Archive for June, 2012

Graduate Student Barbie via @karenzgoda

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Graduate Student Barbie (source and major props for awesomeness)

A new gift idea for your loved ones: Graduate School Barbie (TM).

Graduate School Barbie comes in two forms: Delusional Master’s Barbie (TM) and Ph.D. Masochist Barbie (TM).

Every Graduate School Barbie comes with these fun filled features guaranteed to delight and entertain for hours: Grad School Barbie comes out of the box with a big grin on her face that turns into a frown after 2 weeks or her first advisor meeting (whichever comes first). She also has adorable black circles under her delightfully bloodshot eyes.

Comes with two outfits: a grubby pair of blue jeans and 5 year old gap T-shirt, and a floppy pair of gray sweatpants with a matching “I hate my life” T-shirt. Grad School Barbie talks! Just press the button on her left hand and hear her say such upbeat grad school phrases like, “Yes, Professor, It’ll be done by tomorrow”, “I’d love to rewrite” and “Why didn’t I just get a job, I could have been making $40,000 a year by now if I had just started working with a Bachelor’s. But noooooo, I chose to further my education, I wish somebody would drop a bomb on the school so that I’d have an excuse to stop working on my degree that’s sucking every last drop of life force out of my withered and degraded excuse for a soul…” (9V lithium batteries sold separately)

Grad School Barbie is anatomically correct to teach kids about the exciting changes that come with pursuing a higher education. Removable panels on Barbie’s head and torso allow you to watch as her cerebellum fries to a crispy brown, her heart race 150 beats per minute, and her stomach lining gradually dissolve into nothing. Deluxe Barbie comes with specially designed eye ducts. Just add a little water, and watch Grad School Barbie burst into tears at random intervals. Fun for the whole family!

Other accessories include:

Grad School Barbie’s Fun Fridge (TM) Well stocked with microwave popcorn, Coca-Cola, Healthy Choice Bologna (99% fat free!),and a small bottle of Mattel Brand Rum ™.

Grad School Barbie’s Medicine Cabinet comes in Fabulous (pepto-bismal) pink and contains Barbie sized bottles of Advil, St. Johns Wort, Zantac, and your choice of three fun anti-anxiety drugs! (Barbie Medicine Cabinet not available without a prescription).

Grad School Barbie’s Computer Workstation. Comes with miniature obsolete PC (in pink of course), rickety desk, and over a dozen miniature Mountain Dew cans to decorate your workstation with (Mountain Dew deposit not included in price. Tech support sold separately).

And Grad School Barbie is not alone! Order now and you’ll get two of Barbie’s great friends! GRADUATE ADVISOR KEN, Barbie’s mentor and advisor in her quest for knowledge, higher education and decreased self esteem.

Grad Advisor Ken ™ comes with a supply of red pens and a permanent frown. Press the button to hear Grad Advisor Ken deliver such wisdom to Barbie as “I need an update on your progress,” “I don’t think you’re ready to defend yet”, and “This is no where near ready for publication.”

Buy 3 or more dolls, and you can have Barbie’s Thesis Committee! (Palm Pilot and tenure sold separately.)

REAL JOB SKIPPER, When Barbie needs to talk, she knows that she can always count on her good friend Real Job Skipper ™, who got a job after getting her bachelor degree. Press the button to hear Real Job Skipper say, “Sometimes I wish I went for my masters degree” and “Work is so hard! I had to work a half an hour of overtime!” Real Job Skipper’s Work Wardrobe and Savings account sold separately.

WARNING: Do not place Grad Student Barbie and Real Job Skipper too close to each other, as there have been several cases of children leaving the room and coming back to find Barbie’s hands mysteriously fused to Skipper’s throat.

From Karen Zgoda blog. You can also follow her on Twitter. Thank you Kasia for the link.

Categories: Funny Links/Comics

Incredible Images from the Olympus BioScapes Photo Contest

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Here are some more truly inspiring and beautiful images from the world of biology. The 2011 winners and past years can be seen here at the Olympus BioScapes website

A quick summary of the photo competition

FIRST PLACE – Specimen: Rotifer Floscularia ringens feeding. Its rapidly beating cilia (hair-like structures) bring water-containing food to the rotifer. Technique: Differential interference contrast microscopy. (Charles Krebs/Issaquah, Washington, USA)

FIFTH PLACE – Specimen: Live coral Goniastrea sp., known as green brain coral. One full polyp in the center is shown with four surrounding polyps. Walled corallites are purple. Technique: Phase contrast illumination. (James H. Nicholson/NOAA/NOS/NCCOS/Fort Johnson Marine Resources Center/Charleston, South Carolina, USA) #

PA-X, a recently identified influenza gene that influences virus pathogenicity

June 29, 2012 1 comment

From “New flu gene found hiding in plain sight, and affects severity of infections” in Discover Magazine

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a 13th gene hiding in the tiny influenza genome, PA-X: a gene that can modulate the host cell response to and affects the pathogenicity of the virus.

