Best of PubMed #8

Some of my all-time favorites today! The list never ends.


Impact of Yankee Stadium Bat Day on blunt trauma in northern New York City.

Bernstein SL, Rennie WP, Alagappan K.

Ann Emerg Med. 1994 Mar;23(3):555-9.

PMID: 8135433 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Severe burns from inflammable cowboy pants.


J Am Med Assoc. 1946 Apr 6;130:935. No abstract available.

PMID: 21019100 [PubMed – OLDMEDLINE]


[Coffee must be hot as hell, black as the devil, pure as an angel and sweet as love].

Bödding M.

Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2006 Dec 22;131(51-52):2889-94. German. No abstract available.

PMID: 17163364 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious belief.

Banerjee K, Bloom P.

Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Jan;17(1):7-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.11.005. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

PMID: 23238119 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Induction of an illusory shadow person.

Arzy S, Seeck M, Ortigue S, Spinelli L, Blanke O.

Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):287.

PMID: 16988702 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


On being treated as an ignorant hillbilly when escorting a patient to a London hospital.

Chellel A.

Nurs Stand. 1991 Dec 18-1992 Jan 7;6(13-14):42. No abstract available.

PMID: 1760310 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


How many angels could dance on the head of a pin?

Ehrlich GE.

J Rheumatol. 2002 Oct;29(10):2240; author reply 2240-1. No abstract available.

PMID: 12375343 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Mulaik MW.

Radiol Manage. 2013 May-Jun;35(3):30-1. No abstract available.

PMID: 23785951 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Long-term trends in human eye blink rate.

Monster AW, Chan HC, O’Connor D.

Biotelem Patient Monit. 1978;5(4):206-22.

PMID: 754827 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]



“From so simple a beginning endless forms”

Another post from an MDC highlight… See more stories at Click on one of the highlights in the center and follow the links to past archives.

Wei Chen’s group captures the first full view of one of nature’s most complex genes

 “One gene makes one enzyme,” declared George Beadle and Edward Tatum in 1941, in work that led to a 1958 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. This established a research pathway that forms the heart of modern genetics, but their principle has been vastly refined. Studies of the genomes of humans and other organisms have revealed that the vast majority of genes have a boxcar-like structure built of protein-encoding regions called exons and noncoding information called introns. Exons can be mixed and matched into a variety of proteins, each with a unique chemical recipe, in a process called alternative splicing. This allows amazing diversity from a limited number of genes and underpins many biological processes. A gene called Dscam in the “simple” fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is the current record-holder; it has 115 exons that can potentially be used to produce 38,016 distinct proteins. Each version may make an important contribution to the wiring of neurons in its brain, yet it has been extremely difficult to figure out which of all these possible candidates the fly actually produces, in which types of cells, and why the fly genome encodes such a seemingly unnecessary diversity. A new method by Wei Chen’s group reveals a way to answer these questions. The work is a collaboration with the lab of Dietmar Schmucker at the Vesalius Research Center in Leuven, Belgium, and appears in the June 21 issue of the EMBO Journal.

Dscam is an abbreviation for Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule. In 2007 scientists discovered that its potential diversity plays an important role in the wiring of the fly brain. Neighboring neurons in flies that produce identical forms repel each other, while those that become attached expressed different ones. In humans this process is largely governed by related cell-adhesion molecules of the so-called clustered protocadherin receptors.

Traditionally, it has been almost impossible to detect different forms of such complex molecules. Wei Sun and other members of Wei Chen’s group managed this with Dscam by developing a method called CAMSeq(for “Circularization-Assisted Multi-Segment Sequencing”).

“Cells transcribe Dscam into a huge RNA molecule that then undergoes a process called ‘alternative splicing,’” Wei Chen says. “A few regions remain in all versions of the protein, but the RNA also has four blocks containing multiple exons from which it chooses one version of each.”

It’s a bit like assembling your  wardrobe out of a catalogue that offers only one type of shoe, but 12 styles of socks, 48 types of trousers, 33 shirts, and two different hats. Altogether, those items could be combined in different ways to create 38,016 possible wardrobes. In the past, Wei Chen says, it was possible to look at just the “socks” exon and determine which form a molecule had, or the “shirts” exon. But you couldn’t step back and view the whole ensemble when comparing different versions of Dscam. It would be like knowing that 3,000 individual proteins had received the exon equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt, and 1,000 the blue shorts, but you couldn’t tell whether they were being worn together.

