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Movie Review: The Martian

Who wouldn’t want to be a space pirate? Granted, if you had to be stranded alone on a barren planet for over a year for that chance to happen, it might not be so appealing. Still, space pirate: think of the possibilities.

It is this optimistic, jocular tone that Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the book by Andy Weir, takes as it follows astronaut and botanist Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, through the trials and tribulations of having to remodel rudimentary living conditions after being presumed dead and left behind by his crew during a mission to Mars. Stranded initially without means of communication to Earth, Watney’s life-saving ventures range from making water using hydrogen and oxygen gas (which almost gets him blown up) to growing potatoes in a homemade greenhouse (you don’t want to know where he got the fertilizer for that project, just saying). His life gets a little less difficult when an observant mission control operator notices a moving rover on the satellite surveillance of Mars’ surface late one night, giving those on Earth the first sign that Watney is in fact alive. With some quick thinking and teamwork, they rig up a way to communicate and suddenly Watney isn’t so alone anymore. They continue to help him survive in the harsh conditions of the planet, which he does all to the lively beats of disco hits, as that is apparently all his team’s commander, played by Jessica Chastain, loaded into the system during their stay, much to his chagrin.

The 1970s soundtrack calls back to the post-space race era, using the backdrop of where we have been to throw into sharp relief how far we have come, and also how far we can still go in exploring the stars. Still, The Martian, at its heart, is not a two-hour promotion for NASA and its programs. Though it does get ample on-screen time, political maneuverings and calculated public relations decisions made in board rooms rival the time spent problem solving in mission control or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), giving the organization an almost ominous corporate vibe. Driven by Jeff Davis’ performance as the callous program director, NASA becomes the antagonist when the decision is made to keep the news of Watney’s survival from his crew, who are making their way back to Earth, in an attempt to keep their focus on the mission to return home safely.

It is this theme–balancing the lives of several versus one–that refracts throughout the back half of the film, making the humanity of this survival story begin to outshine the science in a subtle and heartwarming way. Thus it comes as no surprise that the returning Ares III crew chooses to risk their lives in a genius attempt, crafted by an eccentric but endearing JPL engineer, to change course and retrieve Watney even though NASA initially rejects the plan. As every pirate adventure should, mutiny and risky swashbuckling ensue, ending in a daring rescue attempt that requires the brains and particular STEM skills of all six members of the Ares III team. In a breathtakingly beautiful and nerve-wracking sequence, an injured, exhausted, and bearded Watney attempts to launch into Mars’ atmosphere with a jerry-rigged pod to reach his crew’s ship which is orbiting by, all while the whole world watches on.

Whether or not he makes it–well, you’ll have to go see The Martian yourself to find out the answer to that question. Though the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 will no longer screen the sci-fi adventure after this week, Regal Fenway Stadium 13 and AMC Assembly Row 12 have showings scheduled for the next two weeks, so catch it while you can.

Lastly, for those interested in how accurate Watney’s scientific efforts to remodel his surroundings are, NASA [1] and The Guardian [2] both addressed this question, and Neil deGrasse Tyson also weighed in on the matter via Twitter with some very amusing and pointed commentary [3].


 

  1. Fox, Steve. “Nine Real NASA Technologies in ‘The Martian’.” NASA. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 11 Sept 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nine-real-nasa-technologies-in-the-martian
  2. Zubrin, Robert. “How Scientifically Accurate Is The Martin?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, Limited. 06 Oct 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/06/how-scientifically-accurate-is-the-martian
  3. Gettell, Oliver. “Neil deGrasse Tyson Tweets His Thoughts on The Martian.” Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly, Inc. 2 Oct 2015. Web. 03 Nov 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/10/02/neil-degrasse-tyson-the-martian

 

Enjoy a classic cultural experience in Cambridge!

The Central Square Theater in Cambridge houses two award winning and professional theater companies; The Nora Theatre Company and The Underground Railway Theater. This vibrant hub of theatrical, educational, and social activity, is where artists and audiences can come together to create theater that is both vital and captivating to the community.

Live performances for the month of November include:

Einstein’s Dreams (ending Nov. 14th)

Switzerland, 1905: A modest, newly-married patent clerk struggles to make ends meet while re-conceiving time. What happens when Albert Einstein completes his Theory of Relativity? Absurd, comic, and poetic, Einstein’s Dreams captures the poignancy of the human condition. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Underground Railway Theater reunites the original 2007 world premiere cast, adapted by director Wesley Savick from the novel by Alan Lightman.

 

Copenhagen (ending Nov. 15th)

Copenhagen, 1941: Two brilliant physicists – fast friends from enemy nations – famously confront each other at the height of WWII. This award-winning psychological mystery unravels what transpired on that fateful night. Werner Heisenberg and his mentor Niels Bohr meet again in the afterlife, goaded by Bohr’s wife, Margrethe. Who will remember the truth that changed the course of history? Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, Eric Tucker cracks open Michael Frayn’s contemporary classic play.

 

Arabian Nights (beginning Nov. 27th)

Become enchanted by the power of storytelling one final time! The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater revive their award-winning production of Dominic Cooke’s Arabian Nights. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk tales from the Middle East and Asia, Arabian Nights is rich with suspense, romance and hilarity—stories irresistible for all ages, and at its heart, the power of the imagination to heal, inspire, and transform.

Dr. Victoria Seewaldt: Whole-Body Research, Whole-Community Medicine

We probably all remember elementary school science worksheets, those ink-marked copied pages with large Comic Sans text that asked us the most basic questions: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? These are simple enough questions, with simple answers to simple experiments. As the science gets more complex, so do the questions, and the fact that a researcher’s daily bread-and-butter, the core component of our work, is merely observation often gets lost among that complexity. The importance of it, however, cannot be forgotten.

Dr. Vicky Seewaldt, formerly of Duke University and now a clinician and the Population Sciences department chair at City of Hope in California, and her work investigating the mechanisms of malignant progression in high-risk breast cancer patients highlight the crucial role that simple observation can play, and how it can lead to more tangible advances in how we conceptualize, research, and treat disease. When she made the move from University of Washington to Durham, North Carolina, she found herself treating a new patient population, the majority of whom were women of color. When some of her high-risk patients came to her and described their cancers as seemingly ‘appearing from nowhere’—a concept that, at the time, was at odds with her previous experience with breast cancer diagnosis—she did not dismiss them. Instead, she listened to their very personal experience with their very personalized disease. She listened, she observed, and then she began to wonder and plan.

For more than a decade, Dr. Seewaldt worked for and with her patients to delve more deeply into understanding why certain populations display such aggressive disease progression. Her main focus was on identifying biomarkers for short-term risk assessment within this subset of triple-negative breast tumors, as well as understanding how the breast microenvironment contributes to disease occurrence and development. Simply by listening, she launched a career that would benefit many and carve out new inroads to understanding breast cancer heterogeneity.

Yet her listening didn’t end with the disease, either. Dr. Seewaldt took note of her patients’ requests for wellness treatment beyond the one part of their anatomy that at the time needed it the most. Thus the Women’s Wellness Clinic came into play at Duke. Through the clinic, Seewaldt and colleagues not only sought to provide underserved women with access to information and services regarding breast health and cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment, but also to encourage overall wellness within the community.

She reiterated this idea as she concluded her talk given for the 3rd Diane Connolly-Zaniboni Lecture in Breast Cancer at Tufts Medical Center earlier last month, commenting that clinicians should treat “the whole body, not just the breast.” Her work in Durham, which will no doubt be continued in the same enthusiastic and innovative capacity at her new position at City of Hope, demonstrates this idea of whole-body medicine and whole-body research, a reminder that a snapshot won’t do to truly eradicate disease. Rather, you need a mural, made up of bits and pieces of the many, in order to see the whole picture.

Photo credit: UC Davis M.D. Class Notes, Spring 2011

Notes from the North – MMCRI Open House

Guest Post by Jessica Davis-Knowlton

About two hours north of where you sit reading your InSight there is another site of Tufts scientific discovery waiting to greet you! Tufts Sackler and Tufts University Medical School have partnerships with institutes in Maine allowing students to experience research and medicine in a unique setting with a strong emphasis on collaboration. During the 3rd and 4th rotations, first year students in Sackler have the opportunity to rotate with faculty members at the

MMCRI aerial view
MMCRI aerial view

Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) in Scarborough, Maine before joining the CMDB program or with faculty at Jackson Laboratories (Jax) in Bar Harbor, Maine before joining the Genetics program. For TUSM students in the Maine Track Program immersion in the particular challenges facing Maine physicians starts with brief stints to Maine in the first and second years followed by a 9-month Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship in the third year.

