Breakthrough of the year 2015 and runners-up

This year’s breakthrough, according to the scientific journal Science, is the CRISPR/Cas system. Not that it’s brand new – it was first described in 2012, and it was one of the runners-up listed by Science for their 2014 breakthrough, but its use in labs all over the world has grown exponentially, and its achievements and promises have now made it famous beyond the walls of molecular biology labs.

In a nutshell, the CRISPR/Cas system is a genome-editing tool: it makes it possible to delete, insert, or modify pieces of DNA anywhere in the genome of a wide range of species and cell types. What makes it so powerful, compared to other genome-editing tools such as TALENs, is that it is inexpensive and relatively easy to use. Continue reading

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What babies see

2 weeksHave you ever wondered what the world looks like to an infant, or even to a 6-month old?

An ophthalmologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and a bunch of scientists and engineers at REBIScan have developed an app called BabySee that lets you see the world through the eyes of a baby, aged from a few days to a year. Simply point your camera at something, and use the slider to choose the age of the baby (increments of one week for the first three months, then of one month until one year of age). Continue reading

Breakthrough of the year 2014 and runners-up

As for the last two years, my first post of this new year will be an overview of the ten scientific advances the editors of Science deemed the most notable of the year (see here for 2013 and 2012).

Breakthrough of the year 2014: the Rosetta mission

Most likely, you’ve already heard of the Rosetta mission’s little lander, Philae. Continue reading

Kardashia index and Top50 scientists on Twitter

Last July, Neil Hall, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, published an article in the journal Genome Biology, in which he proposed a new index to evaluate researchers: the Kardashian index, or K-index. The index measures how famous a scientist is on Twitter (based on the number of followers) in relation to how often his scientific articles are cited by other researchers (in peer-reviewed journals).

The K-index and the article that presented it were of course meant as a parody. The journal Science has now nevertheless compiled a list of the Top50 scientists on Twitter based on their K-index. Two interesting points: 1) the number of followers scientists can attract (which falls relatively fast when going down the list), and 2) the scientific fields that are represented (physics/astrophysics/astronomy and neurosciences/psychology seem particularly popular). Continue reading

Free-living mice use running wheels

Wheel running 2
Photo credit: Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers

Running has gotten very popular in the past few years. There was a time when jogger encounters were a relatively rare event on the streets but nowadays, it seems that anyone and everyone runs. I am often amazed at the crowd hitting the asphalt any time of the day, by any kind of weather.

As it got popular, jogging also became more high-tech. I live in a big city, and joggers with trendy, high-tech (and expensive) gear are common. However, as I was recently visiting a small country town, I was surprised to see two women jogging on a sidewalk, wearing the same kind of clothes and gear as those you would expect on marathon runners. It seemed to me to be the ultimate sign that running had really become the thing to do. (I’m not quite sure the kind of jogging-and-chatting these two women were doing, on a relatively mild spring weather day, really required the trendy high-tech gear they were wearing, but hey, whatever gets you off the couch and makes you enjoy your run, right?)

Now, why am I talking about jogging, and what is the scientific point of this post? Continue reading

Chia seeds and colostrum for breakfast anyone?

Every now and then there is a new miracle food on the block. Or a new poisonous one. Sometimes it seems that every new day brings yet another food item that one should absolutely eat (or ban) to stay healthy. Pomegranate anyone? Eggs? Chia seeds? Raw meat? Kale? Colostrum?

If you are tired of all this and would like to make a bit of sense out of most of the nonsense out there, or if you are simply interested in knowing real facts about food, from proteins to vitamins via chocolate, this MOOC (massive open online course) may be for you: Food for Thought, offered on the edX platform by McGill university (free). Continue reading

The blood typing game

If you want to learn the basics of blood typing and blood transfusion, try the blood typing game !

The game can be found on the Nobel Prize website, along with other games related to other Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine (the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Karl Landsteiner for the discovery of human blood groups in 1901).

For the complete newbies, there is a good tutorial telling you all about blood types, antibodies, agglutination, etc (once you’ve chosen what game you want to play, go to the main menu for the tutorials).

Science and colonies in 18th century France

Colbert presenting the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667. Henri Testelin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I recently attended a lecture about science and colonial development in 18th century France (when France was a monarchy, referred to as “the Old Regime”). I kind of landed there by chance, partly because I thought the title of the talk was interesting, partly because I did not quite read the description of the lecture carefully.

As the event was organized by the New York Academy of Sciences (or so I thought), I was expecting a lecture in the style of the previous lectures I had attended at the Academy: a big room, a reasonably large audience , and a lecture/discussion targeting an audience with some degree of scientific education or interest.

Not at all. After finally finding my way Continue reading

Breakthrough of the year 2012 and runners-up

Every year the team of editors at Science selects ten scientific accomplishments to highlight as some the most notable advances of the year. I very much enjoyed reading about them, so I indulged myself in making a summary of it for my first post of the year. (And if you’re not that much into science, you probably do not know what Science is. To give you an idea, I’ll just say it’s a highly renowned international scientific journal that haunts the publishing fantasies of many a researcher.)

Breakthrough of the year: the Higgs boson

If you have not heard of the Higgs boson, Continue reading