Sunday, 25 August 2013

Dalí makes it into Nature Chemical Biology

Wow, just wow. Nature Chemical Biology has done it. Yes they have published the most bizarre and surreal image ever to be unleashed on a journal front cover.

Dali Nature Chemical Biology
Dream caused by neuronal decay

Salvador Dalí could never have imagined that one day his work would feature in such a prominent place for an artist of his stature. He could not have thought this in his wildest dreams, and he did have some pretty wild dreams. The image takes inspiration from 3 of his famous paintings, the first being "Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening". Well, there are no pomegranates here but we do have a tiger leaping out of the sky and clamping its jaw around a neuron. Pretty cool and not quite as confusing as the pomegranate, fish, tiger, tiger, gun sequence from the original painting. The melting clock in the foreground is of course from Dalí's "The persistence of memory", its presence here probably a sad reflection that Huntington's disease can affect many people early in their lives. And finally the trees in the background come from "The three sphinxes of bikini". They are meant to symbolise the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb in the original painting and so here gives another hint to the deadly nature of the disease. Not really much fun here after all.

I like that Nature Chem Bio does give you a little peak into what the authors were smoking when they made the image. The tiger apparently is meant to show the "difference in proteostasis mechanisms" which determines the "longevity of a neuron". Hence why our tiger is trying to eat that giant neuron.

No tigers were harmed during the making of this cover

The Paper: Proteostasis of polyglutamine varies among neurons and predicts neurodegeneration
Found at: Nature Chemical Biology, 2013, 9, 586-592

The paper is a study on the huntingtin toxin, a protein that causes Huntington's disease. The level of glutamine residues in the toxin can vary and it is this variation that leads to the protein misfolding and causing the disease. The larger polyglutamine regions were important as they also reduced the lifetime of the toxin. It was found that different neurons cleared the huntingtin toxin at different rates, with cortical neurons acting quicker than striatal neurons and thus living longer. They concluded that the biological pathways and in particular the Nrf2 pathway, responsible for protein degradation would be good targets for therapeutics for treating misfolded protein diseases. So maybe some good news in the end.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Geek week communication

It is geek week on Youtube and so I thought as science falls firmly into this category I'd highlight a few short videos I'd class as great science communication. They are all quite different and show the variety of things possible in front of a camera. I wrote a post not long ago about how words are important for communication, but of course that is not the only medium available for telling your story. Videos can be a great source of information and far more appealing in some cases. 

The complex life of sugars

This film was made for the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition that took place in London earlier in July. It's a nice whizz through all the areas of normal life where carbohydrates are found. The graphics are amazing, it keeps things very simple from tree bark to microarrays. Importantly also, the chemical structures are accurately shown which is unfortunately not always the case in popular science.

Conference call

The second film is a discussion of what is synthetic biology and where is it going. The film was produced at a conference of the Synthetic Components Network and nicely combines interviews, discussions and fancy images of proteins. Make sure you pay attention at 1.30 for a cameo appearance from yours truly. As a finger is pointed towards my poster, Beth Bromley says, "...they have no idea of what's impossible". Thanks Beth.

An extreme sport

The third video here might have been just a bit of fun, but it is really fantastic and a great example of how anyone with a camera can make an exciting and engaging short film (about chemistry!). I bet you've never seen a camera on a rotavap before...

For more great science videos have a look at Kyle Hill's round up for Scientific American and of course for all the ladies out there I couldn't write this post without mentioning the amazing awful "science: it's a girl thing".