The NSDL Scout Report for Life Sciences -- Volume 2, Number 23

November 26, 2003

A Publication of the Internet Scout Project
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison




Topic In Depth


The AgNIC Dairy Information Center

The AgNIC (Agriculture Network Information Center) Dairy Information Center -- "a guide to quality information on the Internet" -- is a new open-access Web portal from the University of Wisconsin's Steenbock Library. The site is intended for "researchers in the field of dairy science, for farmers and others who raise dairy cattle, and for students of all ages interested in dairy." Users may easily browse the guide by navigating the website's nested categories, or simply search the entire site by keyword. Main sections cover livestock and dairy product information, business and marketing resources, reference sources such as online databases and journals, and contact information for extension services, listservs, and so on. [RS]

Two Websites on the GENSAT Project

NINDS GENSAT BAC Transgenic Project
Study Reveals Patterns of Gene Activity in the Mouse Nervous System

The first website from Rockefeller University in New York contains "a gene expression atlas of the central nervous system of the mouse based on bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs)." GENSAT, or the Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas, contains brain slice images of BAC transgenic mice at the embryonic, postnatal (7 days old), and adult stages, stained to show areas of gene activity. The website comes with a detailed and helpful tutorial that recreates GENSAT's user interface and demonstrates how to manipulate search results. The second website contains a press release detailing the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) study that produced the data for GENSAT -- a project that "may lead to new ways of preventing or treating disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, psychiatric disorders, and drug addiction." [RS]

The New York Botanical Garden: International Plant Science Center

In "combining modern technologies with a century of field and laboratory research," the New York Botanical Garden's International Plant Science Center "is one of the few institutions worldwide with the resources, collections, and expertise to develop the information needed to understand and manage plant diversity." This website grants considerable access to resources from the Center, including numerous plant databases, digitized rare botanical books, online access to the herbarium collections, and much, much more. Botanists doing fieldwork may be especially interested in dowloading Virtual Herbarium Express -- an "electronic fieldbook" that eliminates the tedious process of transcribing field notes into a database. [RS]

GenePath: An Intelligent Assistant to the Discovery of Genetic Pathways [pdf]

The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia present an improved, second version of GenePath, a "web-enabled intelligent assistant for the analysis of genetic data and for discovery of genetic networks." GenePath automates the complex process of determining gene interrelationships and users may download existing projects or start new ones from scratch. The website also provides a very detailed, nicely-designed guide to running GenePath, available as a separate downloadable document. [RS]

International Plant Genetic Resources Institute [pdf]

This website is the homepage of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), "an international research institute with a mandate to advance the conservation and use of genetic diversity for the well-being of present and future generations." The site is packed with informative resources on agricultural biodiversity, including IPGRI breaking news, downloadable publications, links to online databases, and much more. The publications library is quite a find, with a number of downloadable IPGRI reports available free of charge. The most recent publication is a 55-page report on the conservation and use of "underutilized and neglected crops." Visitors will also find training materials (such as an introduction to plant collecting and conducting ecogeographic surveys) available in a number of different languages. [RS]

Urban Habitats [pdf]

Urban Habitats, published by the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology (CURE), is "a peer-reviewed, fully indexed scientific journal written and edited for a wide audience of researchers, restoration ecologists, park and preserve managers, government officials, and naturalists." The premier issue of this e-journal (focused on urban flora worldwide) is available online, and researchers are encouraged to submit articles and multimedia resources for future issues (detailed submission guidelines provided). CURE is a joint project of Rutgers University and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. [RS]

The Center for Watershed Protection [pdf]

The Center for Watershed Protection (CWP) "provides local governments, activists, and watershed organizations around the country with the technical tools for protecting some of the nation's most precious natural resources: our streams, lakes, and rivers." The CWP website offers a number of online, open-access resources, including technical reports, case studies and watershed assessment protocols. Users will find detailed guidelines for measuring watershed vulnerability, assessing stream quality, and performing a stormwater retrofit inventory. Methods for identifying critical natural areas as part of watershed protection will be available in the future. Other resources and much more information about CWP projects are also provided -- anyone involved in watershed protection should definitely check out this site. [RS]


Learning from Patients: The Science of Medicine [pdf, Real One Player]

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's 2003 Holiday Lecture Series on Science features oncologist Bert Vogelstein and neurologist Huda Zoghbi, who will each present two lectures via live webcast on December 4th and 5th (free registration required). Vogelstein and Zoghbi will speak on "how their patients have led them to a deeper understanding of the genetic and molecular bases of cancer and neurological disorders." The Holiday Lecture Series is chiefly intended for students in high school science courses, but registration is open to any interested viewer. The website offers three detailed essays relating to lecture topics, as well as downloadable lecture summaries and biographies of the speakers. A slide format is available for viewers with slower Internet connections. [RS]