Enough background though; what is particularly exciting about Maine this November is that MMCRI will be holding their annual Open House on the 20th and all are encouraged visit! The Open

MMCRI open house 2014
MMCRI open house 2014

House is a great opportunity to investigate our cores (Transgenics and Gene Targeting, Histopathology and Antibody Production, Confocal Microscopy, Small Animal Imaging, Protein and Nucleic

MMCRI small animal imaging
MMCRI small animal imaging

Acid Analysis, Molecular Phenotyping, Physiology and Behavior, and Clinical and Translational Research Services/Tissue Bank), see posters from Tufts and UMaine MMCRI grad students, meet the faculty, tour the building, and of course see green mice.

For first year CMDB students coming to visit on the 20th I’d like to highlight the newest principal investigator to join MMCRI and Jumbo alum, Michaela Regan, PhD. Dr. Reagan has a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. During her graduate

Michaela Regan
Dr. Michaela Regan

research, Dr. Regan studied Breast Cancer Bone Metastasis by investigating mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) tumor homing and developed silk scaffold implants with therapeutic bone marrow MSCs that deliver anti-tumor proteins to breast tumors. Her post-doctoral fellowship was in the lab of Dr. Irene Ghobrial at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School where she focused on understanding how multiple myeloma cells manipulate their bone marrow niche to support their growth and cause osteolytic lesion formation. She developed a 3D model of inhibited osteogenesis in silk scaffolds and examined the roles of abnormally expressed microRNAs in MSCs in this process. She also developed bone-targeted, bortezomib-loaded nanoparticles to modulate the bone microenvironment and make it less receptive to cancer cell colonization. When you see Dr. Regan, ask her about her path to becoming a PI: it’s all about collaboration and networking folks!

MMCRI Lucy Liaw
Dr. Lucy Liaw & Collaborators

Collaboration is the name of the game up here in Maine, as research institutes scattered about the state are relatively small. As a fortuitous consequence, a culture of cooperativeness and the drive to reach far outside normal comfort zones to seek said cooperation has prevented research in Maine from becoming insular. As pressure by publishers for completeness and complexity in manuscripts mounts, partnerships between labs, and the skills to develop such partnerships, have become ever more indispensible.

Remember, Boston had more snow than Portland last year so don’t fear the “winter, still winter, almost winter, and road construction” description of seasons in Maine: come see the Maine-Tufts partnership in action!

Jessica Davis-Knowlton is a 3rd year CMDB student in the Liaw lab in MMCRI.  Her thesis work focuses on the role of Notch signaling in smooth muscle cells involved in atherosclerosis. 

 

Ten Cardinal Rules For Being a Lab Scientist

Guest Post by Ania Wronski, PhD.

  1. Write everything down

Whether you are learning a technique from someone or you are running you thousandth PCR reaction, if you do something different or noteworthy – write it down. I assure you, when months down the line you need to repeat a similar reaction (and you will!) you will NOT remember the conditions that you thought were so obvious that you didn’t write it down. Even details that may not seem very significant – like, I had a longer lunch so my blot was in blocking solution for 2 hours instead of one, may make a big different to the end result and knowing why may vastly improve your reproduction of the results.

  1. Be organized

When you start a project, identify a storage structure and STICK TO IT. This sounds relatively simple, but it isn’t! Are you going to organize your scientific literature by topic? What if it covers multiple topics? What filename will you use to save it? How are you going to organize your data? By experimental type? Date? Project? You want to be able to find things relatively easily and NOT have multiple copies of the same or similar files floating around.

Same goes for labelling tubes. Please, for the love of the PCR fairy, please DO NOT label your tubes 1-8. At least put the date and some redeeming feature. One of the best things to do is to log it in a database with its details and location so you have the capacity to search for it electronically – but it does take time to establish these systems and it is often MUCH harder to go back and re-organize your samples once you have 4 boxes of plasmids and several boxes of primers…

  1. Be consistent

Science is already hard – why make life harder for yourself? When you get in stock solutions, make them to a nice, repeatable number. Dilute primers to 50 or 100uM every time you get a new primer tube. That way, you don’t need to look up what you did. It is a standard dilution for all your primers. This also leads to better science as consistency is often the best way to reduce variability and increase the reproduction of results. Passage cells a certain way? Why deviate? You could be introducing variability that may influence your downstream applications.

