Moving to Nature …

•March 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

On Sept. 26, 2016, after a decade as a freelance science writer, I began a new stage of my career as Technology Editor at Nature magazine.

Researchers grow ‘Frankenstein ants’ to study epigenetics

•October 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The cold room in biochemist Danny Reinberg’s lab at the New York University Langone School of Medicine is anything but. Illuminated for 12 hours a day and kept at 25 °C, the room is downright balmy. But entomophobes would be well advised to steer clear: this room is filled not with test tubes and petri dishes, but with ants. Lots and lots of ants… Read more at The Scientist.

Chromatin untangled: New methods map genomic structure

•October 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

With some 2 meters of DNA squished into the micron-sized nucleus of every mammalian cell, to call that space “cozy” is an understatement. Yet for cells, the genome poses issues not only of compaction but of functionality: The DNA must be packaged such that it remains accessible to gene regulatory factors. Indeed, chromatin architecture plays a key role in gene regulation, but until recently, researchers had few tools with which to study that relationship… Read more at Science.

The quest to design better experiments

•July 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Ramya Kumar was starting her doctoral research at the University of Michigan when she was tasked with a frustrating project. Kumar, a chemical engineering student, was working in the lab of professor Joerg Lahann. In 2010, Lahann’s research group described a fully synthetic cell culture plate coating called PMEDSAH, which is capable of supporting indefinite growth and proliferation of human embryonic stem cells in defined media. Previously, stem cell biologists were forced to culture pluripotent stem cells on murine tumor extracts such as Matrigel or on murine embryonic fibroblast monolayers, both of which are chemically undefined and variable. PMEDSAH promised to change the uncertainty of stem cell culture. What wasn’t clear, however, was precisely how to create polymers with a given set of properties… Read more at BioTechniques. (PDF)

Membrane messengers: Extracellular vesicles

•June 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

For many years, it seems, researchers have had only a limited understanding of cellular communication. That cells could talk to one another via secreted hormones and growth factors was well known. That they also communicate using elaborate vesicular messages written in nucleic acids, proteins, and lipids was not. These vesicles play key roles in both development and disease. Now, researchers are developing new tools and strategies to study them and to exploit their potential in both diagnostics and therapeutics… Read more at Science.

Superresolution microscopy

•May 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

From van Leeuwenhoek to the new millennium, microscopy was governed by one seemingly unbreakable principle: The ability to resolve two objects is constrained by the wavelength of the light used to view them. But in 2000, researchers showed this so-called diffraction limit could be broken, unveiling over the next decade an alphabet soup of superresolution techniques from GSDIM and PALM to SIM, STED, and STORM. The resulting images are both beautiful and revealing, documenting biological phenomena and structures that researchers never even knew they were missing… Read more at Science.

NIH dengue vaccine leaps into phase 3 studies

•May 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

An investigational dengue vaccine developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Maryland, entered large-scale phase 3 efficacy trials in Brazil on February 22 following a small human challenge trial conducted in the US. A single dose of the dengue vaccine TV003 fully protected 21 vaccinated volunteers against infection in a virus challenge study, whereas 20 unvaccinated controls all developed an infection. “The challenge study looks very good, very promising,” says Annelies Wilder-Smith, director of the Global Health and Vaccinology Program at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore. But, she noted, the study size was relatively small, and only a single, attenuated challenge virus was used… Read more at Nature Biotechnology.

The struggle with image glut

•April 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As the fruit-fly larva wriggles forwards in the video, a crackle of neural activity shoots up its half-millimetre-long body. When it wriggles backwards, the surge undulates the other way. The 11-second clip, which has been watched more than 100,000 times on YouTube, shows the larva’s central nervous system at a resolution that almost captures single neurons. And the experiment that created it produced several million images and terabytes of data… Read more at Nature.

Democratizing mass spectrometry

•April 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Kevin Clark spent a lot of his time synthesizing peptides. Mass spectrometry (MS) was the key to Clark ensuring that those peptides were what he thought they were. “You have to do mass spectrometry to test your work,” he says. Clark would end up using MS—specifically, matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI)-time-of-flight (TOF) MS—for the bulk of 2 decades. Nevertheless, when he took up proteomics research at the University of Georgia in 2010, he felt like an MS newbie all over again… Read more at BioTechniques. (PDF)

Immunohistochemistry for the 21st century

•March 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Immunohistochemistry (IHC) dates back decades, but that doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. Automated sample processors, digital slide scanners, image analysis software, and more have given the aged procedure a decidedly 21st century flair… Read more at Science. (PDF)