Wednesday 24 April 2013

The blogs I read & M. leprae's magic tricks with stem cells

I have recently added several more blogs to the list on the side of this page, these are blogs I enjoy and I hope you find the posts on them as interesting as I do. Choosing to follow a blog always seems a bit of a big step. It adds to the burden of interesting things to read, as if we didn't have enough coming out of science journals, GenomeWeb and other sites. I try not to add anything I don't want to read long term as I feel terrible taking someone off my list, it feels like a personal attack!

Two additions today were Nueurophilosophy and The Open Notebook.

Nueurophilosophy: Mo Constandi's piece reviewing a paper reporting how Leprosy appears to convert nerve cells back to stem cells (see his blog and the Cell paper), is a great read.

Mycobacterium leprae hijacks the nerve cell genome, reprogramming it to become a stem cell and then proliferate to another cell type that can relocate to other sites in the body without generating an immune response. The blog discusses how the research may lead to improved methods for generating pluripotent stem cells without using viruses that can generate "genetic defects and can cause tumours when transplanted". The Mycobacterium leprae genome is much larger and more complex than the viruses used to create pluripotenet stem cells, understanding the mechanisms behind how it reprograms cells is likely to lead to huge leaps forward in genetic medicine.

Imagine a designer Mycobacterium leprae genome, created to reprogram pancreatic ductal cells to become new islets? Sounds like science fiction, but perhaps not too far fetched?

The Open Notebook: "The story behind the best science stories". They had a great post asking four bloggers the question "Why blog? It takes a lot of time and energy that you might otherwise spend on higher paid work. What do you get out of blogging?"

All four contributors (Jennifer Frazer, Virginia Hughes, DeLene Beeland & Steve Silberman) say they do it as it is a very free medium, editors don't get in the way but aren't there to help either. Readers may come and go but they make contact with their comments. It is also a way to do more writing without the pressure of academic deadlines, although a blog can become its own pressure cooker. And writing is fun allowing the freedom to write "whatever I want, whenever I want". 

Most bloggers don't get much in the way of fiscal reward, I guess we'll get something in Heaven (unless your Richard Dawkins) and I'll certainly be giving my blog a mention in my CV next time I apply for a job.

PS: I don't agree with the time spent being an issue, a freedom with blogging is that a post need not take more then 20-30 minutes to put together (maybe an hour or two for something really exciting). With no reference and no peer review it's easier than other forms of writing.

PPS: do let me know if you see a great blog, I can't promise I'll follow it for long but I'll certainly take a look.

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