Painting the Invisible.

Artist Emilie Clark painted the beautiful watercolor on our August 24th issue cover. Originally from San Francisco, Emilie lives and works in New York City. She took a short break from her summer vacation to talk about her work with JEM, the role of science and natural history in her art, and being chosen to represent a deadly sin.


Emilie Clark, JEM August 2015 cover.

How did you start working with JEM?

EC Well, let’s see… It’s been some years now. I was trying to remember the other day the first time I did one for them, and I’m not entirely sure what year was that.

I think it was 2004.

EC 2004? Ok, so that’s quite a while ago. I got an email out of the blue from them, and there had been somebody working there who had seen an exhibit of mine. She said that they were trying to expand the kind of illustration that they had.


Emilie Clark, lymph nodes. JEM cover September 2004.

I’m not an illustrator. I’m more in the kind of fine arts context of doing more conceptually motivated work. But all of my work deals with the history of science in some way. At the time, I was working on a project that dealt with carnivorous plants, and that’s what this person from JEM had seen. She said that they wanted to work with artists that weren’t necessarily doing straight medical illustration, but could get more of the dynamic of what the authors were talking about in their papers. That was really exciting to me. I had actually thought about doing medical illustration way back, when I was a teenager. So I said I would love to do it, and then I did one, and we just kind of went from there. They’ve kept coming back, which has been great. I really love doing the covers for JEM. I’m really happy when I get the email in my inbox from Marlowe (Tessmer, JEM executive editor, ed. note).


Emilie Clark, JEM cover September 2010.

What kind of input do you get from JEM?

EC I really wanted to see an abstract or a description summary of what the paper was about, because a lot of my work has been response to historical text- sometimes medical, sometimes natural history or other kinds of scientists, botanical scientists, animal scientists. Reading a description is often more provocative to me than looking at a photograph, or a cartoon, or a medical illustration. I always get a description or the abstract for the paper. Then JEM often will send an electronic microscopic image that’s more diagrammatic, or they’ll send a diagram that is part of what they’re describing. But it’s very rare that there is an existing diagram of whatever it is that is being spoken about. I have to be able to make sense of the science enough to be able to make a drawing that is going to communicate what they are talking about, but I also try to keep within the way that I work. I would describe the way that I work to be more abstract, and more kind of getting at the dynamic than being like a straight up kind of illustration. Does that make sense?


EC So if you looked at the diagram it might be clearer, or the relationships of scale in my work sometimes might be more loose than they would be realistically. But that’s to try to emphasize whatever the argument is.


Emilie Clark, JEM cover July 2011.

You’ve worked also as artist in residence in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

EC When they invited me to come, I spent a lot of time talking to the botanists there, and the different horticulturalists that worked there. I discovered that the Garden was suffering from a devastating virus in their rose garden, and also a bacterial gall. Because of those things, they were going to have to remove something like a third of the rose population, the soil, and keep them fallow for two years, I think. That’s what ended up capturing my fascination. So I worked closely with the botanist who was studying the virus, and we had access to these amazing microscopes. But a lot of it involved a kind of fantasy on my part, because much of when I wasn’t looking at the microscope I was working in the garden and what I was looking at mostly not visible to the human eye. So that’s interesting to me, that sort of space that you can’t see, that you can only imagine and project on to. I think a lot of science is like that- you have to hypothesize and take what you do know and then apply to what you don’t know. That’s sort of what I did at the garden, and it was really fun and I learned a lot from it. And it was nice to work directly with some scientists as well.

What are you currently working on?

