Fishermen can tell you many tales of the teleosts but most cell biologists know but one—the zebrafish. That's a shame, says John Postlethwait, professor of biology at the University of Oregon, who made his scientific mark with the zebrafish but is a fan of a much wider circle of the teleosts, ray-finned fish whose ranks include nearly all of the important sport or commercial bony fish on Earth. Postlethwait thinks there are discoveries to be made amongst the lesser-known teleosts. Consider the blackfin icefish, a three-foot long, shovel-jawed fish that once almost set an Antarctic research station on fire. The blackfin icefish may hold clue to osteoporosis, he says.
Sometimes in science it pays to turn over a new leaf or an old laboratory animal. Stephen M. King at the University of Connecticut Health Center recently turned over planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, the nonparasitic flatworm justly renowned for its incredible regenerative powers, and saw on its underside a new way into a old problem. King, who is an ASCB member, believes that planaria could be an alternate model system for studying ciliary motility and its associated diseases now known as ciliopathies.
When the fledgling ASCB held its big meeting in a down-at-the-heels hotel on the Chicago lakefront in 1961, it was something of a carnival of animals, lab animals. Peter Satir, who is now at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, was present in Chicago. Fifty three years later when asked about the first scientific program, Satir couldn't help pointing out how many different organisms or parts thereof were being studied.
Once you could pity the lamins. As intermediate filaments, the lamins were often slighted as awkward siblings in between actin and microtubules. Found right under the inner nuclear membrane, lamins were regarded as little more than building materials for the nuclear lamina consisting of additional nuclear proteins. No more. Lamins have come up in the cell world, tied in recent years to transcriptional regulation and linked directly to a rare human developmental disorder of rapid aging called Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. But their fundamental place in eukaryotic cell biology remained unclear. Lamins are ubiquitously conserved across metazoans but are they essential to cell life?
"A" is for axolotl, a funky looking salamander regarded by the Aztecs as a delicacy and by cell biologists who believe it could hold the key for unlocking regeneration. The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is not new to science. It's been used in the lab for over 150 years and like many lab animal systems, the axototl has had peaks and valleys of popularity. But David Gardiner, professor at University of California, Irvine (UCI) and an ASCB member, has been working on regeneration with axolotls for over 30 years. It was his wife, Sue Bryant, who is also a UCI professor and fellow ASCB member, who first introduced Gardiner to this nontraditional animal model.
We still talk about guinea pigs as experimental subjects yet you'd have a hard time finding one in a modern research laboratory. Guinea pigs were first used in biomedical research in the late 19th century, playing a major role in establishing the germ theory, identifying pathogens, linking vitamin C insufficiency to scurvy, and modeling diabetes and pre-eclampsia. The guinea pig metaphor lives on but today, mice, rats, fruit flies, nematodes, and zebrafish dominate as model animals. But there are many new model animals on the research horizon, chosen because they can model human diseases in novel ways or because they have special abilities that humans lack. In this series, we will explore a few of the nontraditional animal models, and their potential in the lab.
Nearly every cell in your body is releasing microscopic bubbles that contain tiny messages to other cells in your body. The bubbles are so small that if a cell were the size of the Empire State Building, the vesicles would be the size of teenage couriers, running to deliver messages to neighboring buildings in the organism of Manhattan. But now there's evidence that at least in worms, these little bubbles, called extracellular vesicles (ECVs), can leave the cells of the Manhattan Island worm to deliver messages to cells in the Brooklyn worm. The first of these external messages to be discovered turns out to be a love note.
It's been nearly 14 years since the primary cilium pushed its way into cell biology's center ring with the discovery that this "irrelevant" vestigial organelle was connected to a common and fatal human disorder, polycystic kidney disease (PKD). In the years since, a long list of diseases and disorders have been classified as ciliopathies while the primary cilium currently has 2,347 citations on PubMed.
A yogurt producer with concerns, a puzzling aspect of bacterial genomes, a discussion over coffee, and a new MIT faculty member so youthful that he was mistaken for a freshman—these are a few links in the chain of discovery that led to CRISPR, today's hottest genetic rewriting technology. It stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and CRISPRs are changing biological research by making it easier than ever to edit genomes, opening whole fields to new possibilities in experiments and likely providing new treatments for complex diseases.
CHICAGO—The "Triple A-S" meeting is like no other scientific gathering in that it is not really for scientists but for journalists who follow science. Scientists do come to present talks or to serve on AAAS governing sections, but to understand the meeting's central purpose, think of AAAS as the world's largest annual science press conference.