Picks from Experimental Biology 2012

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera in 1932. Photo taken by Carl Van Vechten.

The Experimental Biology 2012 meeting wrapped up yesterday in San Diego. I didn’t get a chance to attend, but it didn’t mean I missed out on the excitement. Heather Doran was our ASBMB blogger who posted stories from the meeting, and the #EB2012 hashtag was all over Twitter.

But as a staff member of the ASBMB, I also had the unique honor of looking through abstracts submitted for the meeting back in December and picking out ones that were particularly noteworthy to be written up as press releases. It was an exhilirating exercise to dive into elbow-deep piles of abstracts and find the ones that would make good science stories for the mainstream media. We had a number of good stories to tell, and here are my favorites:

Life imitates art as it did for Frida Kahlo: Renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s artwork was explored from a medical humanities perspective in a workshop entitled “Frida Kahlo – The Forgotten Medical Student” by Fernando Antelo, a surgical pathologist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He created the workshop to draw in students from diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic strata. Antelo has been promoting the connection between art and science for the past five years. He uses Kahlo’s paintings to stimulate interest in science and health-care professions. In the workshop, Antelo discussed the artwork and life of Kahlo, including her childhood interest in science.

Neem tree extracts as possible anti-HIV agents: Sonia Arora at Kean University in New Jersey presented some preliminary results that seem to indicate that there are compounds in neem extracts that target a protein essential for HIV replication. The neem tree is widespread in India and East Africa and is viewed by Indians to be a “village pharmacy.” If further studies support her findings, Arora’s work may give clinicians and drug developers a new HIV-AIDS therapy to pursue.

The benefits of avocado oil: Christian Cortés-Rojo at Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo in México gave a talk about the protective effects of avocado oil against free radicals in mitochondria. His studies with yeast suggest the avocado oil allowed the cells to survive exposure to high concentrations of iron, which produces a huge amount of free radicals, which are known to damage cells.

A possible new carrier for vaccines: A researcher from the Brooke Army Medical Center/San Antonio Military Medical Center discussed a new potential vaccine carrier that he hopes will extend the shelf life of and aid in the stockpiling of critical vaccines. U.S. Army Maj. Jean M. Muderhwa has developed a stable microemulsion, which makes it a good candidate for delivering a variety of antigens.

The science of cooking (also known as getting to eat your results): Joseph Provost of Minnesota State University Moorhead described how he uses cooking to explain concepts of chemistry, physics and biology. Provost’s Science of Cooking class at MSU draws about 150 students every semester and requires 12 hours of lab experience, either in the lecture hall or students’ home (puts a whole new spin to “homework,” doesn’t it?). He hopes to create a textbook with his collaborators that can be used for non-science majors.

NOTE: The photo of Kahlo and Rivera was obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Frida_Kahlo_Diego_Rivera_1932.jpg

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