Science  16 Sep 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5742, pp. 1795

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  1. DATABASE: To Know the Worm

    About 20,000 genes orchestrate a nematode's development and keep it squirming throughout its life. To tease out each gene's role, scientists are deploying RNA interference (RNAi), a technique for silencing genes. Worm fans can track the results of these studies at The RNAi Database, maintained by Kris Gunsalus, Philip MacMenamin, and Fabio Piano of New York University.

    Housing results from the WormBase genome database and the researchers' own lab, the site records experiments on more than 18,000 genes. Users can uncover the consequences of blocking a particular gene or search for studies that elicited a specific defect, such as slow growth or sterility. A new feature called PhenoBlast corrals genes whose disruption induced the same range of abnormalities. To help users visualize what goes wrong with the animals, many of the entries furnish photos and movies. Included are pictures of the early development for a wild-type embryo and an embryo treated with RNAi against the gene for the protein actin. The actin-deprived embryo can't divide properly, but its chromosomes keep replicating, so it becomes a single cell with multiple nuclei.

  2. COMMUNITY SITE: Focus on a Killer

    West Nile virus has monopolized the media's attention, but each year its cousin that causes Japanese encephalitis infects about 50,000 people. Some 10,000 die, mainly children. The new portal Japanese Encephalitis Prevention Network (JEPN) will allow researchers, health officials, and others to swap information about the mosquito-borne disease that's endemic to Asia. Hosted by the Seattle-based nonprofit PATH, the growing site already offers resources such as the latest news on research and outbreaks and a tutorial on the disease's epidemiology and control. Tools allow visitors to graph and map cases and deaths. JEPN's creators hope that other nations will add information for more countries and years.

  3. RESOURCES: Breaking the Patent Barrier

    Biotech patents can stymie researchers in the developing world who are trying to solve local problems. BioForge, launched earlier this year, creates a forum in which scientists from north and south can collaborate to devise alternatives. The site is part of the BIOS initiative, which aims to apply the open-source model that has fostered software innovation to problems such as food production and environmental degradation. The idea is to get visitors to brainstorm about biotechnologies that would be available to anyone who promises to share any improvements. BioForge also links to resources such as the PatentLens, a database of more than 1.5 million life science patents and patent applications.

  4. RESOURCES: Making Light Coherent

    When laser experts talk about an upper-state lifetime, they aren't discussing how long people in Montana live. The term refers to how long atoms remain excited, as you can discover at The Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology, written by physicist Rüdiger Paschotta of RP Photonics Consulting in Zurich, Switzerland. The reference explains more than 400 concepts including laser physics, nonlinear optics, quantum effects, and related fields. For example, you can learn about so-called eye-safe lasers, which emit wavelengths of light that peter out before they reach the retina. The site, which assumes that readers have a basic physics background, also furnishes graphs, animations, and links to papers.

  5. DATABASE: Eating Pollution

    To us, the molecule cyclohexane is a noxious solvent for making products such as rubber and wood stains. But to the bacterium Brachymonas petroleovorans, it's dinner. A strain of the bug can break down cyclohexane and use it as a source of carbon. Researchers hoping to harness microbial metabolism for environmental clean up should visit the Biocatalysis/Biodegradation Database at the University of Minnesota. The site displays the biochemical pathways that allow various kinds of bacteria to disassemble a long list of pollutants, from the carcinogen carbon tetrachloride to the pesticide parathion.