Image by Doug Jordan, CDC

This new gene, known as PA-X, affects how the virus’s host responds to the virus. Oddly, it seems to reduce the severity of infections. “This is indeed an exciting finding in the flu field,” says virologist Ron Fouchier. “How can we have missed it?” asks Wendy Barclay, a flu researcher from Imperial College London who has worked with Digard before. “It just emphasizes how compact these genomes are.”

Most influenza viruses belong to the influenza A group – these are the ones behind all the big pandemics, the seasonal strains that sweep the world every year, and the mutant strains that have caused such a stir recently. Each influenza A virus is a shell containing eight strands of RNA, a genetic molecule related to DNA. But some of these strands encode multiple genes, each of which produces a different protein. Until recently, we thought that the eight strands contain 12 different genes, and the new study raises that number to 13. The influenza genome, it turns out, is absolutely packed with overlapping instructions.


Fouchier notes that “the conservation of PA-X in flu virus genomes certainly suggests that [it] is important under normal circumstances.” But while its sister gene PA allows the virus to copy itself, PA-X has a different role.

It cuts up bits of RNA from the virus’s host, stopping it from activating its own genes. This process, known as host-cell shut-off, is a win-win strategy for the virus. It stops the host from mounting an effective defence against the virus, and it means that the host is more likely to manufacture proteins using the virus’s genetic instructions, rather than its own destroyed RNA.

To understand how this helps the virus, Jagger took the strain of flu behind the 1918 pandemic and mutated it so that the PA-X gene no longer worked properly. Without the ability to shut down the host cell’s response, you’d expect that these mutant viruses would be cleared away more easily. But not so – the mutant virus actually proved to be more deadly than the normal 1918 strain, causing greater weight loss in infected mice, and killing more of them.

“At first sight, it is paradoxical,” says Digard. It seems that without PA-X, the infected cells activate immune genes more intensely and much earlier in the course of infection. This triggers a similar response from nearby uninfected cells, leading to an overly vigorous counter-attack and, ironically, more severe illness. These experiments suggest that PA-X is something of a viral ambassador. It manipulates the host’s genes to control how it responds to the virus.

Here’s a link to the original paper by Jaggar, Wise, et al. 

An Overlapping Protein-Coding Region in Influenza A Virus Segment 3 Modulates the Host Response

Influenza A virus (IAV) infection leads to variable and imperfectly understood pathogenicity. We report that segment 3 of the virus contains a second open reading frame (“X-ORF”), accessed via ribosomal frameshifting. The FS product, termed PA-X, comprises the endonuclease domain of the viral PA protein with a C-terminal domain encoded by the X-ORF and functions to repress cellular gene expression. PA-X also modulates IAV virulence in a mouse infection model, acting to decrease pathogenicity. Loss of PA-X expression leads to changes in the kinetics of the global host response, which notably includes increases in inflammatory, apoptotic, and T-lymphocyte signaling pathways. Thus, we have identified a previously unknown IAV protein that modulates the host response to infection, a finding with important implications for understanding IAV pathogenesis.

ObamaCare’s affect on Biomedical Research

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A piece in The Scientist briefly highlights some of the consequences of the Court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. ObamaCare.

The key provisions that have a bearing on the lives and work of biomedical researchers include the establishment of a streamlined US Food and Drug Administration pathway for the approval of generic versions of protein-based drugs, so-called biosimilars; the creation of a translational research initiative at the National Institutes of Health called the Cures Acceleration Network; the launch of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which would require pharmaceutical and device makers to disclose all payments greater than $10 to physicians, and a push to increase funding for comparative effectiveness research.

How this will play out in effective legislature the next several months will tell us.

Categories: Recent News

Why are breeder tomatoes pale?

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Figure 1a from the paper showing uniform green tomato fruit and fruit with green-shoulders.

Ever wonder why tomatoes you buy in the store have a uniform red color?  A mutation in the transcription factor SIGLK2 has been bred into almost all the strains grown commercially.  In an article out today, Dr. Ann Powell and colleagues show that SIGLK2 controls chloroplast development in tomato fruit, and a functional SIGLK2 leads to dark green fruit with dark shoulders.  Increased chloroplast development leads to higher sugar levels in the fruit, and could affect taste (although they did not check that).  Next time you are planning one of the recipes from our recipe section ( pick out tomatoes that have dark shoulders if you want ones that don’t carry the mutation.

UC Davis must release all names of police officers involved in pepper spray incident

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

by the Associated Press via Sac Bee

OAKLAND, Calif. — A judge has ruled that theUniversity of California must release the names of all the police officers involved in pepper-spraying student protesters at UC Davis last year.

The Sacramento Bee reports ( that Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo issued the ruling on Tuesday in response to a lawsuit filed by the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times.

The UC police officers’ union had tried to keep the names under wraps, saying that naming officers was barred under state law and could subject them to harassment.

But Grillo says the report is subject to release under the California Public Records Act. He did, however, stay his order through July 27 so the police union can appeal.

The name of the officer shown on video footage spraying the seated Occupy protesters on Nov. 18 had previously been released.

Bio-Rad PCR music video

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment