Constellations: A Play of Multiple Universes and Infinite Possibilities

Constellations: A Play of Multiple Universes and Infinite Possibilities

Imagine you met a girl at a barbeque who asked you to lick your elbow. Would you try it? Would you make an excuse to get away? What if you did both at precisely the same time?

Using ideas from quantum physics and cosmology, the play Constellations addresses the universal question, what if? What would our lives be like if we had made a different choice? If we said the same words slightly differently? This is the story of a cosmologist named Marianne (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Roland, a bee keeper (Allen Leech) and every decision they ever and never made.

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Tales of Trailblazing Women in Science

Tales of Trailblazing Women in Science

Women have made essential contributions to how we understand the world around us, from discovering new elements and sub-atomic particles to advancing modern psychology. However, they are often left out of history books and popular discourse while their male colleagues are celebrated. In her new book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky spotlights fifty women who have made, and are currently making, invaluable breakthroughs in science. Illustrated in bold, beautiful colors on a dark background, each woman is depicted doing the work she loves next to a brief biography and fun facts about her life. Signal to Noise had the chance to talk with Ignotofsky about her book and the inspiration behind it.

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Calling a Microscopic Quorum: How Fungi Communicate

C. neoformans as single cells. Image credit: Gross L (2006) Iron Regulation and an Opportunistic AIDS-Related Fungal Infection. PLoS Biol 4(12): e427. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040427.


Microbes find strength in numbers. Rarely alone, they live in communities and share resources by coordinating their biological processes. Just as governing bodies require a quorum, or a minimum number of people present, before deciding something on behalf of the entire group, many species of microbes must establish a quorum before coordinating their behavior. Microbes do this through quorum sensing, in which they release signaling molecules such as hormones or small proteins into the surrounding area and then sense the concentration of those signals. As more microbes enter the environment, the concentration of the signaling molecule will increase. Once the microbes sense that the concentration has met a certain threshold, they will initiate a particular biological process.


Microbes often use quorum sensing to determine when to release virulence factors, molecules that will help them overwhelm their target and establish an infection. They only want to spend energy making a virulence factor when there are other cells present because if too few microbes are present, they will not make enough virulence factors to successfully infect their target, and thus will have wasted energy. Quorum sensing systems have been very well characterized in bacteria but not as well in other microbes. In a recent study in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, Homer and colleagues identified and characterized a quorum sensing system in a eukaryotic microbe, the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, which is the most common cause of fungal meningitis [1]. They found that fungal cells with a mutation in the quorum sensing signaling molecule gene, qsp1, were less successful at infecting mice than C. neoformans cells with a fully functional quorum sensing signaling molecule. Through a series of experiments, they elucidated other components of the quorum sensing pathway and found that qsp1 functions inside the fungal cell to control virulence. Previous work identified a quorum sensing system in the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans, but the quorum sensing molecule discovered is produced by many different organisms [2]. Because the newly discovered quorum sensing system described here is specific to C. neoformans, it presents the unique opportunity to develop strategies to specifically disrupt the ability of C. neoformans to cause disease.


-Stephanie DeMarco (@sci_steph)
Staff Writer, Signal to Noise Magazine
PhD Candidate, Molecular Biology

References:

[1] Homer CM, Summers DK, Goranov AI, Clarke SC, Wiesner DL, Diedrich JK, Moresco JJ, Toffaletti D, Upadhya R, Caradonna I, Petnic S, Pessino V, Cuomo CA, Lodge JK, Perfect J, Yates JR 3rd, Nielsen K, Craik CS, Madhani HD. Intracellular Action of a Secreted Peptide Required for Fungal Virulence. Cell Host & Microbe. (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2016.05.001.

[2] May RC. Custom-Made Quorum Sensing for a Eukaryote. Developmental Cell. (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.05.014.

Of Spies and Space-Time: The Science Behind Marvel’s Agent Carter

Of Spies and Space-Time: The Science Behind Marvel’s Agent Carter

From travel between universes to matter with other-worldly properties, the latest season of Marvel’s Agent Carter brings science into the spotlight by infusing the world of comic book heroes with real-life physics and scientists who subvert stereotypes. I sat down with the science adviser for season two of Agent Carter, Dr. Clifford Johnson, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southern California, to talk about the show's scientific concepts and the characters who explore them.

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When Viruses and Carbon Nanotubes Collide: A Novel Approach to Cancer Imaging

When Viruses and Carbon Nanotubes Collide: A Novel Approach to Cancer Imaging

In innovative new work, researchers in the Bhatia and Belcher laboratories at MIT have developed a new tool to screen for small tumors that are embedded deep within tissues by combining a virus, carbon nanotubes, and a small molecule that specifically recognizes ovarian cancer cells.

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