DATABASE: Fixing Broken Genes
Gene therapy offers the tantalizing promise of curing genetic diseases by repairing the mutations that underlie them. A new federal database, dubbed the Genetic Modification Clinical Research Information System (GeMCRIS), holds protocols for more than 600 gene therapy trials completed or launched since 1990. Users can search the site by disease, investigator, vector, or location, and the database includes abstracts as well as details on methods. Some of the information was already on the Web, but the new collection is “richer” and “easier to navigate,” says Allan Shipp of the National Institutes of Health, which developed the site with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
GeMCRIS will also allow investigators to submit reports of adverse events during gene therapy trials directly to the database. Although these reports won't be posted on the public part of the Web site, Shipp says this feature will make it easier for agency officials to look across trials for safety problems.
EXHIBIT: Banks Shots
Like Charles Darwin, the English botanist Joseph Banks (1743–1820) took a slow boat to fame. Banks sailed with James Cook on the British ship Endeavour's historic voyage to the South Pacific and Australia. His haul of more than 1300 new species helped elevate him from gentleman naturalist to botanical authority. To learn more about this scientist and explorer, navigate the 10,000 pages of letters, reports, maps, and other Banks documents stashed in this archive from the State Library of New South Wales in Australia.
For instance, you can download a transcript of Banks's journal from the Endeavour journey (1768–1771). Although he never again ventured farther than Iceland, Banks became an impresario of exploration who helped set up expeditions and paid for some of them himself. The site lets you browse facsimiles of his correspondence with other collectors and doughty explorers such as Matthew Flinders, who led the first circumnavigation of Australia.
IMAGES: Biology's Cartoon Network
Looking for lively visuals to help students understand key processes in biochemistry, physiology, genetics, or cell biology? Check out this collection from North Harris College in Houston, Texas, which links to more than 100 teaching animations that bring to life everything from cancer formation to muscle contraction. Students can follow the movement of ions into and out of a neuron during an action potential, for example, or learn the difference between peptide hormones, which fasten to receptors on a cell's surface, and steroid hormones, which infiltrate the nucleus.
EDUCATION: Chemistry Class Gets Real
Beginning chem students spend plenty of time memorizing formulas and balancing equations, but they may not get to practice other indispensable skills, such as synthesis and sample analysis. To help students think like chemists, David Yaron of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and colleagues launched ChemCollective, a new set of simulations, Java applets, and interactive experiments aimed at high school and introductory college classes. Instead of grinding through cookbook experiments, students must design their own procedures to, for example, determine the amount of silver in a solution. They can then perform their experiments electronically, using the linked Virtual Lab simulator (NetWatch, 7 November 2003, p. 961). Java applets provide practice with skills such as analyzing infrared spectra, and multimedia “scenarios” let students apply their chemical smarts to practical problems.
DATABASE: True Grit
The Mississippi River spills more than 200 billion kilograms of sediment into the Gulf of Mexico each year, but the Rio Grande unloads a mere 730 million kilograms. Find out how much dirt other rivers and streams are toting, using this site from the U.S. Geological Survey. For nearly 1600 stations, the database provides daily measurements of suspended sediment, collected between 1930 and the mid-1990s. Although data for none of the stations span the full 60-plus years, many records run for more than 10 years and some more than 40.