  1. Re write protocols for a dummies guide.

You could be a cloning god or goddess, but what happens when you don’t have to do a technique for an extended period of time? You forget. Re-write your protocols so they explain all the steps, including the little quirks that you discovered are the keys to success. This is especially important for logins to shared equipment that you may not access very frequently (I.e. the nanodrop password on level 5 is DropitLikeItsHot). I often write several versions of protocols: a lengthy “extended” protocol with explanations and detailed information and a short “mini” protocol that I can just fill out the blanks as I need for the experiment. One warning about having spreadsheet protocols: you can accidentally introduce errors and not even realize it! So it’s always good to check your spreadsheet or have some “control” calculations that will let you know if something is wrong.

  1. Make sure you use the appropriate controls!

If an experiment fails, controls can help you determine if it was a technical failure or a negative result (same with the inverse – a positive result or a technical glitch). Many may think that controls are a waste of time and reagents, however controls are more important than your experimental sample because it tells you if your result can be trusted. You are only as good as your positive and negative controls!

  1. Understand your techniques

Nowadays there is a kit for everything technique conceivable – the age of convenience has hit the world of scientific research. Although kits can make your experiments much easier, they are also a very easy way to become complacent. If you don’t know how an experiment actually works, you won’t know the limitations of your results and the conclusions you can or cannot draw from them. In addition, troubleshooting is MUCH easier if you understand the rationale behind how an experiment works.

  1. Never stop learning

The vast majority of scientists has an innate desire for knowledge – it’s why we are scientists to begin with! You can learn something from everybody, from the new grad student to the seasoned postdoc. This includes the lab down the hall working on a random organism that doesn’t seem related. Some of the greatest discoveries in science came about when multiple fields crossed paths. Never turn down an opportunity to learn, as your knowledge is your best asset as a scientist.

  1. Ask for helpEveryone is always busy so it can seem daunting to ask someone with a full plate for help. However, you are surrounded by incredibly skilled and intelligent individuals. If you do not ask, you cannot ever receive. When you do ask, try to be mindful of their time, maybe even email them to ask for a good time to sit down and chat with them. Know what you want to ask and make sure it’s not an answer that can be relatively easily answered by google or a lab protocol that is easily accessed. Much of the knowledge of science is passed down from lab member to lab member.
  1. Don’t think about the how, think about the WHY
    When you are the bench, it is very easy to fall into a pattern of simply doing experiments because that feels comfortable. A great scientist will consider why they are doing an experiment. Before you rush into anything new, sit down and consider all of your data. What is it telling you? What would the next logical step be? What question are you really asking? What is the big picture? It is pointless to mindless conduct experiments if they will not help further your question and the eventual result. Even if you know it is highly unlikely that you will achieve your end goal, you should still one in mind.
  1. Be prepared for change.
    Two years ago, CRISPR sounded like a type of cracker, nowadays it’s the hot new technique. Science is dynamic and is constantly changing. You need to be prepared for these and be amendable to changes, whether it be new techniques, a change in direction or even location. If you are working in industry, it is common for projects to suddenly be terminated or drastically change, even if everything is going well. In academia, we are not as efficient at culling projects and tend to beat the proverbial dead research horse because we really want a project to work out. One critical skill of a researcher is to know when they have hit a dead end and to move on. It is extremely difficult and you often need to convince powerful people (i.e. your PI) that it’s the right decision.

Originally published on AdageOfAnia.com

 Ania is a post-doctoral fellow in the Kupperwasser lab and blogs regularly about “Science!” at www.adageofania.com

Techniques – Wild, Wild West(erns)

Need some help to tame that wild western blot? Here are some tips and tricks to help you along the way –

  • Always check ladder migration pattern based on specific gel and electrophoresis conditions, as these factors can shift the apparent molecular weights from the supposed “standard” ladder image given out by the company.
  • When testing a new antibody, leave the blot intact, opting to strip it and perform a control protein blot after probing for your target protein. Cutting the blot and using different pieces for your target and control protein on a first try may obscure alternative target protein isoforms or off-target background staining.
  • High background? Try a more stringent blocking condition than just BSA or milk by adding goat serum or fish gelatin to your solution. Blocking overnight also can help clean up your blots.
  • Is you gel “smiling” or “frowning”? This usually happens when your sample buffer has too much salt.
  • Make sure your PVDF membrane is pre-activated with methanol for 20 minutes before making gel sandwich. It’s also a good idea to mark which side of the membrane is facing the gel with a sharpie, on a top corner.
  • It’s always a good idea to do a Ponceau stain on your membrane after transfer to make sure your transfer went all right. Alternatively, you can also stain your gel with Coomassie blue.
  • It is possible to over-transfer, especially for low MW proteins (<10 kDa) – optimize transfer time or reduce voltage. On the other hand, high MW proteins will take longer time to transfer.
  • Have a dirty secondary? Consider adding a wee-bit of Tween-20 to your washes (0.01-0.5%).
  • When loading your samples, press on the pipet just enough to get any possible air bubbles out and run the tip through the running buffer in the tank before putting it in the well. And make sure your sample was denatured prior to running.
  • If power supply reading shows 0 when switched on, make sure your power cables are properly connected to the power supply. If that doesn’t work, check for broken electrodes or blown fuses. Lastly, try with a higher limit power supply.
  • As always, make sure you write down the protocol before-hand and check through every step when performing. This will help you track your steps back to see at which step things could have gone wrong.

