My friend Heather decided I had to have these fascinatingly grotesque little darlings — rubberized 3D models of airborne microbes. The green goober is the common cold. Can you guess the hairy fella? Yep, E. coli. Made by ThinkGeek (gotta love the name), these bouncy bugs also emit Whoopee Cushion-worthy sound effects–only sicker–when you pull on their tails and swing them around like a medieval flail. I know a lot of you will be finding some excuse to drop by my office now. Priority goes to those bearing premium dark chocolates.
“Science is too much coffee and Birkenstocks and bad hair, but that’s not what people want to hear.”
That from bioethicist Debra Matthews, joking last night about the disconnect between the tedious work of sitting at a lab bench waiting for some cells to grow and then trying to get the public excited about the results (or lack thereof). Speaking at Busboys and Poets for a DC Science Café discussion of “Synthetic Biology: Life as You Know It and As You Don’t,” Matthews, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics, was joined by Todd Kuiken of the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. They gave a thought-provoking overview of what has become an incredibly contentious area of science, touching on the chilling litigation that had put federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in jeopardy, and on the burgeoning field of bio-security.
Take-home point: In five or ten years, you’ll be able to sequence anything you want in your own home, so we better gin up STEM education in this country. A great place for kids and adults alike to start is the comic “Adventures in Synthetic Biology,” which runs in the journal Nature.
The Virtual Human Embryo Project is now an app for the iPhone and iPad. Scientists and educators have used the Carnegie Embryo Collection, housed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, to define normal human embryo development for decades. A database, called the Virtual Human Embryo, has been created to provide digital serial sections of human embryos from the collection.
Like so much science, the images are awe-inspiring and a little creepy. Brace yourself when a munchkin voice pipes up from the back seat: “Hey, Mom, what’s with this new kid’s app?”