Linkage 2/11: The Matriarch, New Madrid, Blue Penguins

Photo by Jason Smith

Janet Rowley rides her bike in front of the Gwen & Jules Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery. (Photo by Jason Smith)

It never gets old hearing the story of how Janet Rowley found the first genetic cause for cancer in the early 1970’s, so it’s a delight to read this week’s New York Times conversation between Rowley and reporter Claudia Dreifus. The interview retraces Rowley’s steps from working with mentally disabled children at Cook County Hospital through her almost accidental training in cytogenetics and her most famous discovery – the chromosomal translocation that causes acute myeloid leukemia. While Rowley has been repeatedly honored for her contribution to the concept of cancer as a genetic disease (and continues to remain a yearly subject of Nobel speculation), she remains understated in looking back at her life’s work.

“People accuse me of being too humble. But looking down a microscope at banded chromosomes is not rocket science. If I hadn’t found it, somebody else would.”

To go with the New York Times interview, the University of Chicago Facebook page put out a call for questions to Rowley, and have received some interesting thoughts. There’s still time to get your question in there for one of the most respected cancer researchers in the United States and a key figure in the history of genetic disease research. [See also Lisa Belkin’s post on the New York Times parenting blog about recent research on barriers against women in science, in which she cites Rowley’s example.]

Elsewhere…

As a kid growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I remember being trained in emergency procedures for the seemingly infinitesimal chance of a Midwest earthquake originating in the New Madrid fault in Southern Missouri and Illinois. But despite recent rumbles in the Chicago area, it’s been 200 years since the last New Madrid quake to get into the 7’s on the Richter Scale, according to this nice New Madrid By the Numbers post by natural science blog +/- Science. Perhaps those school drills weren’t so crazy after all – the blog points out that in 2003 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a 7 to 10 percent chance of a major New Madrid earthquake in the next 50 years.

Blue penguins, and what they have to say about how feather color is produced.

Things are finally getting back to normal in Chicago after last week’s blizzard, but amazing stories of Chicagoans helping each other out during the storm continue to pop up. Here’s one story, from Medill Reports, of a woman who delivered her baby at the Medical Center in the midst of the blizzard Wednesday.

Hillary Rosner, one of the many cool people I met at Science Online 2011, has a new blog at PLoS with the excellent name of Tooth & Claw (from Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” often associated with natural selection). In her first post, she brings up a fascinating fruit fly name from our own Manyuan Long – “jingwei,” named for a Chinese myth of a woman who drowns and is reincarnated as a bird to have her revenge on the sea. As the 1993 study describes, the gene was once thought to be a “pseudogene” without function, but was later revived and used by Long to study the origin of new genes – an area he still studies today.

Finally, what better way to prepare for Valentine’s Day than reading Brian Switek’s article on dinosaur sex at Smithsonian Magazine. I love the lede.

About Rob Mitchum (526 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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