 

Source - http://prooffreaderplus.blogspot.com/2014/05/one-of-my-favourite-memories-good-bad.html
Source – http://prooffreaderplus.blogspot.com/2014/05/one-of-my-favourite-memories-good-bad.html

Meating adjourned?

Meat-eaters’ Misery and Vegetarians’ Victory? 

On 29th October of this year, the Lancet Oncology published a report on the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meat [1]. The Working Group, consisting of 22 scientists from 10 different countries, recommended to the International Association of Research on Cancer (IARC) (part of the World Health Organization) to classify processed meat to be “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1) and red meat to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2). These recommendations were made after evaluation of more than 800 epidemiological studies.

Since the publication of the report, mainstream media has picked it up with a fervor that painted the report with a facade of novelty. However, as Tufts University’s very own Dariush Mozaffarian  (Dean of Friedman School of Nutrition Science) pointed out in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), this report only served to solidify what has been known for quite a while now.

Given the significant associations made between cancer risk and consumption of red and processed meat, what is the public supposed to do?

 

Besides following Chik-fil-A’s advice, here is what you need to know before you decide get well done with meat.

Definitions
Red meat include beef, lamb, pork, goat. Processed meat include anything that has been cured, salted, smoked, or preserved in some way, e.g. – sausages, bacon, hot dogs, etc.

What did the IARC find?
Colorectal/bowel cancer showed the strongest association with high red and processed meat consumption. Positive associations were also seen between red meat consumption and pancreatic and prostatic cancers, and between processed meat consumption and cancer of the stomach [1].

How scary are these findings?
The Working Group found that there is a 17% increased risk of colorectal cancer for those who ate the most processed and red meat compared to those who ate the least [1]. Is this number really big? As Cancer Research UK blogged, the “17%” represents a relative risk; out of every 1000 people in the UK, 61 people develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives compared to about 56 cases per 1000 low meat-eaters. Therefore, according to the analysis, a 17% increased risk translates to 66 people per 1000 would develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives [2].

However, labeling processed meat as cancer causing and red meat as probably cancer causing does little to soothe our worries. But! As Cancer Research UK points out, IARC does “hazard identification” and not “risk assessment” [2]. Therefore, IARC classifications can only provide a qualitative assessment and does not tell us how potent something is in causing cancer. This is exemplified when red/processed meat is compared to tobacco, which is also classified into Group 1. In the UK, excessive consumption of red/processed meat resulted in 3% of all cancer cases annually whereas smoking caused 19% of all annual cancer cases.

Credit: Cancer Research UK

How to balance your bacon
Dariush Mozaffarian suggests no more than, one or two servings of processed meat per month and of red meat per week.  For more customizable options, check out the awesome infographic from Cancer Research UK below –

Credit: Cancer Research UK

So, as with everything, MODERATION IS KEY! Unless, of course  you are Ron Swanson.

While the meat industry does not agree with the recommendations based on scientific evidence to eat less meat [3], nothing topped the Far Right’s claim that this must be a Muslim Conspiracy to establish Sharia Law [4].

1. Bouvard, V et al 2015 Lancet Oncology. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1.
2. Dunlop, C. 2015. Processed meat and cancer- what you need to know. Cancer Research UK, Science blog. http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/10/26/processed-meat-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
3. Aubrey A. World Health Organization Report Links Red, Processed Meats to Cancer. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2015/10/26/452012186/world-health-organization-report-links-red-processed-meats-to-cancer
4. Bartlett, E. 2015. The World Health Organisation says bacon is carcinogenic and right-wingers think it’s a Muslim conspiracy. Independent. http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/the-world-health-organisation-says-bacon-is-carcinogenic-and-rightwingers-think-its-a-muslim-conspiracy–ZJLDa_0B_l