Websites of note


  • Graham R. Parslow

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
    • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
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    • Fax: 61 3 93477730


The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (JCAL) is a peer-reviewed journal that covers a wide range of applications of technology to support learning. All levels of primary to tertiary education are covered with a diversity of topics offering something of interest to researchers, teachers, and policy makers. JCAL covers collaborative learning, knowledge engineering, open, distance and networked learning, developmental psychology, and evaluation. Each volume includes at least one special issue for in-depth treatment. The archive of articles goes back to 1985 showing the many changes in hardware and applications that span this period. Medical education is included as one of the areas in which papers are sought. If you use the URL provided here you will encounter the full range of Wiley online publications (a bonus in itself) and you can then search for this journal (the direct URL is awkwardly long). Abstracts are free and full text of articles may be available to you through institutional subscription. When the journal was searched for “biochemistry” one of the articles located was by T. Huk titled “Who benefits from learning with 3D models? The case of spatial ability” published in Volume 22, pages 392–404, 2006. The abstract includes the following information. Empirical studies that focus on the impact of three-dimensional (3D) visualizations on learning are to date rare and inconsistent. According to the ability-as-enhancer hypothesis, high spatial ability learners should benefit particularly as they have enough cognitive capacity for mental model construction. In contrast, the ability-as-compensator hypothesis proposes that low spatial ability learners should gain particular benefit from explicit graphical representations as they have difficulty in mentally constructing their own visualizations. This study examines the impact that interactive 3D models have on understanding of cell biology. Test scores indicated that only students with high spatial ability benefited from the presence of 3D models, whereas low spatial ability students got fewer points when learning this way. When using 3D models, high spatial ability students perceived their cognitive load to be low, whereas the opposite was true for low spatial ability students. The data suggest that students with low spatial ability became cognitively overloaded by the presence of 3D models, whereas high spatial ability students benefited from them.


The European Journal of Human Genetics is the official journal of the European Society of Human Genetics, publishing research papers, short reports, and reviews of human genetics and genomics. It covers molecular, clinical, and cytogenetics. Key areas include: monogenic and multifactorial disorders, development and malformation, hereditary cancer, medical genomics, gene mapping and functional studies, genotype-phenotype correlations, genetic variation and genome diversity, statistical and computational genetics, bioinformatics, advances in diagnostics, therapy and prevention, animal models, genetic services, and community genetics. The journal also publishes invited editorials and commentaries. The Impact factor in 2011 was 4.4, and the journal was highly commended in a plenary talk at the 2012 IUBMB Congress in Seville. A visit to the website found many articles of scientific and general interest. Some items are completely free and others require a subscription to proceed beyond the abstract. In the contents of the European Journal of Human Genetics 20, 1018–1023 (October 2012), I located a paper titled “Unravelling fears of genetic discrimination: an exploratory study of Dutch HCM families in an era of genetic non-discrimination acts.” The abstract conveyed the following summary. Since the 1990s, many countries in Europe and the United States have enacted genetic nondiscrimination legislation to prevent people from deferring genetic tests for fear that insurers or employers would discriminate against them based on that information. Although evidence for genetic discrimination exists, little is known about the origins and backgrounds of fears of discrimination and how it affects decisions for uptake of genetic testing. The aim of this article is to gain a better understanding of these fears and its possible impact on the uptake of testing by studying the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). In a qualitative study, we followed six Dutch extended families involved in genetic testing for HCM for three-and-a-half years. Our findings show that fears of genetic discrimination do not so much stem from the opportunity of genetic testing but much more from earlier experiences of discrimination of diseased family members. These results help to identify the possible limitations of genetic nondiscrimination regulations and provide direction to clinicians supporting their clients as they confront issues of genetic testing and genetic discrimination.


A colleague informed me that he was using memes to teach biochemistry. I recalled that the term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins, but this was not strictly the kind he meant. Perhaps to be fair the contemporary meme is a mutable, replicable and transmissible unit of social information as Dawkins foresaw. The contemporary net-meme is a picture with a heading and a subheading that amuses or informs, sometimes with deliberate lack of social propriety. The teaching example my colleague gave was a picture of a muscle with the heading “I keep it to myself while the liver shares it” and the subheading was “glycogen.” Apparently this is a popular and effective teaching aid for the connected generation. By visiting the website given here you may get the idea. A Google search will list numerous meme generators. The following précis of memes as formulated by Richard Dawkins is derived from Wikipedia. A meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Memes are cultural analogs to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. Richard Dawkins in the book, The Selfish Gene (1976), gave examples of memes including melodies, catch-phrases, and fashion.


At a national conference in Australia, Evan Delucia gave a highly motivating talk on the activities of his company Global Change Solutions. The company is based in Urbana, Illinois, USA. It was the attraction of a free simulator of greenhouse gas effects, suitable for student projects that suggested inclusion of this website. Delucia referred to ethanol as a first-generation biofuel and lignocelluloses from prolifically growing grasses as second-generation biofuels. The figures that Delucia presented showed that maize-corn is a net greenhouse gas generating crop and that widespread planting of corn in the US is driven by subsidies to ferment corn starch to ethanol (40% of the total national crop). If this land was converted to growing fuel grasses, the land would be cooler and become a net carbon sink, not a generator. Clearing native ecosystems affects climate, usually contributing positively to temperature change. Greenhouse Gas Value (GHGV) is a measure of the total greenhouse gas benefit of maintaining an ecosystem, or conversely, the greenhouse gas cost of clearing it. GHGV is expressed in units of CO2-equivalents to equate the climate effect of clearing an ecosystem with the effect of releasing 1 ton of CO2 to the atmosphere. This allows evaluation of the long-term effects of clearing a forest and other land use changes. Results are summarized graphically, and files detailing the results can be recovered. The calculator was a beta-version when visited and suggestions for improvement were welcomed.


