NetWatch

Science  20 Jan 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5759, pp. 311
  1. RESOURCES: Evolutionary biology's new star

    The starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis has no head, no brain, and uses the same body opening for eating and excreting. But the genes of this seemingly simple mud dweller may hold clues to vexing puzzles in animal evolution, such as the emergence of bilateral symmetry and the origin of mesoderm, the versatile embryonic layer that gives rise to muscles and some organs. Researchers can learn more about the creature and analyze its genome at this pair of sites from evolutionary biologist John Finnerty of Boston University and colleagues.

    Nematostella has oozed into the spotlight partly because it's the only species near the base of the animal evolutionary tree whose genome has been sequenced. At the new StellaBase,* users can compare the anemone's genome to those of other model organisms or hunt down a particular gene or gene family. To help lab mavens, the site lists nearly 700 primers for copying Nematostella DNA sequences and points to sources of specimens from North America and the U.K. You can find out more about Nematostella's anatomy, distribution, and habitat at this companion site.

  2. RESOURCE: Quantifying The Mouse

    Female mice from the C57BL/6J strain are daredevils—by rodent standards, at least. The average mouse dithers for nearly a minute before entering an open space, but C57BL/6J females scurry in after a mere 6 seconds. From brain weight to daily water intake to heat sensitivity, the Mouse Phenome project from the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, houses vital statistics on more than 100 inbred mouse strains. Mouse aficionados from around the world are stocking the site with their measurements of more than 600 anatomical, physiological, and behavioral traits. The data provide researchers with standards of comparison as they attempt to decipher the effects of different genes. Tools let users compare values among strains, tease out sex differences, and perform other analyses.

    www.jax.org/phenome

  3. DATABASE: The Dope on Drugs

    The online pharmacopoeia DrugBank profiles about 4100 approved or experimental medicines, offering data for drug designers, molecular biologists, and other researchers. Compiled by David Wishart of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, the site furnishes a DrugCard for each compound that is crammed with information in more than 80 categories. Users can corral chemical details such as solubility and molecular weight, browse nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectra, and analyze three-dimensional structure models. For scientists investigating a drug's action, the cards include the gene and amino acid sequences of its target and identify the enzymes that break it down.

    redpoll.pharmacy.ualberta.ca/drugbank

  4. WEB PROJECT: Spot Some Space Dust

    Astronomy buffs who've hankered to name a bit of the cosmos after themselves may soon get their chance. To coincide with the return of NASA's Stardust spacecraft to Earth on 15 January, researchers are inviting home computer users to help search through digital images for interstellar dust grains in a project dubbed Stardust@home.

    Interstellar dust, which emanates from supernovas and aged stars, remains an enigma. “No one has ever had a contemporary interstellar dust particle in the lab, ever,” says Stardust@home lead investigator Andrew Westphal of the University of California, Berkeley. “My prediction is there's going to be some huge surprises.”

    Volunteers who pass an online training session will download a virtual microscope and use it to peer at images of the spacecraft's foamy aerogel traps, probing for tracks burrowed by particles. Researchers expect to find only about 50 micrometer-sized grains in the 1.6 million images. To ward off frustration and encourage competition, many pictures will be spiked with artificial particle tracks. Lucky discoverers will get to name their particles and be listed as co-authors on scientific papers.

    stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu

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