Part of the problem in studying Dscam diversity has been fundamental limitations on the high-throughput technologies such as microarrays or deep sequencing methods that prepare the RNA transcripts and then analyze their complete composition. Normally, “deep sequencing” methods can only approach molecules that have a maximum of 1,000 bases in length, and then “read” their composition by starting at either end and working inward. “This is only accurate to about 150 ‘letters’ of the code, meaning that you can analyze  about 300 nucleotides long from molecules shorter than 1,000 bases,” Wei Chen says. “But the variable region of Dscam is much longer, which means that the normal method won’t work. An alternative has been to look at the single exons present in an RNA separately, but again, this doesn’t give us a view of how they are combined.”

To solve these technical problems, Wei and his colleagues added a few new steps to the sequencing process. They began by using PCR to produce cDNA molecules that contained the “variable regions.” But about half of this section is occupied by a very long stretch right in the middle that doesn’t vary and thus wasn’t interesting to look at.

“We realized that we could eliminate this section by drawing the cDNA into a ring, which puts the variable sections much closer together,” Wei says. “That places them in a stretch that is about 1,000 bases long and can be approached by our methods.”

Now the scientists could copy just the relevant stretch of Dscam using PCR. This allowed them to study combinations of the three most variable exons in RNAs, produced by cells in different tissues at various stages of development. They found 18,496 out of the 19,008 possible forms – another landmark in the paper.

“Previously scientists had no way to know all these possible combinations of exons were actually being used in the fly,” Wei Chen says. “They might just be ‘theoretical possibilities.’ For instance, the selection of a particular exon at one place might determine which one was being selected from another variable group, meaning that some combinations never appeared.”

But based on their results, Dscam doesn’t seem to be very particular about matching its “wardrobe”: the choice of one exon doesn’t seem to influence the selection at another.

“These measurements are permitting us to make a thorough evaluation of the total protein diversity in an organism, as well as different types that might be made by single cells,” Wei Chen says. “Those factors are essential in the way neurons weave together to make a functional brain architecture. Interestingly, the isoforms of Dscam were expressed at very different, fluctuating amounts. Some appeared at quantities tens of thousands of times higher than others, in a way significantly biased in specific cells and tissues and at various developmental stages. Until now this has been underappreciated, but such bias can dramatically reduce the ability of neurons to display unique surface receptor codes.”

One of the great puzzles related to Dscam has been the question of why flies would need to create a protein in so many different forms – producing each one costs energy and requires a great deal of cellular management. “What we see is that given the splicing biases and the random nature of the splicing process, this seemingly excessive diversity might nevertheless be essential so that neurons can clearly distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ types.”

The method can also be applied, he says, to other cases of complex genes – including those of humans – that are spliced in many different ways to fulfill a wide variety of biological functions.


Note: The title of this story is a reference to Charles Darwin, taken from the last sentence of the 6th edition of the Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” Darwin and his contemporaries knew almost nothing about cellular chemistry, but this basic idea applies equally well to alternative splicing.



chen2Wei Chen’s group found a unique solution to capturing a complete view of combinations of the variable regions of Dscam: They drew the molecule into a ring shape that clustered these regions together and allowed them to eliminate invariable sequences. Now the cDNA was short enough to be copied and sequenced using standard methods.

Highlight Reference:

Sun W, You X, Gogol-Döring A, He H, Kise Y, Sohn M, Chen T, Klebes A, Schmucker D, Chen W. Ultra-deep profiling of alternatively spliced Drosophila Dscam isoforms by circularization-assisted multi-segment sequencing. EMBO J. 2013 Jun 21.

Two real winners from yesterday’s news

Don’t you just love those bits of science news that hook you with a headline, draw you in, and leave you hanging there? Yesterday’s news brought two examples. The first, found here, hits you with the header:

Smaller testicles may equal better father, says study

The article comes from CNN and mentions the method used: “Researchers used an MRI to study the testes of 70 biological fathers and their brain patterns as they looked at pictured of their children, other children and adults.” (Yes, it says “pictured”, but we all know that grammar doesn’t count if a text is posted on-line.)