Conferences and other travel take us away from familiar surroundings where our accustomed sources of news may not be available. It is at these times that global news services can extend us to take a more expansive view of events and progress in health practices in other places. Paul Julius Reuter developed a prototype news service in 1849 in which he used electric telegraphy and carrier pigeons. The current Reuters service operates in 94 countries in numerous languages. The BBC world service claims to be available in 330 million homes, 1.7 million hotel rooms, 81 cruise ships, 46 airlines, 35 mobile phone platforms, and reach 74 million viewers per week. Although the URLs given here are for the health and life science divisions, the home pages give access to all events and categories. The BBC health pages informed me that “death rates from cancer are set to fall dramatically by 2030, according to Cancer Research UK. Fewer people smoking, as well as improvements in diagnosis and treatment, will lead to a 17% drop in death rate. About 170 UK deaths per 100,000 of population were from cancer in 2010, and this figure is predicted to fall to 142 out of every 100,000. Some of the biggest killers—lung, breast, bowel, and prostate cancer—are part of the trend. The biggest fall is projected to be in ovarian cancer, with death rates dropping by 43%.” A visit to Reuters found some interactive resources additional to currently released news. Reuters had taken data from the World Health Organization to create a map of global obesity or more accurately the percentage of population with BMI > 25 for many nations. The table of fattest nations showed the following at the top: American Samoa 93.2%, Saudi Arabia 72.5%, USA 66.7%, Germany 66.5%, Egypt 66%, UK 61%, Canada 59.1% and Spain 53.4%. This league table gave extra credence to what was observed in a recent trip to Spain.


The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is located on 800 acres in Ardmore, Oklahoma and has built up a range of expertise in agriculture. Founded in 1945, the Noble Foundation aims to enhance agricultural productivity internationally, as I discovered at a recent conference talk by Professor Richard Dixon ( on sustainable agriculture. Dixon has the appellation Distinguished Professor and his talk was a stand-out that led me to investigate the Noble Foundation. The three operating divisions are agriculture, plant biology, and forage improvement. The well laid out homepage has a section headed Outreach and Education that leads to resources including three image galleries (cells, crystallography, and plants) that are available for academic or noncommercial use without fee. The images created at the Noble Foundation are of a high standard scientifically and aesthetically and cover a range of plant functions such that there is certain to be images of interest to teachers covering plant subjects, particularly in the USA. The section on News and Media gives an easy introduction to the research and achievements of the foundation.


American Scientist is an illustrated magazine about science and technology published by Sigma Xi, a century old US research society for scientists and engineers. There are six issues per year with feature articles written by scientists and engineers, reviewing important work in molecular biology and other fields of science. The articles are accompanied by illustrations that seek to enhance the reader's understanding. There are also reflections on the history and practice of science as well as illustrations by noted cartoonists, in particular Sidney Harris, Benita Epstein, and Mark Heath. Although full content is reserved for subscribers to either the online or print magazines, there are many valuable free summaries, images, and links at the site. In many ways, American Scientist aims for the same audience as the better-known magazine Scientific American and it was reassuring to see that readers were also directed to link to Scientific American. The news section at the time of visiting included the following: The Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared with the Human Genome Project, has used 200 scientists at 80 institutions to sequence the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people. They discovered more strains than they had imagined with as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. Each person's collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person's. To the scientists' surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone's microbiome, but instead of making people ill, or infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply lived peacefully among their neighbors. This item was particularly interesting in the context of trying to sort out the validity of modifying our microbiome with macrobiotic health supplements (I am a sceptic).


Human use of the key nutrient element phosphorus is unsustainable and may soon limit agricultural production. Limited mining sites and geopolitical uncertainties threaten the phosphate supply for fertilizer production while wasteful practices pollute rivers, lakes, and oceans. The Arizona State University Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative seeks to define the phosphorus challenge and work toward phosphorus sustainability. The initiative claims that they are working on what might be called “the biggest problem you've never heard of.” As an Australian, I am aware that I live in a continent with so little natural phosphate in the soil that European crops wilted immediately after germination when first planted. English colonists in 1788 endured starvation as a consequence and waited for supplies to be dispatched by sailing boat from England. Some nearby islands, notably Nauru, were found to be rich in rock phosphate and a massive redistribution of phosphate to Australia produced an agricultural bounty. This background is included in my lectures on minerals as micronutrients so the claims made at this website do not surprise me. It only continues to surprise me that the politicians of the world have realized that there are limited mining sites for rare earths and other elements used in high-technology applications, but not the limits for an element as fundamental to life as phosphorous. The demand for phosphorus increased sharply in the mid-20th century with the success of the Green Revolution when plant breeders introduced higher yield versions of familiar crops. An estimated 17 million tons of processed phosphorus will be used on the world's farm fields this year. The increase in the world's population plus growing affluence is increasing demand for food, particularly meat, and putting more stress on the dwindling accessible supplies of phosphorus. Mandated goals in the USA will push the growth of more biofuel feedstock as a substitute for carbon-emitting fossil fuels and this will compete in every way with food crops. About 90 percent of the world's known reserves of phosphate is located in or controlled by five countries: Morocco (the largest reserves), Jordan, South Africa, the United States and China. China recently raised its tariffs on phosphorus and is expected to keep more at home. There is also a declining quality of phosphate rock being mined. The resources and links are not extensive at the site, but certainly enough to put together a good teaching dossier or initiate a student project report.