Websites of note


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DANMAP is a Danish program for surveillance of antimicrobial applications and resistance in target organisms. Antibiotic resistance is a serious global public health issue driven by the use of antimicrobial agents for both humans and animals. The Danes are leading the world at reducing antibiotic usage while retaining full agricultural productivity, as you will learn at this website. It is arguable that penicillin has been the single greatest improvement in human health and that antibiotics have allowed a trebling of the human population in the last 60 years. The story of how Howard Florey made penicillin practical is one that I relate to students from time to time, in part because I work in the medical complex that includes the Howard Florey Institute. The Florey story is both intrinsically interesting to most of us and instructive to learn the strengths and weaknesses of using science to solve problems. Rachel Carson alerted us to the unanticipated environmental costs of insecticides and herbicides and now we know that the application of antibiotics has unanticipated costs. The site may well make the starting point for a project on antibiotic resistance and current agricultural practices. As the site informs us, we run the risk that current antimicrobial agents will become ineffective. The continuing emergence and spread of pathogenic organisms resistant to antimicrobial agents is a cause of increasing concern. The Danish surveillance program was initiated in 1995 to cover the entire chain from farm to consumption and adverse outcomes. The DANMAP program provides scientific data on the use of antimicrobial agents in animals and humans, and monitors the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from animals, food, and humans. The success of the Danish approach is based on using collected data as the basis for collaboration between scientists and authorities. Other countries, including the USA, are now looking to the Danish experience and many recommend adopting the Danish approach on surveillance and restriction of the consumption of antimicrobial agents to minimize resistant bacteria in animals. An example of an environment that is poorly managed and is a source of high levels of antibiotic resistance genes has been found in a Rocky Mountains river system that is pristine at its headwaters, but is contaminated as it flows past human settlements (, news October 17, 2012).


Michigan State University Chemistry Department offers an interesting web page that leads to an online course in organic chemistry. Enter “organic chemistry” into the search box or use the direct URL I was directed here by user recommendations from web blogs and the course content proved to be what I needed for one of my students to “catch up” before taking biochemistry. The two main divisions are General Principles and Functional Group Reactions. The content is organized systematically and is comprehensive as a preparation for biochemistry. There is also an extensive bank of imaginative questions organized by subject. Other information of interest at the home page includes the research of Professor Chi-Kwong Chang. This research relates to my favorite structure in biochemistry, the porphyrin ring, which I find has great aesthetic and chemical beauty. The functions of porphyrin and corin molecules in photosynthesis and respiration have amazed me for being both the molecule that is intimate in the production of oxygen on earth 3,000 million years ago and the answer to using the oxygen in animals. Hemoproteins have a spectrum of functions ranging through oxygen transport, electron transport (cytochromes), and drug detoxification (cytochrome P-450). Most heme catalysts involve either a valence change at the metal center or an altering of the redox state of the porphyrin ring or both. It is the great flexibility of the porphyrin system to accommodate extreme redox changes, coupled with the convenient coordination and electron-transfer ability of the metal center that makes the metalloporphyrins such versatile catalysts. You can follow-up with more information from this site.


Oxford is currently number two in the world, as ranked by the Times Higher Survey. Oxford University is a must-visit place for all academics with a joy of history. I have been delighted by my physical visits to friends and colleagues at Oxford and now a virtual visit offers different rewards. I was surprised by the state-of-the-art approach to offering news digests that are both interesting and backed by the gravitas of this venerable institution. At the time of writing, the four headlined feature articles were (1) 1,000 genomes barrier broken: A landmark project has sequenced 1,092 human genomes from individuals around the world to interpret the genetic changes in people with disease. (2) Puberty classes drive up attendance of African schoolgirls: An Oxford University pilot study shows that providing free sanitary pads to teenage girls in Ghana markedly improved attendance levels at school over just three months. (3) Bonfire of the cables: they cause trips, tangles, and tantrums: so could new technology do away with the data and power cables that blight our always-connected lives? (4) Arts at Oxford: Romanian will be taught at Oxford for the first time, as a lectureship in Romanian has been set up in the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics. Other articles included Day-Lewis archive donated to Bodleian; new research shows spelling continues to be a challenge; women who stop smoking in their 30 s can gain 10 years of life and sickle cell maps of newborns. My greatest surprise in looking through the Oxford Science Blog was the fun of the animated character Ossie-the-popsicle on an adventure to discover the molecular mechanism and genetics of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (Fig. 1).