EC Right now I have a solo exhibit up at the Katonah Museum of Art, which is just north of the city in Katonah, New York. There’s a consortium of seven museums in the New York area that decided to team up and put together exhibits that dealt with the seven deadly sins. The Katonah Museum had chosen to work with gluttony and they chose me to represent that sin. I have a large exhibit that responds to that theme, and in a way the work that I did is about the opposite of gluttony. It’s more about seeking a sustainable relationship to the environment. It’s an exhibit of large watercolors and there’s an installation of food detritus. I spent a year saving all of my family’s food waste, and preserved every part of it, and so there’s a large table with all of that food waste on it. There’s also a sculpture that functions as a research station. Those are the three components of my work. I always do watercolor drawings or paintings depending on how you want to talk about them, it doesn’t matter; and then I make sculptures, part of which are functional and have something like a research interactive station to them. So that research station has a microscope and certain specimens that visitors to the Museum can examine. That’s up til October. It opened in the beginning of July. Then I’ll be having a big exhibit at the gallery that represents me in New York, which is called Morgan Lehman Gallery. That will be in February.


Emilie Clark, JEM cover November 2012.

Weekend Suitcase

“So, yogurt. In 2007 scientists working for Danisco, a Danish food ingredient company now owned by Dupont, invented a method for encouraging virus resistance in Streptococcus thermophilus, a bacterium critical to yogurt and cheese production. “ Anne Fausto-Sterling at Boston Review takes a critical look at CRISPR.

Consider the octopus “an intelligent animal with entwining arms so filled with neurons that each of them possesses a separate personality”, says Philip Hoare at the New Statesman.

“And then there’s the truly wild card!  All of these risks are based on the combinations of past exposures to measured lifestyle factors, but the mix of those and the rise of other new lifestyle factors, or the demise of past ones, means that the most fundamental of all predictors can itself not be predicted, not even in principle!” Anne Buchanan at The Mermaid’s Tale goes down the rabbit-hole of prediction in complex diseases.

Steve Silberman at Buzzfeed, on Oliver Sacks and autism: ‘“The autistic mind, it was supposed at that time, was incapable of self-understanding and understanding others and therefore of authentic introspection and retrospection,” Sacks told me. “How could an autistic person write an autobiography? It seemed a contradiction in terms.”’

“No one is entirely clear on how Brian Nosek pulled it off, including Nosek himself. Over the last three years, the psychologist from the University of Virginia persuaded some 270 of his peers to channel their free time into repeating 100 published psychological experiments to see if they could get the same results a second time around.” Ed Yong at The Atlantic wants to know How Reliable Are Psychology Studies.

The increasingly Dickensian experience of grant application. “it was the epoch of belief, We are totally going to get this grant! Science! How could anyone not think fetal surgery is the awesomest. This grant is great. The science so solid. The ideas so unique. Hashtag fundableIt was the epoch of incredulity, Why granting gods, oh why? Peer review will be a disaster. This is never going to fly. It’s due in 2 weeks and we still have so much to dooooooooo.” By Sally Winker at Beta Pleated Chic.

“Two years away from retirement, Dr Madhusudana is still haunted by the death of a 21-year-old student who was once in his care. Like Bhuvan and Veena she lived in a rural village, hours from Bangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka. She had been washing dishes behind her home in May 2013 when she was bitten twice by a street dog. The girl was injected with the rabies vaccine, but her treatment ended there. ” Mary-Rose Abraham at Mosaic on the fight against rabies.

Arjun Raj thinks of the trainees, and proposes his Top 10 Signs That a Paper/Field Is Bogus.

To finish on a lighter note, the latest viral scientific hashtag made the LA Times: “One minute later, Helena Ledmyr, a development officer at the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility in Stockholm, copied the tweet and added the hashtag #scienceamoviequote”, by Karen Kaplan.

Dr Zon & The Zebrafish: The Origin Story

As promised, here is part two of our talk with Harvard and HHMI investigator Leonard Zon, in which he shares with us why he left frogs, how he came to work on zebrafish, and the importance of getting by with a little help from your friends. (Click here for Part I).


Illustration by Madalena Parreira.

You spent some time working on Xenopus?

