Saturday, October 29, 2011

dying stars

The current issue of Chemistry & Industry contains my review of the book:

From dying stars to the birth of life
by Jerry L. Cranford, Nottingham University Press

which is an attempt to popularise astrobiology. I can't really recommend the book, for the reasons outlined in my review, so I'll just politely fall silent here ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

tintin revisited

Dear Mr Spielberg,

many thanks for offering your 3D, motion captured, animatronic, and everything else take on the Tintin stories, but I'm afraid I've decided to stick with the original:

This edition of "Le secret de la licorne" (the secret of the Unicorn) is even older than me, not dated, but from the list of other Tintin adventures on the back, it must have been printed between 1960 and 1963.

For some deeper insights into the Tintin oeuvre, see the brilliant book Tintin and the secret of literature by Tom McCarthy, which I reviewed here.

PS: Further reasons not to watch the film:

why the CGI doesn't work and only produces zombie impressions (interesting in that it tells us how our brains process people images differently from everything else!)

Tom McCarthy on how Spielberg missed all the interesting bits in Tintin

Peter Bradshaw's review of the film

Nicholas Lezard trying to cope with the trauma the film inflicted on him

PPS Art critic Jonathan Jones tries to mediate between Tintin fans and those who appear to like the movie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

illuminating brain function

As I have followed the story of bacteriorhodopsin - the biological computer that never happened - for many years now, I was very pleased to learn that somebody found something very clever to do with this and similar microbial opsins. Specifically, the recently developed methodology of "optogenetics" involves expressing microbial light-responsive ion channels or pumps in neurons, meaning that one can activate or inactivate these neurons by shining light of a certain wavelength onto them.

Stanford researcher and practicing psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth, who invented the method and pioneered its use, is keen to apply it directly to psychiatric questions. Others think a few fundamental things need to be sorted out first. Read more about all this in my feature, which is out in today's issue of Current Biology:

Shining new light on the brain
Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 20, R831-R833, 25 October 2011
Summary and free access to PDF file

Thursday, October 13, 2011

walking with molecules

Among the molecular motors of the cell, there are quite a few that appear to walk on two legs like we do. However, the rules in the nanoworld are very different from our world. Walkers there can't rely on gravity to keep them connected with the track, and they have to muddle through the chaos that is Brownian motion.

Researchers have been able to build synthetic walkers from DNA for a few years now, and recently have also introduced the first small molecule walker that matches the key criteria of the walking molecules in the cell.

I wrote a feature about all this which is out in Chemistry & Industry this week:

Walking in the nanoworld
Chemistry & Industry issue 19, pp 20-22

free access to full text (html)

A couple of macroscale walkers appear on the cover of the issue by coincidence.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

don't play with food

Following the deregulation of the finance markets in the early 00s (whose bright idea was that?), finance people have discovered food commodities as a new toy to play with, and the prices have become unpredictable and decoupled from the real world parameters such as supply and demand. While the guilty parties deny that their gambling has any impact on the real world, experts increasingly believe that speculation does drive real people into real hunger.

For more info about this scandalous situation (and some of the science behind it, including, again, herding), read my feature in today's issue of Current Biology:

Don't play with food
Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 19, pages R795-R798, 11 October 2011

summary and free access to pdf file

On the same issue, the World Development Movement (also mentioned in my feature) have today issued a press release:

450 economists call on G20 finance ministers to stop speculation fuelling hunger

Thursday, October 06, 2011

October crop

the roundup of German pieces in October has philosophical insights gained in mitochondrial research, RNA scaffolding in synthetic biology, crop protection, and an appreciation of the conical flask / Erlenmeyer flask on its 150th birthday.

Die Energie der Mitochondrien und ein bewegtes Forscherleben, Spektrum der Wissenschaft 2011, Nr 10, 100. (review of "Feuersucher" by Gottfried Schatz)

RNA-Gerüst bringt Ordnung in die Zelle, Chemie in unserer Zeit 2011, 45, 351
restricted access to PDF file

Ungestörtes Wachstum erwünscht, Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2011, 59,966

Eine schräge Geschichte, Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2011, 59, 936

Erlenmeyer's original design drawing, apparently. Source: wikipedia