Of Schemes and Memes

Best of Nature Network, NPG staff blogs and Scitable: 19 – 25 November

Happy Thanksgiving

Scitable’s blogger Eric Sawyer has been wishing his readers happy Thanksgiving, a traditional US celebration involving lots of eating. He looks at the merriments with a scientific twist explaining that, thanks to science, we now know the DNA sequences of many of the dishes sitting on the Thanksgiving table. He summarises a few of the foodie delights in his post:


Turkey is the obvious place to start. The genome of the domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was reported in PLoS Biology in 20101, finding about 16,000 genes. As part of the analysis, they compared the genomes of turkeys and chickens, both domesticated animals which have been shaped immensely by artificial selection. Surprisingly, they found that, despite the shared goal of breeding fat, fast growing birds, turkeys tended to be bred to have tweaked regulation of gene transcription, and chickens tended to have tweaked cell growth and protein production.


The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, when many retailers in the US run seasonal promotions. In a well-timed post, Paige Brown discusses the addiction of shopping and compulsive buying:

According to McElroy and colleagues, compulsive buying is characterized by both abnormal mental processes and physical/social behaviors. In the clinical setting, compulsive buying falls in with other impulse control disorders, disorders marked by an “inability to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or others.” Biological researchers have debated the similarity of compulsive buying to other disorder including OCD, mood and anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug addiction.

Do you feel overly preoccupied with shopping and spending….? Continue reading to find out more.

Curiosity on its way to Mars

The News blog have reported that the Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is on its way to Mars!

An Atlas V rocket rattled off the launch pad at 10 am on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, lifting the 900 kilogram rover to an Earth “parking” orbit. About 30 minutes later, a booster rocket burn sent the probe onto its interplanetary trajectory. At 10:46 am, the booster separated from its precious charge, and watchers in NASA’s launch control room burst out in applause.

Watch the lift off in the video above and continue reading the post for more information.


als.jpgThe Spoonful of Medicine blog explain that a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is considered a life sentence and most people with the neurodegenerative disease only survive two or three years after their diagnosis. Currently there is only a single drug on the market which targets ALS: Rilutek (riluzole), made by the Frenh company, Sanofi. The search for better drugs has made progress this week as scientists have found a potential new drug pathway:

Recent advances provide some hope for future drug pathways that can be targeted to treat the disease. In the latest issue of Archives of Neurology, Teepu Siddique and his colleagues at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago reported finding mutations in the gene that encodes a ubiquitin-binding protein (known as p62 or sequestosome 1) in about 3% of people with either sporadic or inherited forms of the disease. This protein assists the breakdown of other proteins, and its mutation may cause a build-up of dysfunctional proteins in neurons leading to the neurological problems associated with ALS.

Find out more about this research in the post.

Super Supercomputing

The Frontier Scientists are asking this week, What’s so Super about Supercomputing?

Cool games, weather forecasts, space simulations, and graphic visualizations all use supercomputing systems or techniques. Behind the supercomputing curtain or under the supercomputing hood are the 10,000 or more scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who attended SC11, the Supercomputing Conference 2011 in Seattle November 12-18.


Watch a video where Dr. Greg Newby, director of Arctic Region Supercomputing Center in Fairbanks Alaska, explains the synergy of the SC11 event, in the post.


Nature Jobs have been revealing that the number of scientists publishing research relating to sustainability is doubling every eight years, according to research from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Indiana University in the United States:

The field has a wide geographic spread and is prominent in locations with political and economic power. “The world’s leading city in terms of publications in the field is Washington DC, outpacing the productivity of Boston or the Bay Area,” explains study co-author Jasleen Kaur (right), a PhD student in Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Informatics and Computing.

Find out more in the post.

The Witches’ Sabbath

This week’s guest post by Manjit Kumar considers the very first Solvay Conference on Physics, held in Brussels. Attendees included Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincare, Hendrik Lorentz and Marie Curie. It was the first international meeting devoted to a specific agenda in contemporary physics: the quantum.


Read his post, The Witches’ Sabbath to find out more about this unique meeting of minds.

A “rubbish” joke

Finally Viktor Poor asks what would happen if you were sent a bad batch of Horseradish peroxidase:

horseradish peroxidase.png


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