LZ When I started my lab, I thought I wanted to do mouse genetics. I went over to MIT on a Friday afternoon and dissected out day 7.5 mouse embryos, looking for the very first blood island. It took us 6 hours and at the end of that time I had a dish that had 6 embryos in it. I realized that everything that I wanted to do wasn’t going to be possible. So I was pretty depressed. I came back to the lab and I saw a friend of mine, Celeste Simon, and she said that I looked terrible. I said I’d had this bad experience with what I wanted to start my lab in. I didn’t think it was practical anymore. She said, “Well I can’t help you with that. But I’m having a party at my house and I’d like you to come”.

So I was there at the party and I had a beer in my hand and this guy walks up, and his name is Jerry Thomsen, who’s at Stony Brook. Jerry worked on frog embryos in Doug Melton’s lab. So we started talking and I told him about my mouse experience. He said, “You know, you really have to think about an externally fertilized animal, because you could have thousands of embryos, like a frog. Then everything will be one-cell, two-cell, four-cell… and eventually you would make blood and you could study that process, in a facile system”. The next week I made an appointment with Doug and started doing frogs. A couple of years in, I realized that the frog didn’t have very good genetics. There were no morpholinos or anything at that time, so everybody was not really doing anything except injecting a dominant negative construct in the frog. I felt like I needed to switch systems, so I decided to switch to the zebrafish.

I could tell you more about how I did that, or we could go on. I had kind of an amazing week that transformed my group into a zebrafish lab.

That sounds like an interesting story.

LZ I went to a hemoglobin switching meeting and presented my frog work. After the presentation this transgenic mouse person, Frank Grosveld, came up to me and said, “You know, I really felt like your talk was fantastic. The frog is a good system but, you’re never going to do genetics. Have you heard about the zebrafish as a model system?

I actually had been thinking about switching to zebrafish already because Janni (Christiane) Nusslein-Volhard was going to start doing zebrafish. So I’d been thinking about it. We spent actually about an hour together. He helped crystalize the reasons for going into a new model system, how it could be a good thing. So I came back really charged up about zebrafish. Literally the next day, I had a call from Bill Dietrich, who’s an investigator at Northeastern University. He worked on the Antarctic icefish. The icefish has lost its red blood cells, because it is a competitive disadvantage in cold water to have red blood cells, you end up stroking out. So he convinced me that I should study cold adaptation of transcription in this icefish. I said, “I don’t care about icefish, what about zebrafish?” He said, “That sounds really interesting, sign me up for a sabbatical.” So I had my first person on day 2. Then, on day 3, an investigator in Wally Gilbert’s lab at Harvard called. He had been doing a few zebrafish experiments and found a mutant fish that had no blood. They were going to throw it out, but they said, “We heard you like these things, so you can have it.” So that was it.

Now you have over three thousand tanks?

LZ Yeah, it’s actually three thousand. It’s amazing. Three hundred thousand fish. It’s actually split in two facilities right now.

You identified the first human disease-causing gene in zebrafish. Can you tell us a bit about that?

LZ It was very interesting in the early days. We had very few reagents to do research. We had a mutant where we did a chromosomal walk of a megabase. Literally took us about three years. We found the gene. This mutant was Sauternes. Sauternes ended up being an ALAS2 mutant- this is one of the major steps in heme biosynthesis. It was a human disease gene. So we really found the first human disease-relevant gene in fish. That was really exciting. We published a Nature Genetics paper. About half of the community was very excited about it, that it was possible to clone this type of gene, and the other half was “Well, we already knew about that gene, because it was already a human disease gene. Will you ever find anything novel?”

Luckily our second gene was Weissherbst. We did a comparative approach to actually clone this gene. The human locus and the fish locus had the genes in the same order. So it was nice because we had candidates to walk through this locus. We found this gene which we named ferroportin, which is an iron exporter. This mutant had iron in the yolk, but it couldn’t get it to the baby, because it missed the transporter to do that. That was a very exciting gene because it was completely novel.

