Putting protocols online

Online methods share insider tricks : Nature

This is such a good idea. It is always about the voodoo:

Perhaps more importantly, it is the subtle variations — the deftness of touch, the type of mixing tube, and a dash of hocus-pocus — that distinguish a successful experiment from a flop. But such details often exist only as scrawled footnotes or collective laboratory wisdom. “The art of the science really is not present in many of these protocols,” says geneticist Garry Nolan of Stanford University, California, who has put his protocols online. “They don’t tell people what the voodoo is.”

The websites could help share the voodoo. They are loosely based on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, which lets users edit each other’s entries. Unlike the protocols already available online, the idea is to create a repository of experiments and the tricks needed to do them, and allow users to add their own.


1 transistor per neuron recording device

ScienceDaily: Semiconductor Brain: Nerve Tissue Interfaced With A Computer Chip

From the article:

16384 transistors on an area of one square millimeter record the neural activity in the brain.

Hmmm, that sounds like a lot of transistors… what kind of voltage sensing resolution can a device like that provide? Well, that works out to 1.6 transistors per 10 square microns, which is arguably the relevant area for a neuron. Although these are extracellular signals, this high-resolution tool is going to have quite a large impact.

From the abstract:

We report on the recording of electrical activity in cultured hippocampal slices by a multi-transistor array (MTA) with 16384 elements. Time-resolved imaging is achieved with a resolution of 7.8 µm on an area of 1 mm2 at 2 kHz. A read-out of fewer elements allows an enhanced time resolution. Individual transistor signals are caused by local evoked field potentials. They agree with micropipette measurements in amplitude and shape. The spatial continuity of the records provides time-resolved images of evoked field potentials and allows the detection of functional correlations over large distances. As examples, fast propagating waves of presynaptic action potentials are recorded as well as patterns of excitatory postsynaptic potentials across and along cornu ammonis.

M. Hutzler, A. Lambacher, B. Eversmann, M. Jenkner, R. Thewes, and P. Fromherz: High- resolution multi-transistor array recording of electrical field potentials in cultured brain slices. Journal of Neuropyhsiology. Preprint online (May 10, 2006).

The original article (whichs seems to online in a preprint form) has excellent photos of the array (showing how it can cover a lot of a hippocampal slice), the tight correspondence between the transistor signal and a microelectrode field signal, and some cool readouts of the “whole hippocampus” with various blockers. I doubt anyone has ever been able to simultaneously do such fine scale electrophysiology on such a large portion of the mammalian brain ever before.

33% of Americans think evolution is "definitely false"

PLoS Biology: Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology

On evolution:

One-third of Americans think evolution is “definitely false”; over half lean one way or another or aren’t sure. Only 14% expressed unequivocal support for evolution—a result Miller calls “shocking.”

On literacy:

“When I first started asking about DNA,” he says, “I used an open-ended question that asks, ‘If you saw the term DNA in a newspaper, would you have a clear understanding of what that means, a general sense of what it means, or not much idea?’” If respondents said they had a clear understanding, they would be asked to define DNA in their own words. “I got things like the ‘Dow Jones News Association,’” Miller says, laughing. “If you don’t know what DNA is, you can’t follow the stem-cell debate.”

And perhaps most important:

The era of nonpartisan science is gone, says Miller, who urges scientists and science educators to learn the rules of this new game and get behind moderate Republicans as well as Democrats to protect the practice and teaching of sound science. Given the partisan attack on evolution and stem-cell research, he thinks scientists need to learn more about how the political process works. They need to be willing to run for the school board, write $500 or even $5,000 checks to support moderate candidates, and defeat Christian right-wing candidates. “Scientists need to become involved in partisan politics and to oppose candidates who reject evolution or attack scientific research,” he says. “It takes time, money, and paying attention to the issues.”