This version of the story reports that “paternal investment” was inversely related to the size of testes and levels of testosterone. Then it concludes with the following sentence: “They say this does not mean that men with small testes are better dads, as a lot of other things go into being a father.” Hmm… Anybody detect a contradiction here? Readers could easily follow up on the story to get the details – for example, what “paternal investment” means, and whether you can really measure it by having people look at pictures of their kids, dogs, the Easter bunny, or anything else – if the post included a link to the original article. Unfortunately (sigh) it doesn’t.

Here you go: Testicular volume is inversely correlated with nurturing-related brain activity in human fathers

Article number two comes from space science, with the title:

Meteorite Brought Surprising Ingredient for Life to Earth in 2012

The article begins this way: “Scientists have discovered unexpected ingredients for life — organic molecules never seen before in meteorites — inside a chunk of space rock that fell to Earth over California last year, scientists say.” The story reports on an article due to appear in the journal PNAS that concerns the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which struck in California. I actually like its account of the way researchers extracted compounds from its fragments using solvents that mimic the effect of hydrothermal vents on Earth. But in this version of the story we never learn what those “surprising ingredients” are. Tease, tease…

The original story comes from a press release issued by Arizona State University. It has a clever headline: “ASU scientists strike scientific gold with meteorite,” pointing out that the meteorite landed somewhere near Sutter’s Mill. (If you’re not up on your American history, that’s the site that triggered the 19th-century “Gold Rush.”)
The ASU statement offers a little more information: the molecules represent “a variety of long chain linear and branched polyethers, whose number is quite bewildering.” Well, that sounds interesting, but ASU’s official press release doesn’t offer a link to the original article, either. And the study can’t yet be found in PubMed. I’m sure that will change over the course of the day, but until then, I guess the interested reader just has to take its premise, methodology, and results on faith (oooops).

Best of PubMed #2

Today’s picks from PubMed explore head-banging in rock concerts, sending e-mails in your sleep, the effects of Polka music on developing Alzheimer’s Disease, how to tell the difference between good and bad conspiracy theories, potato chips that look like Elvis, and, of course, more insights into the zipper phenomenon. For links to the full articles, and deep insights go to and type in the PubMed or DOI number.

Neurology. 2001 Oct 23;57(8):1485.

Polka music and semantic dementia.

Boeve BF, Geda YE.

PMID: 11673594 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Am J Emerg Med. 2005 Jul;23(4):480-2.

Comparing 2 methods of emergent zipper release.

Inoue N, Crook SC, Yamamoto LG.


Department of Pediatrics, University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, Honolulu, HI 96826, USA.



There are several types of emergent zipper release methods described. The standard method can be difficult. The purpose of this study is to determine if an alternate method of zipper release can be easier to accomplish.


Subjects were provided with zippers and were taught 2 methods of emergent zipper release using a standard method (cutting the median bar of the actuator) and an alternate method (cutting the closed teeth of the zipper). The elapsed times to successful zipper release for both methods were measured.


Mean zipper release times were faster for the alternate method (10.5 seconds) compared with the standard method (75.8 seconds) ( P < .001).


The alternate method of zipper release is faster and easier than the standard method of zipper release; however, the optimal procedure is also dependent on the location of the entrapped tissue relative to the zipper actuator and the type of zipper.

MMW Fortschr Med. 2013 Apr 18;155(7):24.

 Bach, but not heavy metal is good for heart patients

[Article in German]

Stiefelhagen P.

PMID: 23668166 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Ann Thorac Surg. 2012 Dec;94(6):2113-4. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2012.05.054.

Mediastinal emphysema after head-banging in a rock artist: pseudo shaken-baby syndrome in adulthood.

Matsuzaki S, Tsunoda K, Chong T, Hamaguchi R.


National Hospital Organization, Tokyo Medical Center, Tokyo, Japan.


A 34-year-old man was seen because of severe right neck pain. He was a guitarist in a special type of heavy metal rock (so-called visual-kei, a subgenre related to glam-rock) band and habitually shook his head violently throughout concert performances. He regularly experienced neck and chest pain after a concert, which persisted for some time. Computed tomography scanning of the neck showed mediastinal emphysema. We surmise that head-banging resemble those of shaken-baby syndrome.