When we looked at it, we realized that it was evolutionarily conserved, because the human gene was there. We made antibodies to the human gene product, and we found that it had binding in the placenta. This yolk sac iron transporter and the placental iron transporter were the same. Mothers get their babies iron through this ferroportin. Then we started staining adult tissues and we found that in the duodenum there was specific staining for ferroportin. What we realized was that there was this basolateral iron transporter in the gut that many people had hypothesized to exist, and shown it should be there. It turned out to be ferroportin. That was also exciting, and later we found mutations in people that had hemochromatosis. So it became not only a novel gene, but the first time that a zebrafish mutant predicted a new human disease.

Weekend Suitcase

“I’ve spent months investigating the problems hounding science, and I’ve learned that the headline-grabbing cases of misconduct and fraud are mere distractions. The state of our science is strong, but it’s plagued by a universal problem: Science is hard — really fucking hard.” Christie Aschwanden at FiveThirtyEight on why “Science Isn’t Broken”.

“Certain genes (…) have no known relatives, and they bear no resemblance to any other gene. They’re the molecular equivalent of a mysterious beast discovered in the depths of a remote rainforest, a biological enigma seemingly unrelated to anything else on earth.” Emily Singer at Quanta on genes from junk.

Personalized tragedy: Tom Junod at Esquire on Stephanie Lee, precision medicine’s patient zero. “Without prelude, a deus ex machina had arrived upon the scene, and the race against time had begun.” 

Pseudo-science and the justice system, by Jeremy Stahl at Slate. “‘The howls of protest from fire investigation ‘professionals’ were deafening,” fire scientist John Lentini wrote of the initial response to NFPA 921. ‘If what was printed in that document were actually true, it meant that hundreds or thousands of accidental fires had been wrongly determined to be incendiary fires. No investigator wanted to admit to the unspeakable possibility that they had caused an innocent person to be wrongly convicted.'”

Architects, doctors, janitors, police, and gardeners. Ferris Jabr at Nautilus on the cells in your brain (not those, the other ones).

“The intro, discussion, and conclusion have value because I don’t view them as opinion, but as argument.” PaleoGould on the virtues of reading the whole paper.

The vast majority of scientific papers today are published in English. What gets lost when other languages get left out?” Adam Huttner-Koros at The Atlantic wants to know.

In Memoriam: obituaries for genetic algorithm pioneer John Henry Holland and cell biologist Chris Marshall.

From the Suitcase: Avery Discovers Genes Are Made of DNA

Few questions stump biologists of all shapes and sizes, from grad students to department heads, like “who discovered DNA?” In part, because it’s usually the wrong question. What most people actually want to know is who demonstrated that genes (the abstract carrier of heritable properties, the “yellow” or “wrinkled”-ness of Mendel’s peas) were made of deoxyribonucleic acid. The answer to the first question is Friedrich Miescher discovered DNA (“nuclein” in his words) while studying, for lack of a better word, pus in the 19th century. The wrong answer to the second question is “Watson & Crick” (the slightly more sophisticated wrong answer to the second question is “Hershey & Chase”).

Behind Door #3 we have Oswald Avery, accompanied by Maclyn McCarty and Colin MacLeod (it’s a big door):

“Biologists have long attempted by chemical means to induce in higher organisms predictable and specific changes which thereafter could be transmitted in series as hereditary characters. Among microorganisms the most striking example of inheritable and specific alterations in cell structure and function that can be experimentally induced and are reproducible under well defined and adequately controlled conditions is the transformation of specific types of Pneumococcus. This phenomenon was first described by Griffith who succeeded in transforming an attenuated and non-encapsulated (R) variant derived from one specific type into fully encapsulated and virulent (S) cells of a heterologous specific type.”

