a field trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We were going to visit a science exhibit celebrating the 10th anniversary of the human genome sequencing.1,2 It turned out to be one of my best Sundays in quite a while!

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The Story of WI-38, the Other Famous Cell Line

Recently, a news feature published in the journal Nature caught my attention. I was pleased to read such an insightful piece on a key issue for cell biologists—the ethical and effective use of human tissues and cells. Credit goes to science reporter Meredith Wadman who took a closer look at the intriguing “back story” behind a rather famous cell line, WI-38, that was established in 1962 by Leonard Hayflick at the virology powerhouse of the day, the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia1. The twists and turns of the WI-38 story are complex, and I strongly encourage followers of this blog to read Wadman’s feature article, which sets out the facts clearly and yet doesn't duck the implications.

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