Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Lab Grab - Hunger Games

A member of the lab is leaving today. He has a cornucopia of kit and reagents we all desperately crave. Several people in the lab have already asked him "when can we start taking your stuff". We all know the time is fast approaching and we will have what is rightfully ours - at any cost...

I'd say his bench is far more dangerous than the arena - god knows what chemicals he has left on the surface over the last few years.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A Great Biologist and an Exceptional Person

It seems even in death, Sir Kenneth Murray is still contributing to the future of biology with the details of his will being released. The BBC do a good job of covering the details of the will and of his achievements. It's humbling to think that the man who made a fortune from developing a vaccine against Hepatitis B chose to spend a lot of it on supporting science and training new scientists. There are several good friends I'd never have met if it wasn't for his (and his wife's) Darwin Trust - which is particularly good at funding non-EU students to obtain PhDs at the University of Edinburgh.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Shame on you UK!

Here is a global map charting the outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease.

Have a look and see how your country does and then ask why it may do so well or so poorly and whether your country actually has the ability to combat the disease effectively.

It's possible the UK's poor performance could be blamed on the NHS (although most/all of these vaccines are freely available) but I think the main culprit is the dangerous myth that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The fact that it remains can be blamed on a mixture of the media, the dissemination of facts by the government and academics and people's ingrained stupidity stubbornness.

So for what it's worth if you choose not to be vaccinated for these common diseases not only do you put yourself at risk but also all those who may not have access to the vaccine. So think of them.

I'm still waiting for a child who suffers permanent damage from a vaccine-preventable disease to sue their parents. It would make for an interesting case. I don't think it's happened yet and here are some links to some interesting discussions on the legality of the matter but it tends to concern other people's kids and not the victim challenging their parents.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Keep out

My boss had a great sign on his office door today.

"Writing a grant.
Do not disturb unless you have data on endosomal sorting"

I left him to his own devices.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Lab fail

Since Christmas I've been cursing the fact that I've been sent a fly with a deleted gene only to discover a diagnostic PCR for said deletion reveals the gene is still there. I thought the fly may be on some "subtle" (the dreaded ultrabithorax*) balancer and that I was checking a heterozygous fly. I checked with the lab that sent the fly and they believed it was homozygous. Cue a lot of grumbling about people sending dodgy stocks.

The problem was that the deletion mutant would be really useful so I thought I'd design another set of primers because it just may be the case that I had got an off-target band that was roughly the same size as the band I was expecting. Desperate, I know.

The thing is when I got around to designing the primer I made sure I had the full info on the deletion as well. Eyeballing it, I thought "the deletion looks a lot bigger than the whole gene". That's when I realised I was comparing the genomic DNA of the deletion with the cDNA (the DNA that only encodes the protein). That's when it dawned on me that the primers I had designed for the diagnostic test were cDNA specific. The 1.5kb band I was expecting would be around 33kb from the genomic DNA. Never going to work with the PCR protocol I have!

So thanks to my ineptitude the deletion may well still be there. I've ordered the appropriate primers and will know by the end of the week whether it's real or not. Fingers crossed it is - I'd rather be an idiot than have to try and make a mutant from scratch.

*Ultrabithorax may sound like a really cool Decepticon but in reality is a really hard to distinguish phenotypical marker in Drosophila that only those gifted with "the sight" can easily recognise. The phenotype is present on the haltere of the fly which is like a tiny secondary wing that is used for manoeuvrability.

A) Wild Type  B-D) ubx130/Wild Type.  Figure taken from http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/2/348/F3.expansion

You need to keep in mind that the haltere is very small to begin with.

Picture taken from http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/H/HomeoboxGenes.html

Basically I hate it. I'd love it a lot more if the marker was as penetrant as the homozygous mutant I'd love it a whole lot more because the phenotype is super cool.

Picture taken from http://www.bio.davidson.edu/molecular/ubx/ubx.html

Da Vinci Dragonfly!  

EDIT: Fans of "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" should appreciate the footnote to text body ratio in this post :P

Monday, 13 January 2014

Herbal remedies according to science

This has to be my favourite figures of the year so far. What with new year's resolutions I'm sure a few people have been looking into "supplements" as part of keeping healthy. Skeptics should take note that science is more than happy to say something works if they have evidence for it.
There's quite a few surprising ones on there for me such as Vitamin C not being that great for colds while Zinc is pretty good for them.

The nice thing about this figure is that it is constantly being updated so things could change as new results come out. There's also a nice section explaining where the information comes from so for the super skeptic you can find the actual studies and decide how "real" they are.