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Education

Cellular NASCAR, Young’un Finds Young’un

by Nader Heidari
November 11, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 45

 

A-MAZE-ING CELL
Credit: Daniel Irimia
A fluorescently dyed cell finds its way through a maze.

There’s the Indianapolis 500 for cars, the America’s Cup for sailboats … and the World Cell Race for microscopic organisms.

Established in 2011, the race involves various cells “speeding” along a microscopic track at clips up to 300 µm/hour while cameras snap their progress at regular intervals. The first nucleus over the finish line wins.

Any lab can send in contestants, and the rules are flexible: Genetic modifications and unusual cell types are not only allowed, they are encouraged. And tricks to boost the cells’ motility are welcome. Once the cells are racing, however, no chemicals can be added to the track to assist the organisms.

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Credit: Daniel Irimia
Start your Flagella: Cells will race along a labyrinthine track, such as this one, in this year’s World Cell Race.
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Credit: Daniel Irimia
Start your Flagella: Cells will race along a labyrinthine track, such as this one, in this year’s World Cell Race.

The second iteration of the race is organized by Daniel Irimia of Harvard Medical School and Matthieu Piel of Curie Institute, in Paris. This year it will be held on Nov. 22 at the BioMEMS Resource Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. The purpose of the World Cell Race is to spur discussion of cell motility and the role it plays in health and in disease, as well as bring together engineers and biologists to develop new technologies for measuring cell movement, Irimia says.

In the 2011 race, cells—including that year’s champion, bone marrow stem cells from Singapore—moved along linear channels. This time, however, the competition has a twist: Cells need to be “fast” and smart. The racetrack now contains twists, turns, and dead ends, so cells must navigate this maze as quickly and correctly as possible to win.

Race fanatics among Newscripts readers, rejoice! The race will be broadcast live at http://bit.ly/1cA4gPK.

During a trip through Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2009, Kevin Terris stumbled upon the smallest and most complete fossil of the dinosaur Parasaurolophus yet discovered. Terris—a high school student—found the fossil of the duck-billed dino while he and a group of his fellow students from the Webb Schools in Claremont, Calif., were on an exploratory trip.

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Credit: Alf Museum
Meet Joe dinosaur: Terris found the baby dino’s remains under a rock.
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Credit: Alf Museum
Meet Joe dinosaur: Terris found the baby dino’s remains under a rock.

In Utah to visit rock formations from the Late Cretaceous period, the students were traveling with paleontologist Andrew A. Farke from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. Farke and his colleagues had swept the area days before the students’ visit but had overlooked the baby herbivore fossil. Terris, though, has a keen eye that led him to peek under a stone and find the surprisingly complete bones the experts had missed.

The dino was nicknamed “Joe” in honor of Joe Augustyn, a longtime supporter of the Alf Museum. Augustyn’s family helped fund the extraction of the fossil, which was dug up and airlifted to the museum in fall 2010. There, workers spent 1,300 hours painstakingly removing the bones from the rock.

Joe, who was less than a year old and nearly 6 feet long when he died, gave Farke’s research team a glimpse into the development of Parasaurolophus. Unlike other members of the Hadrosauridae family, who began developing crests on their heads when they were half their adult body size, Joe’s skull already had the beginnings of his species’ characteristic tubular head­gear (PeerJ 2013, DOI: 10.7717/peerj.182).

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Credit: Alf Museum
The whole fossil: Joe is the smallest and most complete fossil of Parasaurolophus yet found.
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Credit: Alf Museum
The whole fossil: Joe is the smallest and most complete fossil of Parasaurolophus yet found.

But that’s not all: Joe has his own website at dinosaurjoe.org. There, Newscripts readers can learn more about Joe’s discovery and excavation and can explore three-dimensional interactive models of the fossils.

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Credit: Lukas Panzarin
A bumpy start: As shown in this rendition, Joe began growing a crest on his head as a baby.

Nader Heidari wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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