Colliding Worlds—A Rare Visit to the CERN Collider Gives a Biologist New Hope

LHC StefNearly 170 meters beneath CERN, ASCB Executive
Director Stefano Bertuzzi gets a rare look at the Large
Hadron Collider. Here he stands in front of the detector.
Photo Credit: ASCB
Last week, I was invited to speak about research and innovation at an Aspen Institute meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, held at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, better known to the rest of the world by its acronym, CERN. Like all Aspen Institute meetings, this one flew at a high level, and, needless to say, it was an exhilarating experience.

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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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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 Gift of Being Crystal Clear

Do we understand crystal clear thinking? Perhaps, when someone is expressing clear thoughts we understand the concept, but in reality, we really do not understand what happens inside the brain when one is thinking clearly. But now in a Nature paper, scientists at Stanford University have unveiled CLARITY, which is an acronym for a technique to render a post-mortem brain completely clear, that is, optically transparent and permeable to macromolecules. One day CLARITY may help us understand clear thinking and much more. Importantly, it could give us a handle to better understand the extremely complex neuronal circuitry in the brain, with its 1014-1015 synapses. It could help us better understand the abnormal circuit wiring that occurs in humans affected by developmental pathologies, such as many psychiatric disorders. What an exciting moment for us to be witnessing this discovery!

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