That’s how they introduce the problem tackled in their landmark 1944 JEM paper “STUDIES ON THE CHEMICAL NATURE OF THE SUBSTANCE INDUCING TRANSFORMATION OF PNEUMOCOCCAL TYPES”.  The stated goal is straightforward: to determine which chemical component of bacteria is responsible for conferring the encapsulated, virulent property. I’ve read summaries of this over the years, and seen many textbook illustrations. But here is what the experimental readout actually looked like, on the left are the attenuated, and on the right, the virulent (transformed) bacterial colonies (click on picture to enlarge):


The conclusion, after an epic series of biochemical purification experiments was clear:

“A desoxyribonucleic acid fraction has been isolated from Type III pneumoeocci which is capable of transforming unencapsulated R variants derived from Pneumococcus Type II into fully encapsulated Type III cells.”

Avery and his collaborators could also see that their results posed an important new question: which chemical properties conferred on DNA the ability to transmit information?

“If it is ultimately proved beyond reasonable doubt that the transforming activity of the material described is actually an inherent property of the nucleic acid, one must still account on a chemical basis for the biological specificity of its action.”

The need to answer this question was the starting shot in the race to understand the structure of DNA- the race that Watson and Crick did win, in 1953. In fact Avery et al‘s problem very neatly sets up the double helix paper’s famously coy conclusion:

“It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”

Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase? They did beautiful work in 1952. But it was an atomic age confirmation of Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty’s 1944 classic.


Avery, O.T., MacLeod, C.M., and McCarty, M. 1944. Studies on the chemical nature of the substance inducing transformation of Pneumococcal types. J. Exp. Med., 79:137. 

Hershey, A.D and Chase, M. 1952. Independent functions of viral protein and nucleic acid in growth of bacteriophage. J. Gen. Physiol. 36:39.

Watson, J.D. and Crick, F.H.C. 1953. A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature. 171:737. 

The First Five Pages: a Conversation With Matthew Cobb

“Now what you’ve got to do is get another paper like that Avery paper” is Matthew Cobb’s advice to Journal Experimental Medicine, referring to the series of JEM papers where Oswald Avery and his team demonstrated that genes were made of DNA. He’s just got one small, but pertinent, question: “What would it be on? What would be the topic?” Ay, there’s the rub…

Cobb’s own work focuses on olfaction in maggots, and somehow he also finds the time to write books on the Second World War. His latest book, Life’s Greatest Secret has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize, and received rave reviews. Dr Cobb discussed with us the inspiration behind his books, how a scientist gets a book published, and the challenges of studying the history of science.

Cobb final 1

Illustration by Madalena Parreira.

Why did you write a new history of the golden era of molecular biology?

Matthew Cobb: I could see there was a story there that I could explain to the general reader. By concentrating on the experimental detail, which is something I really know about, I could explain the story in a novel way. That was the motivation. When we learn about this period of scientific history, to the extent that we do learn about it, it’s generally confined to the first five pages in the textbook, that people probably skip over because they are not interested. It’s told in a very linear way, and of course history is only linear when you’re looking back. When things are happening, just like they are now, it’s really confused, and there are lots of interactions. It’s not clear where you’re going, and I wanted to recapture some of that confusion, and some of that groping, which you can see in the words that people use. I found myself using the word “information”, or the word “codon”—I didn’t allow myself to use that word until late 1961, by which point the word had been invented. This was really difficult, to force myself into this straightjacket. But at the same time it was essential to try to explain things in the right way and to show why what now seems obvious was once unknown.

So Life’s Greatest Secret focuses on the experimental work of cracking the code?

MC: As well as reading memoirs and so on, I read all the original papers—for every chapter. For the Jacob/Monod chapter, this was pretty heavy going, because I have no training in bacterial genetics at all, and their papers are very tough going, if you haven’t had someone take you by the hand and explain it all. I found that very difficult. But it was something I had to go through. I couldn’t explain it to the general reader if I couldn’t completely understand it myself. So the first task was to read the papers without knowing what was going to come next, just read them blank and imagine “OK, this is the frontier of knowledge now, how can I explain this, and what are the insights that are here, what’s novel, and where are the influences, where have these ideas about come from?”

You’re a working scientist, with a research group at Manchester University. How do you find the time to write about the history of science for a general audience?

MC: I don’t watch TV. That’s the simple answer.

Not even The Wire?

