Monday, June 8, 2009

I wrote a couple more scientist profiles for the scientific journal Nature. Neuroscientist Leopoldo Petreanu published a paper describing a new technique for mapping neuronal connections in the brain (story by subscription). And Luke Harmon did a laboratory experiment modeling how different fish species can influence pond ecosystems (story by subscription). Both stories carry an element of surprise and seredipity, as is so often the case in science. In Petreanu's case, early experiments were useless because all the neurons were lighting up -- until he figured out a way to isolate only functional connections between neurons. In Harmon's case, early experiments clearly showed the effects of different fishes -- but a pattern of effects only emerged when researchers measured the physical properties of the water, such as light penetration and dissolved organic matter.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times about last year’s outbreaks of two childhood diseases — Hib and measles — that are generally considered vanquished in the US. Scientists say that clusters of unvaccinated children in certain communities may give rise to more outbreaks. Fear of autism may be one reason why parents opt-out of vaccinating their children, but also today’s parents haven’t witnessed these diseases, and how severe they can be. Hib used to be the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and killed some 1,000 children each year.

Another LA Times story focused on a move by the FDA to put a black box warning on metoclopramide, a drug that stimulates stomach digestion. The reason? Metoclopramide can cause tardive dyskinesia, a neurological disorder that can be irreversible.