NATURE: Kalahari [pdf, Real One Player]

This website is the Web companion to the two-part NATURE documentary on the Kalahari Desert, which aired on PBS during fall 2003. The first episode, Kalahari: The Great Thirstland, explores the intense extremes of the Kalahari landscape, where wildlife "struggle for survival on the African plains." The site offers a number of Web-only extras, including a species guide in the form of animal trading cards, a slide show showing seasonal change in the Kalahari, and more. Episode Two, Kalahari: The Flooded Desert, explores the desert wetland of the Okavango Delta, "one of the most unusual ecosystems in one of the harshest regions in the world." The Web companion for this episode can by accessed through the first website, and it's here that teachers will find an interdisciplinary lesson plan designed for grades 3-5. The lesson focuses on the rich diversity of Kalahari wildlife, and uses a number of interactive activities from other websites (links provided). Web-only features for this episode include an interactive journey through the Okavango Delta, a behind-the-scenes interview with the film's director, and of course, related links. [RS]

NSTA Webwatchers' Science Guides [pdf, Winamp]

The Webwatchers' Science Guides website -- provided by the National Science Teachers Association -- is a portal to educational resources on the Internet. Along with carefully selected links, this website offers a few downloadable lesson plans, as well as audio reviews from fellow teachers and vignettes demonstrating how to use the Guides in the classroom. Navigation can be somewhat tricky -- the site follows an elaborate organizational scheme that requires its own 4-page explanation. For a quick way to find links of interest, use the Jump To dropdown menu to select a topic, open the concept map, then click on a keyword to access a set of links for teachers and another for students. Grade range, available resources (e.g. interactive activities, related news), and a short description are indicated for each link. [RS]

The Human Digestive System [Macromedia Flash Player]

This website offers a fun, animated tour of the human digestive system -- a project created by B. Shayle Abelkop while a graduate student in the Department of Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia. The tutorial starts with a brief introduction to other systems (cardiovascular, skeletal, respiratory, muscular) before focusing in on the digestive system. The tutorial explains in simple terms, with the help of colorful graphics, what happens at each point in the digestive system (including an explanation of mechanical vs. chemical digestion). The website also offers a "drag and drop" anatomy activity, online crossword puzzle, and multiple-choice quiz. Even though this site is geared toward younger students, any student learning about the human digestive system for the first time should find the tutorial helpful. [RS]

Ecowatch: A Community-Based Project About Insects and Their Allies [pdf]

Ecowatch is "a community-based project for the assessment of habitat quality in the riverland of South Australia." And, fortunately for the rest of us, the educational resources available on the Ecowatch website have a more universal application. Readers will find an excellent introduction to invertebrates, as well as more detailed information on major invertebrate groups (down to the class level, generally). An easy-to-use pictorial key makes invertebrate identification (again, to class level) fun and simple -- and valid for any region. The For Teachers section "outlines activities that students can undertake to learn more about invertebrates and the environments they live in," and includes instructions for building two types of invertebrate traps. [RS]

AskERIC: Cell-City Project [pdf]

In this AskERIC lesson plan for grades 5-9, students compare the structure and function of cell organelles to that of a working city -- a handy analogy for learning the basics of cell biology. The activities outlined in the lesson plan, which takes three to four 55-minute sessions to complete, combine art and science for an interdisciplinary learning experience. Vocabulary words, useful links, and downloadable worksheets are included along with lesson procedures. [RS]

Idaho State University: Biology Resources for Active Learning [pdf, Microsoft Word]

The Department of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University offers this website as part of a project "to enhance teacher preparation in the sciences by emphasizing inquiry and experimental approaches to science teaching." The site offers one or two lesson plans (mostly at the high school level) for the following subjects: the cell; molecular basis of heredity; biological evolution; interdependence of organisms; matter, energy, and organization of living systems; and behavior of organisms. While most of these lessons appear to have been created for the website, a few come from external sources. [RS]


The Dana Centre [pdf, Windows Media Player]

London's Science Museum and its partners have recently opened the Dana Centre, a "dynamic events space [that] will bring the hottest themes in modern science to adults-only audiences through a programme of bold and innovative events." The Dana Centre website allows virtual visitors (over the age of 18) to "take part in exciting, informative and innovative debates about contemporary science, technology and culture."
Live webcasts and online discussions cover a constantly changing menu of topics, from the serious (e.g. HIV and AIDS) to the not-so (e.g. the relative merits of the new iPod). [RS]