MC: [Laughs]  I watched The Wire. So, occasionally, boxsets.

Your first book was The Egg and Sperm Race. You mentioned in an interview with  American Scientist that what prompted the writing of that book was finding a copy of Swammerdam’s work in Paris.

MC: That’s right, that’s how that all started

The topics of the two books are separated by several centuries. Was there a common challenge in writing The Egg and Sperm Race (Generation in the US) and Life’s Greatest Secret?

The biggest challenge in writing the books, Life’s Greatest Secret and Generation, has been trying to put myself back in time, not to use words and concepts that weren’t appropriate for the time. So, in The Egg and Sperm Race, it was any idea of inheritance. I couldn’t write about inheritance because I was writing about the 17th century and although most people find this very surprising, the idea of there being something called heredity didn’t come about until the 1830s. So it was just this concept that didn’t exist. Yes, you could inherit debts, basically, or if you were lucky, a lot of money. But you couldn’t inherit a disease. ‘Heredity’ took on a biological meaning only in the 1830s.

Similarly, in Life’s Greatest Secret, the biggest difficulty was not talking about information, or code, at a time when those words weren’t appropriate. Genetic information, which is really the whole heart of the book, this idea that everybody shares today. If you explain to somebody what’s in a gene, if you explain to students, ultimately, it’s information. It’s information in the DNA sequence that’s going to produce a protein. That idea came about in a very particular time. In fact, we can date it very, very clearly to the end of May 1953, when Watson & Crick published their second paper in Nature. Not the one on the double helix structure, but another paper, published six weeks later, on what they called the genetical implications of that structure. That’s what the book is about. Where those ideas came from, how they sort of popped into Francis Crick’s mind, why he put them down on the page, and what happened to them once he set them into the wild.

Once you had a topic for your first book, how did you find a publisher? 

MC: It depends on what country you are in. If you’re in the UK, or the US, you need a literary agent, and simply by googling names, putting in “scientific literary agents” and your country, you’ll find various people who are appropriate. This wasn’t quite in the days before Google, but I started thinking about writing the book in about 1998…

So you went to AltaVista…

MC: [Laughs]  Not quite. I contacted Steve Jones, the UK science writer and Professor of Genetics at University College, because he’d published a lot of popular books and I wrote him a letter—or maybe an email… We had email. It wasn’t written with a quill pen. I sent him an email that said “who’s your agent?” He replied “Well, I’m not sure my agent is right for you, but this guy is just set up, he used to be the books editor at Nature, he’s called Peter Tallack.” So I sent an email to Peter basically describing what was going to be a rather boring book. I wanted to write a biography of Jan Swammerdam, this amazing 17th century anatomist and entomologist who was one of the men who could lay claim to having discovered that women have eggs. Peter was very nice about it, and he said he thought it was too academic. I said, OK, I’ll carry on writing and maybe I’ll get it published by one of the academic presses.

Then I suddenly came up with this idea of rather than write the biography, why not concentrate on this huge row that broke out in 1672 over who was the first to discover that women have eggs? This was a row that involved Swammerdam, Steno, who most people won’t have heard of, unless they’ve done Geology (he’s the guy that worked out that the different layers in rocks are looking back in time) and a third guy, who people may have heard of, who was Regnier de Graaf. de Graaf won the race in terms of history, because we now call the place where the eggs come from the Graafian follicles. So I sent Peter a paragraph focusing just on this row, this kind of men behaving badly in the middle of the 17th century, and that it happened at the same time as the Dutch Republic was being attacked by the French, so there was a war and a huge scientific row involving the Royal Society… I just sent this kind of sexed up pitch of one paragraph to him and in 10 minutes I got an email back saying “that’s really exciting, let’s do that”.