Copyright © 2012 The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

PMID: 23176926 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2004 Dec;25(4):273-5.

Velocity necessary for a BB to penetrate the eye: an experimental study using pig eyes.

Powley KD, Dahlstrom DB, Atkins VJ, Fackler ML.


Forensic Laboratory, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.



To determine the V-50 threshold velocity needed for a steel BB to penetrate the eye of a 230-pound pig.


BBs were shot at a distance of 10 feet into the corneas of pig eyes with a pump-action BB gun.


The V-50 velocity for corneal penetration and serious disruption of the eye was found to be 246 ft/sec.


Due to the nearly identical size and anatomy of the human eye to the pig eyes used in this study, it is felt that 246 ft/sec is a reasonable approximation of the velocity needed to penetrate the human eye.

PMID: 15577514 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Singapore Med J. 1998 Mar;39(3):121-3.

“I’ve got a UFO stuck in my throat!”–an interesting case of foreign body impaction in the oesophagus.

Yip LW, Goh FS, Sim RS.


Department of Otolaryngology, National University Hospital, Singapore.


This is a case report of an elderly lady with odynophagia because she accidentally swallowed a tablet which was still wrapped in its blister pack. A discussion of foreign body ingestion, particularly in the elderly, is included. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first paper that includes a lateral cervical radiograph of an ingested blister pack.

PMID: 9632971 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Science. 1993 Nov 12;262(5136):987.

UFO Sighters not Batty, Study Finds.

[No authors listed]

PMID: 17782045 [PubMed]

Appl Opt. 1978 Nov 1;17(21):3355-60. doi: 10.1364/AO.17.003355.

Insects as unidentified flying objects.

Callahan PS, Mankin RW.


Five species of insects were subjected to a large electric field. Each of the insects stimulated in this manner emitted visible glows of various colors and blacklight (uv). It is postulated that the Uintah Basin, Utah, nocturnal UFO display (1965-1968) was partially due to mass swarms of spruce budworms, Choristoneura fumiferana (Clemens), stimulated to emit this type of St. Elmo’s fire by flying into high electric fields caused by thunderheads and high density particulate matter in the air. There was excellent time and spatial correlation between the 1965-1968 UFO nocturnal sightings and spruce budworm infestation. It is suggested that a correlation of nocturnal UFO sightings throughout the U.S. and Canada with spruce budworm infestations might give some insight into nocturnal insect flight patterns.

PMID: 20203984 [PubMed]


Sci Am. 2010 Dec;303(6):102.

The conspiracy theory detector. How to tell the difference between true and false conspiracy theories.

Shermer M.

Erratum in

Sci Am. 2011 Apr;304(4):10.

PMID: 21141366 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Cereb Cortex. 2012 Oct;22(10):2354-64. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr315. Epub 2011 Nov 10.

The potato chip really does look like Elvis! Neural hallmarks of conceptual processing associated with finding novel shapes subjectively meaningful.

Voss JL, Federmeier KD, Paller KA.


Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


Clouds and inkblots often compellingly resemble something else–faces, animals, or other identifiable objects. Here, we investigated illusions of meaning produced by novel visual shapes. Individuals found some shapes meaningful and others meaningless, with considerable variability among individuals in these subjective categorizations. Repetition for shapes endorsed as meaningful produced conceptual priming in a priming test along with concurrent activity reductions in cortical regions associated with conceptual processing of real objects. Subjectively meaningless shapes elicited robust activity in the same brain areas, but activity was not influenced by repetition. Thus, all shapes were conceptually evaluated, but stable conceptual representations supported neural priming for meaningful shapes only. During a recognition memory test, performance was associated with increased frontoparietal activity, regardless of meaningfulness. In contrast, neural conceptual priming effects for meaningful shapes occurred during both priming and recognition testing. These different patterns of brain activation as a function of stimulus repetition, type of memory test, and subjective meaningfulness underscore the distinctive neural bases of conceptual fluency versus episodic memory retrieval. Finding meaning in ambiguous stimuli appears to depend on conceptual evaluation and cortical processing events similar to those typically observed for known objects. To the brain, the vaguely Elvis-like potato chip truly can provide a substitute for the King himself.

