Thursday, 08 August 2013 11:42

Biology Commentaries in Space and Time

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How big is an antibody? An illustration in a biology textbook might depict an antibody that's a third of the size of a cell, 150 times larger than an antibody actually is in relation to a cell. Of course, it would be impossible to draw an antibody to scale in a textbook. Even if the illustration of the cell took up an entire sheet of 8 ½ x 11 inch paper, the antibody would only be about 0.02 inches, a speck too small to see. So how can one get a sense for the size of proteins on the surface of cells in the body? Michael Reth, professor at the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg and the Max Planck Institute, gives readers a mental image in a commentary in Nature Immunology.

Wednesday, 07 August 2013 14:38

NIH Makes Deal with Lacks Family for HeLa Genome

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has negotiated an agreement with the family of Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and from whom the famous cell line, HeLa, was derived. The agreement will provide researchers controlled access to the full HeLa genome, through a review group of physicians, scientists, a bioethicist, and Lacks family members, according to a report in Nature and other news media.

The sun floods into the Physiology course break room at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) less than a block away from the narrow inlet between the mainland and Naushon Island that gives Woods Hole, MA, its name. Woods Hole is at the shoulder of Cape Cod, a popular summer vacation destination. In the harbor, vintage sailboats carry sunbathers, giant ferries take tourists to Martha's Vineyard, and the MBL work boat brings squid harvested from Vineyard Sound to neuroscience labs. But the 27 graduate students and postdocs who are enrolled in MBL's legendary Physiology course have little time for the sights. Instead, the students use the break room to refuel, analyze data, and argue about PALM vs. STORM or the latest on tropomyosin. Then it's back to the Physiology lab where the students live 16 hours a day for seven weeks. Asked about a famous beach up the road, a Physiology student sighed, "I've been there once."

The inhabitants inside the Washington Beltway love secrets. They love knowing them, they love keeping them, they love letting people know they know them, and they love reading them after someone else has leaked them to a reporter. One Beltway resident recalls a neighbor's garden party where a fellow guest announced that she would have to kill her listener if she were to reveal where she worked. "I'm still not sure if she was serious or not," the party goer recalls somewhat nervously.

Given Inner Washington's passion for secrets, it is curious that the House of Representatives' secret task force on immigration reform has apparently disappeared without a trace.

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