You'd Prefer An Argonaute

R.I.P., H. Gobind Khorana

Posted in Media, MIT by YPAA on November 14, 2011



New York Times




“Eden in a Test Tube”

Posted in Evolution, Media, Science Journalism by YPAA on July 28, 2011

A lovely video from The New York Times about the RNA world, and the state-of-the-art in ribozyme evolution from Gerry Joyce’s lab.

Click the link below.

Naked DNA

Posted in Gallimaufry, Media by YPAA on May 30, 2011


Sculptor Franco Castelluccio’s new work, “Double Helix XX-XY”, via Curated Magazine.


Posted in Gallimaufry, Lab Life, Media, MIT by YPAA on May 18, 2011

More than a year ago a pair of Peregrine Falcons made their new home on the roof of our institute. They endeared us with their swooping through the air, their calling and playing, and their leaving various rodent body parts on outside windowsills. So cute!

This spring some furry chicks emerged, and now one can watch the whole family on a live webcam, FalconCAST. It’s a way to kill that time during your 4 degree spin. See the chicks roost, feed, and projectile poop.

Update 6/15/11

Man, they grew up fast. The following message was posted on our internal site this morning:

The falcons that hatched on Whitehead’s 7th floor have fledged and left their nest. Two of the falcons flew off earlier last week, and the last one departed on Saturday, June 11th. The parents will continue to feed the fledglings as the young learn the finer points of flying and mid-air hunting. Because the nest is no longer occupied, the FalconCast has been turned off.

Update 2012

The falcons and FalconCast are back online with hi-res camera.


Posted in Media, YPAA Journal Club by YPAA on April 14, 2011

A nice looking new paper on AGO10 is accompanied by a video on the Cell website.


Posted in Lab Life, Media by YPAA on January 26, 2011

In case you’ve been living in a cave the last few months and missed them, two of the best lab humor videos to come out in a while:


The costumes of Lady Science are brilliant (love the bench diapers).



Most Beautiful Girl in the Lab
Most Beautiful Girl in the Lab

Funnily adapted from this Flight of the Conchords, this video’s got sweet moves.


Posted in Media by YPAA on August 19, 2010

The creationist vs. evolution debate is totally played out on the internet. It weighs down science blogs, where facetious attempts to neutralize it usually fail, in my opinion. It’s so draining.

Dear science bloggers: Don’t bother! You’re using up valuable space on the internet! Can this debate actually be made entertaining?? Humor me and for a minute, put down your keyboards and turn on the TV…… Oh wait, the debate is non-existent on TV. Ditto for the movies. (Gee, can you imagine a Hollywood drama–I’m talkin’ really dramatic–about creationists vs. scientists?! It could work! Mmm… Angelina Jolie, a small-town creationist school science teacher; Christopher Walken, lead attorney fighting the misguided school board.)

Ok, well last week finally the nerdy cartoon Futurama–that Matt Groening creation that has itself evolved in several network ecosystems–came to the rescue. The writer’s turned out a gem here, giving the creationist vs. evolution debate a proper funny treatment for the ever-so discerning American TV audience (well, for those with the sense to watch Comedy Central). The episode brims with haha moments, like the signs the protesters hold up such as, “Nothing Ever Changes!”. Long live science x good comedy. 🙂

A preview below; link above to full episode!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Broad-ening our understanding of p53 via lincRNA

Posted in Broad, Media, YPAA Journal Club by YPAA on August 6, 2010

In the first real post on You’d Prefer An Argonaute, I poked great fun at the Broad Institute. It’s not so rare that my colleagues and I do this because well, from its inception the Broad, where King Lander reigns, has lavishly branded itself as a future of biological science, where too often hypothesis-less, behemoth experiments that involve lots of sequencing and money and relatively few papers, rule. So, it’s lovely to see work like this from John Rinn’s lab, which got its start in the Broad, killing it!

Channeling LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow, Rinn, and lead author Maite Huarte, educate us in this video posted to the Cell website. The Broad applied their characteristic sheen in its production, practically revolutionizing these types of videos. (Check out 4:20 near the end–there’s an awesome “Evening News”-style sound effect discharged as the paper’s titile/authors/affiliations are displayed–it’s ringtone worthy.) But in all seriousness, expect much more lincRNA goodness from the Rinn lab in the near future.

Please direct questions to my projected computer screen…

Posted in Lab Life, Media, Talks by YPAA on May 4, 2010

What?! Now the US military is wasting as much time as we do on Powerpoint? Man, Joe. Q. Taxpayer could sure hit the Microsofties responsible for peddling this necessary evil in the nuts right now. Powerpoint has been used to cover up many a shitty talk!

Keep your presentations short and sweet. Limited free passes for unnecessary images can only be given for humor, that is IF you’ve got the funny credentials. Otherwise leave these to the experts. 🙂

Oprah and Komodos

Posted in Media by YPAA on March 28, 2010

I’m easily excited by shows on television about animals–wild ones, of the non-human variety. Programs like “Nature” and “Nova” on PBS are all-time favorites. I was blown away by the HD nature series “Planet Earth” that aired on Discovery Channel a few years ago (co-produced by the BBC and Discovery Channel). “Planet Earth” featured beautiful, groundbreaking video of diverse habitats across the planet. The producers of “Planet Earth” recently unveiled a new nature series, titled “Life,” that premiered last Sunday evening on Discovery Channel, and should be running for several weeks. Highly similar in style to “Planet Earth”, “Life” features stunning videography, crisp editing, and gripping stories to satisfy bio-whores like myself. I highly recommend it, just as long as you don’t mind being lectured on biology by Oprah Winfrey.