PMID: 22079921 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] PMCID: PMC3432238 [Available on 2013/10/1]

Sleep Med. 2009 Feb;10(2):262-4. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2008.09.008. Epub 2008 Dec 6.

Writing emails as part of sleepwalking after increase in Zolpidem.

Siddiqui F, Osuna E, Chokroverty S.


Seton Hall Univ. School of Graduate Med. Edu., New Jersey Neuroscience Inst. at JFK Medical Ctr., 3000 Arlington Ave, Toledo, OH 43614, USA; Neurol. Dept., Univ. of Toledo Medical Center, 3000 Arlington Ave, Toledo, OH 43614, USA.

PMID: 19059805 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Zombie sharks, Terminator earthworms, and a mouse that croons Elvis

News from science never stops topping the weirdness charts, and there was plenty of it this week.

The Olympics has put a focus on world records, and the discovery of a new record in the animal kingdom drew it into the spotlight this week. BBC Nature and other news outlets picked up the story of the Greenland shark, which scientists have been studying through a process of tagging and tracking. Yuuki Watanabe and colleagues at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo discovered that the animals cruised through the water at the amazing speed of 0.34 meters per second, which means they clock in at just over 1.2 kilometers per hour – the slowest swimmers in the world. Since “average” human swimmers can swim several times this speed, at least over short stretches, you shouldn’t be alarmed if you’re being chased by a Greenland shark. You can take a break in the chase once in a while to enjoy a gin & tonic, then climb back in the water for the next leg of predator-evasion.

It’s just like being chased by zombies. Maybe Greenland sharks are zombie sharks.

Tip: learn to distinguish this species from other types of sharks first; otherwise you’ll be in for a nasty surprise. If you’re lucky enough to be chased by one that has been tagged, you can probably follow its progress on your iPhone.

The sluggish pace of the shark made scientists wonder how it catches any prey at all – the California Sea Lion, for example, can attain speeds of 40 miles per hour, which means it has time for several gins & tonics, and can still beat the shark even when completely drunk. Even walruses can achieve a speed ten times that of the shark. (They all seem to be drunk anyway.)

So how does the Greenland shark survive? Easy – it feeds on other animals while they sleep. Even if the prey wakes up from time to time, it will probably mistake the predator for something harmless and just drifing along: a clump of algae, a car tire, or the swim flipper I lost in a pool in the fifth grade.

(Note from the Political Correctness department: Please change “slow” to “speed-impaired.” And is calling a shark “sluggish” a racist comment?) 

The next highlight concerns a report on a group at MIT (who else?) who have created artificial worms. If you want to be creeped out, check out the video of the project on the MIT website, where you can see one of the things dancing on the finger of a scientist. The worm’s body is a tube of mesh made of flexible metal. Around it is wrapped a wire that conducts electricity, causing phases of contraction and relaxation. A close study of the function of worm muscle revealed how this rippling movement, called paristalsis, moves it forward, and the process is imitated in the artificial version.

Inside the mesh you can see some pinkish, soft stuff whose function is not explained. That’s where the military comes in: presumably you could pack an artificial worm full of stuff (cameras, bombs, skunk-odor cannisters) and send it through tight spaces to places people can’t (and probably shouldn’t) go. You can step on them or hit them with a hammer and they don’t seem at all perturbed.

The soft stuff might also be undigested food: paristalsis is also the mode by which the human gastrointestinal tract moves waste from the stomach to its exit point. So the same technology could be used to create artificial intestines. I think this is going to be the next great fad: artistic, personalized, full-size renderings of your own intestine as it digests, for example, spaghetti bolognese. You could mount it on a stand in the dining room. To really impress your guests, you can take them down and hit them with a hammer and say, “See, it still works.”

My only advice to the military is not to release these “Terminator worms” into the ocean; they are veeeery slow, and would all be eaten by Greenland sharks.