Then it was a matter of negotiating with various publishers and talking about a pitch. This is a very, very long process of writing a proposal and then the agent sends it round the publishers. You need to get an agent who is interested in your book, in your idea. Peter Tallack’s (my agent) website is Science Factory, and he’s got a very useful set of FAQs explaining what he needs to know about your idea, and why he’d be interested. The same applies to any literary agent, and they really act as a kind of quality control for the publishers. The publishers use them, and are much more likely to look through a book that comes through an agent than one that just turns up. That having been said, there is a very famous set of books about a boy wizard that was written by somebody who just sent it into a publishers and they all ignored it until about the 18th publisher picked it up. An intern had the job of going through what they call the slush pile, the rejected manuscripts, and she said “hey, Harry Potter is going to make a fortune,” and she was right. So, they don’t always know.

The final section of your book is a look at modern developments in Genetics. Where do you think the frontier is now?

MC: With the development of new sequencing techniques and new methods for looking at what the genome is doing in the cell, we can start to understand the incredibly complex network of repressors and activating molecules that are modulating the activity of genes. To really get a grip on this, we will need to build computer models of those processes, so in a way we’re going back to the ideas that Norbert Wiener came up with in the 1940s about control systems and cybernetics—which is another theme in my book. These ideas are informing systems biology and how genes and their products interact in the cell. I think ultimately it is going to be mind-bogglingly complicated. Which is kind of what we know, because the link between genotype and phenotype, unless it is something simple like eye color, is amazingly complicated. We know that it’s affected by environment and other genes and so on. We’re now beginning to understand how that occurs in molecular terms, and that’s where new models and computer models can be used and then tested by very delicate experimentation in a wide range of organisms, going beyond the traditional ‘models’ into organisms with interesting ecologies that illustrate important facets of evolution. That’s the future.

The Weekend Suitcase

“Today we can begin to understand the cell at a systems level, thanks to the enormous amount of available data that allows us to develop machine learning algorithms to detect patterns that even the brightest mind could not identify.” Stefano Bertuzzi at the American Society of Cell Biology on what cell biologists can learn from Google Cars.

In the past? “Drainage and sanitation projects in the 19th century eliminated many mosquito breeding grounds, but epidemics continued. The last yellow fever outbreak in the USA hit New Orleans in 1905, killing nearly 1,000 people. Malaria was even more difficult to eradicate, stubbornly remaining in pockets of the South into the 1940s and 1950s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was founded in 1946 specifically to combat this problem, which is why their headquarters are in Atlanta: it was then the heart of malaria country.” Are climate change and poverty turning the US in to a “tropical diseases” hotspot, asks Carrie Arnold at Mosaic Science.

“Thus began a fateful test of wills. Merrell responded. Dr. Kelsey wanted more. Merrell complained to Dr. Kelsey’s bosses, calling her a petty bureaucrat. She persisted. On it went. But by late 1961, the terrible evidence was pouring in. The drug — better known by its generic name, thalidomide — was causing thousands of babies in Europe, Britain, Canada and the Middle East to be born with flipperlike arms and legs and other defects.” New York Times obituary for Frances Oldham Kelsey, the FDA official who prevented a tragedy in America, by Robert McFadden.

Bumble says the beginning of the universe was “a lot like this party”. Ah, scientists being awkward at a party. We hadn’t had a derogatory stereotype for nearly 20 seconds. I was getting worried. (…) There may have been more to the video but I must have missed it due to being distracted by the blood leaking from my eyes.” Dean Burnett at The Guardian dissects a video that angered many working scientists on social media.

Lenny Teytelman’s Dear Abby moment: “What is the etiquette for disclosing an anonymous review that you wrote?”

It was a lot more than Aasif Mandvi in tights (though that is pretty good too)- Scientific American compiles a list of Jon Stewarts top 10 science moments.

“Of the three main activities involved in scientific research, thinking, talking, and doing, I much prefer the last and am probably best at it. I am all right at the thinking, but not much good at the talking. “Doing” for a scientist implies doing experiments, and I managed to work in the laboratory as my main occupation from 1940 … until I retired in 1983″. Lara Marks at What Is Biotechnology on the man who taught us how to read genes.