Biology and Biotech

More rational than you?

Though we consider ourselves quite clever (Homo sapiens means "wise man"), humans are notoriously poor at risk perception.

As this cartoon cleverly illustrates, people get worked up over tiny threats, like Ebola, while ignoring much greater dangers like obesity and tobacco. People play the Mega Millions lottery even though they have a better chance of being struck by lightning, eaten by a shark, or murdered

Other animals aren't any smarter. In a recent experiment, reported by Science's...

While out for sushi recently, I realized that I could not really tell which fish was which - not by sight and hardly even by taste. 

It made me stop for a moment because my coworker recently told me that one tuna can sell for over a million dolllars. Obviously, I was skeptical. To my surprise, he was right. In 2013, at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan, the first tuna (traditionally the most expensive) sold for $1.76 million to a restaurateur. There are many reasons for this incredible price, including the shortening supply of tuna and the bidding wars that occur due to the esteem assigned the winner of the first fish. 

The fish sold at the Tsukiji market is flown all over the world - for a price. We, as consumers, feel that price in our wallets. In fact, in NYC,...

John Podesta, campaign manager and a close advisor to Hillary Clinton, believes the government has not divulged everything it knows about UFOs and Area 51. Given his predilection for conspiratorial beliefs, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that he has a fear of biotechnology.

WikiLeaks has made public thousands of Mrs. Clinton's emails. Normally, a politician's campaign machinations would not be of interest to ACSH. However, Stephan Neidenbach, purveyor of the website We Love GMOs and Vaccines, combed through the emails and discovered that certain influential members of the Clinton campaign hold pseudoscientific beliefs about GMOs. The campaign also...

Ever wonder how the green forest gets its vibrant red and yellow colors when the seasons change? Science has some answers.


Foliage Reports:

Let's say that you are studying cystic fibrosis (CF), an inherited disease, and you want to work on the genetic basis of the disease. In order to do that, you need to do an experiment with the gene that is responsible for causing CF. For many diseases (think autism spectrum disorder) this is incredibly challenging because there are many genes responsible for the disease. In contrast, with CF, there is one gene, the 'cystic fibrosis transmembrane receptor,' (CFTR) that, when mutated, causes CF. Different CF patients can have different mutations, but, what they all have in common is that the CFTR is somehow not working to its full potential, which is what causes the disease. 

To start your work, you need to get DNA from people who have CF - that's easy enough to do with a cheek...

Airport bathroom

International travel is not always a pleasant experience. Cramped airplanes with crying babies, ridiculous and arbitrary regulations, long lines, and overpriced food contribute to the general grumpiness and anxiety that many travelers feel. Despite this, a German scientist hunting for data on antimicrobial resistance patterns decided to push his research team just a little bit further. 

The conversation probably went something like this:

RESEARCHER: I'm leaving on holiday soon.
BOSS: Lovely. Where are you going?
BOSS: Excellent choice. Where are you stopping?
RESEARCHER: I've got layovers in Munich and London.
BOSS: Perfect. Say, while you're out there, would you mind swabbing a few bathroom door handles for me?*

Image courtesy of

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi is a Nobel Laureate after my own heart.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Dr. Ohsumi was the sole winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries on the mechanism of autophagy. Our own Dr. Alex Berezow provided a thorough explanation of the process at the heart of the award winning work.

But, what caught my attention was not the work that Dr. Ohsumi did in the past, rather, his vision for the future. Not one to waste time, in an interview just the day after the announcement, he highlighted two critically important topics that he will focus on for the rest of his career—building a new...

I must break from my tradition of writing articles in the 3rd person to relate an important story that affects me personally.

I first learned about GMOs as a sophomore microbiology major in college. (They weren't called GMOs then; they were simply referred to as "transgenic crops.") I remember feeling exhilarated -- the sort of thrill that only accountants or geeky academics can usually understand -- at how basic knowledge of DNA sequences was leading to a huge technological revolution. The opportunities were limitless. 

Years later I entered journalism. And I saw breathtaking ignorance and vitriol aimed at scientists like me coming from supposedly educated people. Never in a million years would I have anticipated that our passion for science would be used as a...

Hybrid antibiotic created with a molecular "rope"

Due to increasing antibiotic resistance, microbiologists are on the lookout for unconventional ways to kill bacteria. Atypical methods range from phage therapy, in which bacteria-killing viruses are unleashed upon the microbes, to the use of "bed-of-nails" surfaces that physically rip bacteria apart.

Such out-of-the-box thinking was displayed yet again by a team of scientists from the University of Manitoba who created a hybrid antibiotic by tying together two...

Early on October 3, 2016, the world-famous committee in Stockholm announced that Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering autophagy. So, what is it?

Autophagy is a type of programmed cell death. Some of the cells in multicellular organisms, like animals and plants, choose to self-destruct for the greater benefit of the organism. This can occur for a variety of reasons. If a cell outlives its usefulness, is nutrient deprived, or becomes infected, the cell considers suicide a viable option.

There are several different ways in which a cell can die. Two...