Friday, April 27, 2007

microRNAs are really, really important.

The first mouse knockouts for a microRNA (miRNA, short interfering RNA or siRNA [1]), has revealed that it has a important role in the immune system and for homeostasis.

In the work, by people at Cambridge University's Babraham and Sanger Institutes and published recently in Science [2], they knockout out bic/microRNA-155, and got immunodeficient mice that also had funky airways due to them (the airways) being remodelled more.

siRNAs are a fairly recent discovery, and we are only just getting our heads around that fact that they have an incredibly important role in how the genome is used by our cells.
The fact that such regulatory effects can have such a massive effect on the immune system and homoeostasis is really some thing.

All this makes me wonder if any of my own work, which looks at the roles of signalling molecules in the developing skeleton, means anything without knowledge of what siRNAs are doing. That's depressing.

[1] a small, single stranded sequence of RNA which, instead of coding to make a protein, acts to regulate expression of other genes.
[2] DOI: 10.1126/science.1139253

Friday, April 13, 2007

Can a crocodile bite a man's arm clean off?

You've no doubt seen the story of the man who's arm was bitten off by a crocodile in Tiawan.
The arm belongs to vet Chang Po-yu at the Shousham zoo in Koahsiung.
It's a strinking photo isn't it?

The thing is, are croc's teeth not adapted for clamping, not cutting? Don't they bite their prey and drag them whole into the water to drown, rather than tear chunks off?

The teeth of most crocodillians are fairly short, uniform and cone like, perfect for clamping down hard on to a tasy vet's arm, but not cutting it clean off. They don't occlude in such a way to allow shearing and cutting of meat, like your front incisors do.

So what happend here? The arm looks severed just over half way down the forearm. You'll notice the the Did the crock clamp down, crushing the bone and then the skin and muscle tore off? Did the arm get clamped in, and the paramedics (or whoever) cut him free, leaving his fore arm in place? Or is the photo a fake?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Science Mix Tape = SciPop

In a beautiful example of the convergence of memes, the people over at Null Hypothesis have been making a list of science rock and roll songs. Well done them, they have a much bigger list than ours.

Perhaps it is due to their brighter minds, keener understanding of the zeitgeist and larger music collection? Or maybe it's just that more than two people read their site (that's right, our readership is growing)?

I must say though, I see Atomic Kitten listed for "The tide is high". That's not cool. That's not cool at all. It's the Paragons, or I'd also accept Blondie, but Atomic Kitten? Words fail me.

Dropping Science 2

A selection of suggestions for the mix tape from Blue and Brown and Dan, up form the comments.
Firstly, blue and brown's, note that there is a ban on all coldplay:

Apologies to Insect Life - British Sea Power.
The Test - The Chemical Brothers
Nature Boy - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Now Dan's
Bovine Spungiform Economics - Million Dead
Biological - Air
Gene By Gene - Blur
Tendon #7 - Chris TT [late addition due to non-emo nature, that and the fact that he lists Dawkins, Darwin, the Nat. Hist. and Sherlock's bro as influences on his MySpace thingymajigger, good man.]

(I'm going to ignore the rest of Dan's as they are either too emo, or I havn't heard of them... Or both)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

dropping science

More suggestions for the science mix tape:

"Inertia Creeps", Massive Attack
"Particle Man", They Might Be Giants
"Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)", Marvin Gaye
"Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine", White Stripes

Big dog, little dog, single gene, dwarf mice and many authors.

Research published in Science shows that variation in a single gene, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), may determine the body size of domestic dogs [1]. IGF1 is one of those growth factors that crops up all the time in skeletal development (mouse knockouts, for example, exhibit achondroplasia [2]), so it's not a shock to see it here. Though it is pretty cool science. You can read all about the ins and outs of this in other places, I've got another point to make.

There are 12 people on this paper. 12, from 8 different institutions. This is fairly typical for Science, Nature, Cell papers, and indeed any other high impact paper. People get put on papers to add weight to the research, or to embiggen friends, bosses and spouses. I have heard of at least one researcher who puts their partner on to papers, even when the partner in question has had nothing to do with the actual research, and conversely I know of students and technicians who have put the hours in to actually do the research for a paper, only to be thanked by being left off the paper, sometimes not even making the acknowledgments. These practices, whist being widespread, are dodgy at best and down right fraudulent at worst.

As I've said before, I'm just a lowly PhD student, and who am I to comment, but the whole situation leaves me saddened. Though, that said, if i was to be put on to a Science paper with out lifting a finger, would I get on my high horse and ride out into moral sunset? I doubt it.

I've copied the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors' guidelines on authorship below [3]. I'd be very surprised if all 12 authors on this paper fulfil all three criteria of the first point below, though I'd love to be wrong.

    • Authorship credit should be based on 1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3.

    • When a large, multi-center group has conducted the work, the group should identify the individuals who accept direct responsibility for the manuscript (3). These individuals should fully meet the criteria for authorship defined above and editors will ask these individuals to complete journal-specific author and conflict of interest disclosure forms. When submitting a group author manuscript, the corresponding author should clearly indicate the preferred citation and should clearly identify all individual authors as well as the group name. Journals will generally list other members of the group in the acknowledgements. The National Library of Medicine indexes the group name and the names of individuals the group has identified as being directly responsible for the manuscript.

    • Acquisition of funding, collection of data, or general supervision of the research group, alone, does not justify authorship.

    • All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, and all those who qualify should be listed.

    • Each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content.

[1]Sutter et al, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.1137045
[2]Wang et al, 2006, DOI:10.1210/en.2006-0196
[3] accessed 10/04/2007