Two Updates on Stem Cell Research

Stem Cells: 5-Year Progress Report
CBS News: Stem Cell Trials on Humans Nearer

In a recent press briefing, stem cell research pioneers James Thomson and John Gearhart announced that, despite political obstacles and limited funding, stem cell research is progressing and clinical trials on human beings should begin within the next five years. The Why Files chronicles the first five years of embryonic stem cell research, covering the science, the politics, and the ethical issues behind this contentious topic (and a closer look at the both the promise and doubt in adult stem cells). The second website -- from CBS News -- covers the press briefing held by Thomson and Gearhart, and offers two interactive features on stem cell research and human cloning, as well as links to related CBS News stories. [RS] [Windows Media Player]

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine recently launched, a website developed from NIA research on older adults, cognitive aging, and computer usage. This easy-to-use website "makes aging-related health information easily accessible for adults 60 and older" and serves as "a useful tool for family members and friends who are seeking online health information for their older relatives." Topics covered include Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, exercising for older adults, and more. The website offers several options for enhancing usability, including a virtual voice that reads all text aloud. Visitors may also watch video clips (captions available), take short quizzes, or follow links to MEDLINEplus websites for more detailed information. [RS]

Frontline: Dangerous Prescription [Real One Player, Windows Media Player]

In the recent PBS broadcast Dangerous Prescriptions, Frontline "investigates the integrity of America's drug safety system." The documentary (viewable in its entirety online) explores "the FDA's handling of several drugs that were approved but later were pulled from the market after causing injuries and even deaths." The companion website offers a look at how the FDA works and details of its recent record, based on interviews with current and former FDA officials. Also, readers may share their thoughts on the issue with Frontline and a selection of readers' letters may be found under the Discussion heading. [RS]

NPR: Nutrition Labels for Fast Foods [pdf, Real One Player]

This website, from National Public Radio's Morning Edition, offers a look at legislation proposed in Congress that would require fast food and other chain restaurants to provide nutritional information for their menu items. The website offers complete audio of the story, which aired earlier this month. Visitors will also find a short article on the topic, links to related stories from NPR, and a set of Web resources. The site also provides a downloadable report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest -- a sizeable document that provides in-depth information on the subject, and even includes menu mock-ups. [RS]

Interactive Investigator

Interactive Investigator, available through Virtual Museum Canada, is a website "for anyone with an interest in the different scientific methods used to solve crimes." Users will find a database of forensic science, containing short but informative essays on forensic entomology, toxicology, alcohol analysis, and various other forensic science topics. A simple timeline reviews key dates in the development of forensics, starting with the creation of the Paris Institute for Forensic Science in 1868. But the main feature (and the most fun) is an interactive game, in which players collect and analyze crime scene clues to solve a murder case. Interactive Investigator is also available in French. [RS]

The Lives of Microorganisms: A Micronaturalist's Notebook

A Micronaturalist's Notebook is a series of photo essays from BioMEDIA Associates offering a quick but fascinating look at "the teaming worlds of life in ponds, streams, tidepools, moss beds, the soil, and virtually everywhere else in the world." The website contains amazing photographs by BioMEDIA's biologist/filmmaker Bruce Russell, along with interesting and informative descriptions. The November 2003 feature, Bacteria: Ya Can't Live Without 'Um! highlights bacterial decomposition, cyanobacteria, and the bacterial origin of cellular organelles. [RS]

Topic In Depth


1. Nature: Our Ancestors Had Brains -- For Dinner
2. Nature: Prion Principle Proved
3. BBC News: Muscle 'Could Pose Tiny CJD Risk'
4. BBC News: Mice with 'CJD Illness' Recover
5. BBC News: Scientists Reveal How CJD Kills Cells
6. Cow Madness
7. Prion Eyes

The following websites provide a quick review of prion research in the news. Prions, short for "proteinaceous infectious particles," are responsible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), mad cow disease, scrapie disease, chronic wasting disease, and other deadly brain diseases. The first website, a Science Update from the journal Nature, reports on an intriguing study published earlier this year that found genes in some human populations offer protection from prion diseases, possibly in response to a history of cannibalism (1). This article also provides a good overview of what prions are and how they function. The next article, also from Nature, describes how "researchers in Switzerland claim to have proved a long-standing theory about prions: that the proteins couple up to breed mad cow disease" (2). The next three sites contain articles from BBC News: The first is a recent story relating new findings that CJD prions exist in very low levels in muscle tissue, not just in the brain, posing a theoretical (if remote) risk of transmitting the disease during surgery (3). The next article describes recent findings that suggest it's not prions themselves that cause disease, but rather "something to do with the conversion process between a normal prion and an abnormal prion" (4). A slightly earlier study provides other insights into prion pathology (5). The next two sites, excellent features from the Whyfiles, offer an in-depth look at both the science and politics of mad cow disease (6 ) and chronic wasting disease (7). [RS]

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