I don’t know if the following is the best story of the week, but it will be the last for now. Artist Koby Barhad plans to make transgenic mice incorporating the genes of Elvis Presley. First step: buy some of Elvis’ hair on eBay (Barhad managed to get some for the astounding price of $22). Send it off to Genetech Biolabs for sequencing, and then to the inGenious Targeting Laboratory, which makes custom-designed mice whose genomes have been engineered to include foreign genes. Mate the mouse with a partner and you’ll soon have offspring that go on to become rock stars and drug addicts.

The experiment hasn’t been done yet; Barhad dreamed it up mainly to prompt ethical reflections on the kinds of experiments that might be done someday. (Note that Jeremy Rifkin beat him to the punch over a decade ago by trying to obtain a patent on species whose genomes combined the DNA of great apes and humans.) But Barhad’s thinking goes farther. He wants to create environments for the mice that will simulate steps in Elvis’ childhood development. This, perhaps, will lead the animals to develop some of his human characteristics. (Also not a terribly original idea, see The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin.) The ideal, I suppose, is to create a mouse with that unmistakeable croon, a lock of hair falling over its forehead, and a tendancy toward drug addiction.

And eventually, of course, the mouse will be kidnaped by aliens.

Weighing in on Intelligent Design & co. (against my better judgment)

Well, since intelligent design continues to rear its ugly head in the current U.S. Presidential campaign, it’s time to weigh in and try to stop some of the nonsense (would you seriously vote for someone whose personal opinions go against over 150 years of thorough scientific research, for motivations that are unclear?). As the author of a book on evolution (see, and a native of Kansas (completely by accident, rather than by design), I’d like to pose the following questions. They mainly center around the following key points: What’s the difference between what people call a design and something that seems to be a pattern? and what would constitute valid evidence for attributing a structure to some sort of supernatural intelligence? I don’t really know why the following points are largely missing from the public debate on the topic, or why they aren’t the first questions raised by scientists, but there you have it.

1. If we were to accept the notion that patterns, structures, or other aspects of nature reflect some sort of intelligent design, why should we suppose that there is only one designer? Why couldn’t each individual phenomenon have its own independent designer, or even a committee of designers?

2. What is the difference between the concepts of pattern, structure and design?

3. We all know that incredible complexity can arise from something much simpler: it happens during the development of every human embryo. Why is evolution any harder to conceive of than embryonic development? Does an intelligent designer (or several) intervene in every one of the trillions upon trillions of biochemical reactions necessary to create a human being from a single fertilized egg?

4. Why should a person who believes he or she understands the Bible (or any other religious doctrine) ever experience a change of mind about a matter of faith? Why should today’s religious movements be any different than those of tens, hundreds, or a thousand years ago?

5. What theory (besides evolution) can explain the fact that several types of independent measurements seem to corroborate evolution’s concept of descent from common ancestors?

6. What if any significant differences are there between today’s ideas of intelligent design and the concept of Natural Theology as proposed by William Paley ca. 1800? What solutions does the intelligent design movement propose to the questions that caused Charles Darwin to discard natural theology as an explanation for our observations of living and fossil species?

Feel free to discuss the topic on this page; an alternative is to follow what’s happening at the following site:

or even through my Facebook page:

A new science communications blog

Dear friends,

As a science writer who actively follows science in the news and works with researchers, students, and teachers, I encounter brilliant and some fairly horrible examples of science communication every day. The goal of this blog is to publish interesting stories about science – written by myself, students, or others – and to serve as a science communication workshop. We’ll consider good and bad examples, watch pieces as they evolve, and develop strategies and guidelines for those who want to improve their skills. We’ll also explore ways to get up-to-date news on science and related issues into classrooms. Finally, the blog will take on themes at the intersection between science and society, such as the potential applications that arise from research, and topics of debate such as the use of genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and evolution.

This effort is important because of the rising need to communicate science to nonspecialist audiences. It’s even an issue within research groups or institutes. As a colleague at the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) recently told me: “Research at the FMP involves structural biology, chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology including animal experiments. As a result, chemists, physicists, pharmacologists and biologists who have totally different backgrounds are working closely together.  Their research interests are similar but require a different language and set of tools. This means that in weekly lectures given by one of the 20 group leaders to students at the FMP, students and lecturers often have difficulties understanding each other very well.”

I regularly publish highlight articles on the website of my home institute, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine,, which will be reposted here. I have also written a number of popular books on science, which can be seen at