Monthly Archives: June 2012

Unlucky for some? Thirteenth gene found in flu virus

Today I am at home, theoretically packing my van in order to start moving house at 10am. What this actually means, of course, is that I’m enjoying the chance to still be in my bedroom at 8:30am with a cup of tea and the science news, including this super interesting story.

A collaboration of scientists from Edinburgh, Cambridge, Cork, Utah and Seattle  funded by the BBSRC have discovered firstly that the flu virus has one more gene than they were expecting, and secondly that the allelic differences in this gene control how the host (i.e. you and me) respond to contracting the virus. Now you may be thinking ‘The influenza A virus genome is only 14000 bases long! [because you’re a massive geek like me and know things like that…] How can it possibly a) code for 13 genes in the first place and b) have a spare one hiding that nobody has noticed?!”  Continue reading

A round up of the week’s news

These are just a handful of stories that have caught my eye this week, that I haven’t had time to write a proper post about.

Government still positive about GM research, but no plans to relax legislation

David Willetts, the UK Science Minister gave an interview to the Telegraph prior to a meeting of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council to share his thoughts about agricultural research. He was supportive of GM research, which he said the government would continue to fund, and the Rothamsted trial in particular, although he also pointed out that plenty of research is not transgenic and emphasised that the government does not plan to change its position on GM crops to a more permissive one.

Biologists don’t like equations! 

Dr Tim Fawcett and Dr Andrew Higginson from the University of Bristol have published a study in PNAS suggesting that biologists are prone to overlook equation-dense papers in favour of those that are less maths-heavy. For each additional equation, inequality or mathematical expression per page papers were on average cited 28% fewer times. Other theoretical papers were more likely to cite the equation dense manuscripts, but since the majority of papers are practical and these authors were less likely to cite papers relying heavily on mathematical theory, the overall effect on citation is a negative one.

Iconic sexual selection paper called into question

The single most cited paper in the study of sexual selection has been called into question by a new study by Prof. Patricia Gowaty from UCLA. ‘Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila‘ was published in 1948 and has made it into the bibliography of some 1385 journal papers (according to Web of Science); yet it may be fatally flawed in its method. The study predates genetic methods of tracking parentage, and so fly offspring were assigned parents on the basis of their inheritance of unique mutations. Unfortunately the study failed to account for the skew in results caused by only scoring flies with two distinct mutations, and the potentially lethal effects of some of those mutation combinations.

qPCR standard curve FAIL

Several months ago I agreed to give a talk next Tuesday. At the time it seemed a given that by then I would have some beautiful qPCR data. And then my minus 80 freezer died, taking with it all of my vital tissue samples, which took a further 6 weeks to regrow before I could even think about RNA extractions and DNase treating and cDNA synthesis and qPCR.

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Dress to impress

Today, I wore a dress to work in the lab.

Maybe I was feeling slightly unhinged. Maybe I was inspired by the Science: It’s a Girl Thing video. (Maybe I am moving house on Friday and have packed 95% of my clothes, but not this dress because I thought it might be sunny at the weekend, and then I woke up late this morning and grabbed the nearest clothes).

Whatever the reason, today I learned a valuable lesson. If you dress inappropriately to work in the lab, the lab equipment will eat your clothes. 

(Note also the choice of unfashionable but practical footwear. I’m not completely stupid!)

Memo to self: no matter whether you’re just setting up PCR all day and it covers all of your skin, wearing a dress in the lab is never a great plan. Le sigh.

I’m a scientist: GM Zone

Somehow I managed to get so caught up in that stupid EU Commission advert this weekend that I completely forgot to mention I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here.

I’m a scientist is a really cool outreach program that allows school kids to talk to real scientists, asking questions and evicting the ones they don’t like for a two week period. It runs twice a year, and this year an extra ‘Zone’ has been added that starts running this week (the normal Zones all finished last week). This time it’s not just for school kids, and instead of a broad theme, they’re talking about GM foods. Anyone can ask any question they like and the five scientists involved will do their best to answer. Pretty cool huh?

I’m a big fan of the I’m a scientist program: it’s engaging and inspiring and does a good job of showing kids what science is really about and just how human scientists really are. (It’s pretty common to get personal questions thrown into the mix as well as questions about science!) Hopefully this time around it can also be a fantastic tool for engaging with the public over GM foods.

As I say it all kicks off today, but you can still submit questions for the next two weeks, so go get involved!

Science: it’s a girl thing. We are nerdy and that is okay.

This week the EU Commission launched a campaign called Science: It’s a girl thing designed to encourage girls to  become scientists. It involved some nice shorts of female scientists talking about who they are and what they do.

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Science: It’s a girl thing (or “How to patronise women and alienate your audience”)

My morning has begun with rage. This week the EU Commission launched a new campaign designed to encourage teenaged girls to go into science (apparently by breaking down stereotypes…) It’s called Science: It’s a girl thing. The campaign so far is basically a series of short, fairly-bland-but-inoffensive youtube clips introducing female scientists: a kind of ‘This is what a scientist looks like’ campaign, if you will, accompanied by various stats.

Overall it sounds like a well-meaning campaign that isn’t going to cost anyone much money, and might have a positive effect in making teenage girls see science as a valid career path for them. But hang on a second. There’s a PR machine behind this thing, which kicked off today. And it’s turning into a train crash.

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