My themes are from all over the world and from the realms of science, medicine, technology, business. I tell stories with words, images, info-graphics, audio and video.
Above, I am collecting samples with team-mates; we were volunteers with a marine biology research project. We were called the ‘goats;’ we spent our time on sharp, slippery rocks to get to the tide-pools. The cool kids did the diving and underwater tasks.
My blog: à propos
Salvador Dali and Walt Disney tell a story: Destino. I only just discovered this gem of an animated film. Beautiful, surreal love story. It was produced in the 1940s but only finished and presented to the world over half a century later.
Contact me: v [dot] marx [at] alum [dot] mit [dot] edu
Newspapers in the US and Europe:: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Boston Globe, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Handelsblatt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt, Die Zeit, Facts, Weltwoche.
Magazines and online-only publications in the US and Europe: The Economist, Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Methods, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, The Lancet, New Scientist, Popular Science, Red Herring, Science Magazine, Scientific American.com, Der Spiegel, MIT’s Technology Review, Utah CEO, Chemical & Engineering News, GenomeWeb/BioInform, Genomics & Proteomics, Drug Discovery & Development.
TV: ARTE, ZDF, WDR, BR, HR, WGBH.
Here are some of my stories:
Genomics – microbiome – software
Nature Methods, May 2016
Microbiology: the road to strain-level identification
Who is there? Who is in a soil or water sample?
With metagenomics, researchers can use analyze DNA sequencing reads to find out, for example, how the gut microbiome differs between individuals with and without Crohn’s disease; or how bacterial diversity differs in samples of soil removed at different times from the same location or in ocean water samples taken at varying time points or depths.
Researchers want to identify not only microbial species but microbial strains. And that goal takes special tools best explained with a tale about a medieval monk tasked to copy all of Europe’s libraries.
Nature, July 24, 2014
Cell communication: Stop the microbial chatter
Bacteria are chatterboxes. They communicate with one another, in large groups, and even across species. This exchange helps them survive and also helps them become more resistant to antibiotics. But by undermining all this chatter, scientists hope to treat infections in new ways. To do so, they are developing new ways to eavesdrop on microbial communication.
Nature Methods, July 2016
Plants: a tool box of cell-based assays
Plant biologists have a range of cell-based assays to choose from.
The Trembling Giant is a forest of 50,000 aspens. It’s around 80,000 years old. The plants are all identical. How might they have survived climate change and predation, wonders David Galbraith of the University of Arizona. Perhaps the plants and their cells are not so identical after all. That’s not so easy to study, but one way to do so is with protoplasts, plant cells without walls.
At MGH, plant biologist Jen Sheen has been working with protoplasts since 1987. Her advisers and prominent plant biologists back then feared the assay was too “artificial,” she recalls. Some scientists still have strong reservations. After all these are assays with cells that are cells ‘undressed’.
Some researchers wonder if the cells are too stressed and their physiology is too altered to allow study. But protoplasts have many fans, who assess stress levels and use them to explore many types of molecular aspects with these cells. They use protoplasts, for example, to explore many questions., well aware that this is a transient assay. The cells don’t stay naked forever, the cell walls grow back.
History of science
Yellow Fever Fence
Yellow fever outbreaks first hit New York in 1668 and hit the city again and again.
“Coffins, coffins of all sizes!” is what boys shouted through the city streets, touting the pine coffins for the many dead. The four-dollar price tag was too steep for many people. Nightly, a dead cart carried corpses to the pits of Potter’s Field, now the site of Washington Square Park. In 1822, New York City officials closed off a portion of lower Manhattan in an effort to combat repeated outbreaks.
Metropolis of Science is a web-based web based mapping project led by Marguerite Holloway at Columbia University. It explores the history of science and technology in New York City.
Sequencing: Ship-Seq sails the seas
Neurobiologist Leonid Moroz likes being out at sea. He likes having all the amenities there, too. Such as high-throughput sequencers. And his complete team.
Here is how he set up Ship-Seq. (Hint: sequencing quality goes up on the high seas.)
1 x 141-foot boat
1 x generous entrepreneur
1 x ship’s crew
1 x mobile molecular biology lab equipped with lab benches, a sequencer, reagents
1 x manufacturer of a high-throughput sequencer willing to donate an instrument
1 x satellite link to a supercomputer
1 x lab staff and scientist/wife willing to be scientist-sailors
1 x diving equipment
1 x funding National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
3 x support from non-profit organizations: Florida Biodiversity Institute, Florida Museum of Natural History, the International Seakeepers Society
1,000 international units of patience
Several remedies for seasickness
Nature Methods, February 2013
He likes his shirts and biosensors bright. Loren Looger, who leads a research group at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, lights up message transfer in the brain. And he wants to go even further than tracking excitatory messages.
“Proteins are pretty [expletive] awesome,” says Looger. “They are everywhere, doing everything,” handling many biological jobs from lending Spinosaurus its size and a cheetah its speed to helping organisms survive and adapt. To harness that versatility, he engineers proteins with methods that are “equal parts conceptual, modeling based and recreating Darwinian selection in the lab.”