For the American version of “Planet Earth”, the producers struck gold with narration–the exceedingly composed, yet just-so tense, buttery smooth voice of Sigourney Weaver. But in the two chapters of “Life” I watched last Sunday, I felt like I was being read a children’s book. Oprah’s voice is too cherubic to convey the severity of, for example, a pack of Komodo dragons devouring a Water Buffalo to the bone in four hours. Don’t ruin this for me Discovery Channel.

The background music was also often unnecessarily over-dramatic, at times sounding like pieces mainstream movies use during transition scenes where time and character emotions quickly evolve in schmaltzy ways. This window dressing is clearly there to impress those who are not already impressed. I guess I appreciate the effort.

The content of “Life,” though, is superb. Life itself is distilled into three central tenets: eat, avoid being eaten, and reproduce. To demonstrate these principles, stories are drawn from many different animals (mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, etc.), and even plants (Venus Flytrap). For example, in introducing reproductive methods of the male stalk-eyed fly, Oprah mentions the “urge to breed”, and that males often have to “earn the right”. For a premature stalk-eyed male fly to become a heavily endowed, mature one, they climb to the top of a plant and then pump up their translucent eye stalks with air bubbles that they engulf, causing their eyes at the ends of the stalks to grow out away from their bodies. The most well-endowed males may then convene to fight, winner gets the female.

Sardines were highlighted for a technique they use to avoid being eaten by swordfish–swimming together in a large school, wholly changing direction rapidly, like a “single organism”, making it harder to pick out individuals.

For an example of the need to eat, the show reprised a wonderful story that was also in the Planet Earth series, the most human-like, showing clever monkeys from central Brazil that use rock tools to crack open nuts they rely on for food. Younger monkeys imitate their elders, unsuccessfully, for up to eight years before they perfect nut cracking.

The segment from last Sunday that dropped my jaw the farthest concerned a hungry Komodo dragon. (Hmm… great name for a heavy metal band.) On an island in Indonesia, the only region in the world these huge lizards are found, it’s dry season. Food’s at a premium. This is no time to be anywhere near a Komodo dragon. The cameramen happen upon a sole Water Buffalo lazily sauntering around an evaporating watering hole. A nearby Komodo seizes its opportunity. At first, the Water Buffalo mostly ignores the lizard, seeing only a nuisance. The Buffalo outsizes the Komodo as an adult human a house cat. But the Komodo needs just one, venomous bite to begin meal preparation. The dragon waits for the perfect moment to sink its teeth into the Buffalo’s leg, wary to avoid a powerful kick that could break it’s jaw or kill it. Once successful, the venom begins to set in very slowly. The Komodo is “focused” and “relentless.” It follows the weakening Buffalo everywhere, continually harassing it. Soon other Komodos follow suit, realizing an imminent meal. The Buffalo lacks sufficient food and water, and its wounds fester. After three weeks, the Buffalo succumbs. Within four hours it’s museum ready, skeletonized. That’s life.

Sarah Palin: Stupid as a melting iceberg

Posted in Media by YPAA on December 14, 2009

I’m was amused by Sarah Palin’s Op-Ed that appeared in the Washington Post last week. In it she says that most scientists studying climate change are highly politicized, their proposed policies are not based on sound science, and that enacting such policies would acutely weaken the US economy.

Al Gore responded.

Over a year ago, in our local MIT student run newspaper The Tech, I wrote a response to an opinion on the topic of Sarah Palin and her science rhetoric during her notorious vice presidential campaign. In it I said:

Mrs. Palin’s statements concerning science have been outstandingly defective and misinformed, surely causing research scientists, science educators, students of science, and many others to cringe in response. It is a great failure for the scientific community to witness a person making these statements rise to the position of vice presidential candidate.

I’ll add today that I am–and perhaps many other scientists are–still embarrassed to witness a person making these statements possess the fame and resources to publish them in a national newspaper with a readership as wide as the Washington Post’s.

God she’s dumb.

CNN=science journalism pretty not good

Posted in Media, Science Journalism by YPAA on October 15, 2009

In my daily (hourly), incredibly narcissistic practice of reading my own blog (the one you’re reading right now), I traveled back to my October 7th post about how Harry Noller got screwed by being overlooked for the Nobel Prize for work on the ribosome. Below the post, under WordPress’s automatically generated “possibly related posts,” was a link to a CNN article with an amusing, although I suppose technically accurate title:

“Chemistry Nobel honors research on life-giving ribosome”

Life-giving” ribosome? Ha. Yes. I remember that’s exactly how Harry Noller introduced it to us in Biochem 100A back in college. So next time you say grace/thanks, thank the ribosome for giving you life. Ok?

Following the title is an underwhelming article. At least there’s a nice picture of Tom Steitz sportin’ his trademark frosty chinstrap beard. I’m not making fun–if  I could pull that off, I would try. And now with a Nobel in his pocket (around his neck perhaps), that look is certified OG.

Harry Noller got shafted by the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Posted in Gallimaufry, Media by YPAA on October 7, 2009

“For studies of the structure and function of the ribosome,” the prize was awarded. Why not Harry Noller then, whose entire illustrious career has focused on the structure and function of the ribosome? That’s bullshit.

Unfortunately this egregious omission by the Nobel Assembly pollutes recognition of momentous work that has taught us so much about what RNA can do.

(Santa Cruz Sentinel article with Harry’s reaction here.)