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Entries from June 1, 2015 - June 30, 2015


Inspiring women in science, part VI

Rosalyn Yalow was born in the USA in 1921. She developed the radioimmunoassay technique, which can measure the concentration of hormones in blood, and studied insulin levels in diabetes. The figure above is of the electrophoresis of pure insulin-I181, of free insulin from the plasma of an control subject injected with insulin-I181, and of free and antibody-bound insulin from an insulin-treated subject injected with insulin-I181, from the paper “Insulin-I181 metabolism in human subjects: demonstration, of insulin binding globulin in the circulation of insulin treated subjects”, J Clin Invest, 1956; 35(2): 170–190. She received the Nobel Prize in 1977.

Like the quote by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Rosalyn Yalow highlights the hope of science; however she also bears a warning. It is our responsibility to keep science alive. Inventing vaccines means little if, a generation after their transformative impact on humanity, we put them aside. The social forces aligned against science are strong, and we always need to understand that the advances that we have made as a species were not inevitable and are not immutable. Do not take for granted the luxuries (both physical and intellectual) given to us by science, for they shall fast dissapear if we do not support the bedrock of the scientific method that supports it all.


Inspiring women in science, part V

Rosalind Franklin was born in England in 1920. She produced the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, and independently determined that DNA was helical and that the phosphate groups were on the outside. The figure above is from “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate”, published in Nature, 1953; 171:740-741, in the same issue as the paper published by Watson and Crick. She later led work on the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and the polio virus. She died in 1958 from ovarian cancer.

As an aside, this is pretty close to something I tell all potential students in my lab: science is a lifestyle choice more than a career. As evidence, I am posting this from the lab on a Sunday afternoon.


Inspiring women in science, part IV

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was born in Germany in 1942. She and Eric Wieschaus identified many of the genes that control the embryonic development of Drosophila. The figure above is of a wildtype fruitfly embryo, and those homozygous for mutations in Krüppel, hunchback, and knirps, from “Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila”, Nature, 1980; 287:795-801. She is also associated with the discovery of Toll, which led to the identification of toll-like receptors. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995 for her discoveries into how complex multicellular organisms develop from single cells. The quote below is from her 2006 book, “Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development”.

Clearly, biology is the most interesting of the sciences.


Inspiring women in science, part III

Elizabeth Blackburn was born in Australia in 1948. She and Carol Greider discovered telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme that loss of important DNA from chromosome ends by adding extra bits of DNA to the end of strands, and plays a role in aging and cancer. The figure above is DNA from a telomerase enzyme reaction, from “Identification of a specific telomere terminal transferase activity in Tetrahymena extracts”, published in Cell, 1985; 43:405–413. She received the Nobel Prize in 2009. When questioned about the large number of women working on telomeres, she replied that “it’s fairly close to the biological ratio of men and women. It’s all the other fields that are aberrant.”


Inspiring women in science, part II

Lise Meitner was born in Austria in 1879. She and Otto Hahn discovered the first long-lived isotope of protactinium and articulated how the nucleus of an atom could be split into smaller parts in their paper “Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction” published in Nature in 1939. The figure above illustrates fission fragments in an uranium-lined ionization chamber connected to an oscillograph. The large pulses were caused by ionization bursts of fast moving nuclei from uranium bombarded by neutrons. Element 109, meitnerium, is named in her honour.

To me, this quote counters the argument that theologists often direct to athiests - that to not believe in the supernatural is to live in a world that is flat and dull. No! Far from it! To pull away the curtains of silly supernatural explanations is to allow yourself to peak at reality, a truth that is far more awe-inspiring and magestic then anything that could have been invented by primitive desert-dwellers. 


Inspiring women in science, part I

Rather than directly address the ridiculous sexist comments by Tim Hunt, I thought I would post a series of quotes by inspiring female scientists. These quotes adorn my office, and were a gift from my wife - who is an inspiring scientist herself.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was born in France in 1947. She was part of the team that discovered and identified HIV as the cause of AIDS in 1983. The figure above is of viruses budding from lymphocytes, from “Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)”, Science, 1983; 868-871. She also identified important factors contributing to mother-to-child transmission of HIV. She received the Nobel Prize in 2008.

To me this quote encapsulates the inspiring nature of science. When you look around yourself, science is everything that has transformed life from being nasty, brutish and short, to one where many of us have love, luxury and peace. This transformation can be extended to everyone if only we use science and evidence-based decision-making.


New diabetes drug-screening model available