Nature Methods, June 2016
Richard D. Cummings
Rick Cummings, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, cares about sugars. There’s a whole glyco-world out there, he says. Glycans play a role in metabolism and in many disorders. For the longest time, the field was considered marginal. Meetings were more like tea-parties of a few friends, says Cummings. But then things changed. Which makes him all the happier when he comes to the lab and when he sits down at the piano.
…Growing up in rural Alabama, Cummings was drawn to the piano at the ripe age of five. “If you wanted any other noise other than bees humming and birds singing, you had to make it yourself,” he says.
Genomics – Computing
Nature, August 27, 2015
The DNA of a nation
It’s not 2017 yet, so the 100,000 genomes in the 100,000 Genomes Project are not sequenced and analyzed yet. Here is a glimpse behind the scenes on some of what it takes to organize the project. Data need to be secured, reliable software pipelines must be put in place and tested. And plenty of experts are needed on hand for manual analysis, genomic deep-diving and general quality control.
The project’s idea is to help people, at first people with rare diseases and cancer. But at one not so distant point, whole genome sequencing might be a common element in the medical records of all of the UK’s National Health Service patients. And along the way it might all spark a genomics industry in the UK.
Computing – biology
Nature June 13, 2013
Biology: The big challenges of big data
Life scientists have plenty of data and explore ever new ways to throw terabytes around to share, analyze and compare the data wealth. New science can emerge from analyzing existing data sets as well as new ones. That’s not exactly the wet-world of biology.
Nature Biotechnology, June 2012
My data are your data.
Sharing is easy, scientists do it in their sleep. Actually, they don’t always want to share.
Nature April 15, 2015
A most exceptional response
Some cancer patient fare exceptionally well with their treatment, better than others with the same diagnosis. Researchers are keen to understand what makes these so-called exceptional responders so exceptional. It seems un-scientific to think of an individual when research , for example clinical trials, focuses on large numbers of patients, or as large a group as they can find. But this n of 1 approach is promising.
Nature Methods, April 2016
Cancer: hunting rare somatic mutations
Hunting rare mutations that play a role in cancer is challenging. Finding them might eventually make a difference to patients. These mutations can help understand the behavior of a tumor and its behavior in an individual. These mutations might drive the disease. But they might also just be artifacts or noise in the data. Scientists are finding ways to discover these rare mutations, which are particular needles in the haystack.
Nature, November 13, 2014
A deep look at synaptic dynamics
Synapses in the brain are busy messaging intersections. Neurotransmitters of various sorts are released, but then what. How are these vesicles refilled with neurotransmitters? There are multiple hypotheses about how that might occur.
Die Welt, 14. November 2014
So wird die Hirnforschung zu einem großen Spiel
Die Crowd packt bei der Neurobiologie mit an, um harte Herausforderungen zu lösen. Mitwirken kann jeder/jede. Voraussetzung ist lediglich Neugierde.
Proteomics – High-energy physics
Nature Methods, September 2014
Structural biology: ‘seeing’ crystals the XFEL way
X-ray free electron lasers vaporize samples. After they put so much work into obtaining them, it seems surprising to destroy the samples, usually proteins they have coaxed into crystals, with a blam. Then again, it is a way to capture, which allows researchers to reconstruct protein structure.
The Lancet June 8, 2012
FDA reform plan edges closer to realisation. A bill that gives the US Food and Drug Administration much new heft in addressing drug shortages as well as drug and device approvals has cleared House vote.
Newsweek/The Daily Beast, May 10, 2012
New Mayan Discovery: The World Isn’t Ending! The Mayans predicted that the world would end in 2012, right? Not according to the fascinating findings from a recent dig.
A platform in the making: SeeSaw.
SeeSaw weighs news and comments, showing the community of readers the spectrum of reporting and views on a topic.
My past story and project themes include:
innovation nuns R&D earnings imaging science policy sperm pain killers Web 2.0 telecommunications MEMS cancer noses RNAi oceanography brain-drain hieroglyphs zoos IPOs microfluidics databases natural catastrophes statistics comets biofilms newborns public health business plans data viz libraries space saliva sequencing X-ray free electron lasers biotechnology markets digital devices space exploration chemistry saints ambiguity antibodies glaciers neurons advertising statistics earnings flurophores bridges stem cells Mayan culture research policy acquisitions fluorophores regeneration microscopy GPUs higher education patents aging RAM medicine public-private initiatives CRISPR coaching dyes synapses partnerships microscopy stem cells animation venture capital climate imaging textiles dentistry nanotech relationships malaria particle accelerators sharing and not sharing tissue engineering male circumcision data integration dogs high-energy physics bridges geology algorithms mentoring explorers pigeons spectroscopy servants crowd-sourcing business partners genomics microwaves television birds computing television the brain vaccines multiferroics running invasive species text mining acoustics plankton drug development gene-editing civil engineering animals start-ups proteomics newspapers physics comets patients pharmacogenomics simulation angels wikis philanthropy double lives counterfeiting standardized tests steam film