Mutant of the Month

Credit: Anna Pelling and Kathryn Cheah

“Would it be of any use, now,” thought Alice, “to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate there's no harm in trying.” So she began: “O Mouse, do you know any way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!” Unfortunately, Alice's query (as reported in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) would have fallen on the deaf ears of the yellow submarine mouse (Ysb). The mammalian inner ear comprises five regions important for balance and one for hearing. All these sensory regions require SOX2, a transcription factor that is essential for embryogenesis. Ysb mutant mice are defective in both balance and hearing (Nature 434, 1031–1035; 2005). The mammalian inner ear does not regenerate when hearing is lost due to damage to the sensory hair cells. But these deaf and dizzy mice may offer hope. Because Sox2 is a marker of neural stem cells and acts in sensory progenitor cell specification, it may be an important influence operating in embryonic stem cells when they differentiate into cells resembling the hair cells of the inner ear. MA

What's in a name?

The first annual Keystone Systems and Biology meeting was held jointly with the Proteomics and Bioinformatics conference in Keystone, Colorado, 8–13 April 2005. David Sabatini, Albert-László Barabási and Marc Vidal led this successful meeting of over 400 participants. Several years ago, Vidal and Barabási recognized the need for a conference bringing together the leaders from all relevant areas in the emerging field of systems biology (below), to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions and collaborations. They used the name 'Systems and Biology' to point out that the multidisciplinary efforts made in the name of systems biology do not represent a separate field in biology, but rather a new approach that will in time be recognized as integral to understanding biological systems. The discussion of the importance of names continued with respect to the names of departments, as participants expressed concern at belonging to departments with names that did not directly reflect their work. Others expressed concern that being a part of a 'Systems' department sowed confusion both internally and externally as to the wide scope of research included, as well as the impression that integration with biology departments could be fostered through more traditional departmental names. OB

How we got here

National Geographic, IBM, the Waitt Family Foundation and population geneticist Spencer Wells recently announced The Genographic Project, a five-year effort to collect DNA from hundreds of thousands of individuals (including indigenous populations) for the purpose of creating a global database of human genetic variation, anthropology and migratory patterns. Wells, known for his work on Y chromosome diversity in central Asian populations and his book The Journey of Man, will conduct the field research with a group of investigators at 10 research centers around the world. The central scientific goal is to fill in the gaps of our migratory history, and the project is being described as a collaboration with indigenous populations, as their DNA holds many of the secrets of human prehistory. The general public is invited to participate as well—for $99 you can submit a cheek swab sample and learn about your ancestors' own migratory history. Proceeds from the sale of the participation kits will fund a legacy project to support education and cultural preservation projects among the indigenous groups. More information can be found at http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/. AP

Credit: Cartoon by Sean Taverna

Touching Base written by Myles Axton, Orli Bahcall and Alan Packer.