Figure 1.

Ossie-the-popsicle has adventures to teach molecular science at Oxford University. He is featured here in some malfunctioning cardiac muscle ( In this animation, we learn about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic conditions which can cause young people to collapse and die suddenly. HCM is a subject of research at Oxford University and is caused by a fault in the muscle cells which make up the heart. Mutations of a single amino acid in a number of different heart muscle protein genes cause HCM. In each family one mutation causes the condition and the number of different mutations among different families is large. HCM causes the muscle to contract in an inefficient way that depletes ATP. This inefficiency can cause the muscle to thicken as a way of compensating, but this in turn can decrease the size of the pumping chambers of the heart. Tragically HCM is often unrecognized and as a result is the commonest cause of sudden cardiac death in young adults. Rapid defibrillation can save the lives of those affected so gene analysis has clear benefit. HCM is inherited in families in an autosomal dominant manner and Ossie presents us with pedigrees to illustrate the inheritance pattern.


Bruce Alberts, best known in education as an author of the textbook Molecular Biology of the Cell, has several active roles in promoting and supporting science education. He delivered the Ed Wood memorial lecture at the IUBMB Congress in Spain in 2012 where he discussed his views and activities relating to education. The website given here was commended by Alberts and it is easiest to enter the full URL to avoid the clutter of options that lead from the home page of the Science Magazine produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Content download is only available after submitting a free registration. After registration you will have access to research papers and teaching resources available from “Science in the Classroom.” After registration I gained access to this biography. Dr Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, provides Science in the Classroom with strategic oversight and linkage to leaders of science education efforts. Dr Alberts has a longstanding interest and involvement in many different aspects of science education. He has been a leader worldwide in developing goals for science education and supporting productive change and innovation. His personal knowledge of the topic and his extensive professional network, grounded in service at the National Academies of Science, the University of California at San Francisco, and as US Science Envoy, bring exceptional depth and breadth to Science in the Classroom. This creates high expectations from this site, nevertheless you should be rewarded for your visit, particularly if you also browse the main Science Magazine. One example of the content is a paper on sustainable energy for which Alberts wrote this introduction: “As an energy source, the Sun is capable of providing enough power for all of our energy needs. Currently, we are unable to efficiently harness this power and store it until it is needed. How can scientists and engineers achieve this? By turning to plants for the answers. Through photosynthesis, plants are able to turn light from the sun into stored energy with almost perfect efficiency. Scientists look to photosynthesis for inspiration as they work to develop a cheap and efficient method for harnessing solar energy to synthesize fuels. Are we getting close? The authors of “Wireless Solar Water Splitting Using Silicon-Based Semiconductors and Earth-Abundant Catalysts” have developed an electrochemical cell that mimics photosynthesis.” The full paper is on the web site.


The Research Centre abbreviated to CoCo was launched in 2004 when co-founders Peter Reimann and Peter Goodyear left Europe and took positions at the University of Sydney. They now have what they describe as a vibrant and established center of gravity for research in the science and technologies of learning. In July 2012, the Centre hosted the 10th International Conference of the Learning Sciences—ICLS2012 and the website has links to videos of the conference keynotes. The conference content did not overlap with my interests, although a short video labeled Podcast no. 3—Collaborative Learning Design was relevant to my experiences working in teams to create multimedia. The list of research publications is impressive, but unfortunately not presented with active web links. However the news section, with an archive, is good for browsing and does link to some reflective items. For example, in October 2012 Peter Goodyear contributed an interview on changing the design of learning. “There is a growing awareness that the environment in which learning takes place is becoming more complicated. Students are bringing their own personal technologies and also expect the spaces in which they are working to be equipped for digital work. We'xre beginning to see a blurring and blending of the physical and the digital worlds. This is making the creation and management of learning environments a more challenging and important task for many people involved in education. As well as traditional teaching skills, teachers now need to think like designers.” Goodyear is currently working on a project to find ways of capturing and sharing re-usable designs for learning.


I was attracted by the title of this commentary published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society in the journal Isis. Since 1912 Isis has featured scholarly articles, research notes, and commentary on the history of science, medicine, and technology, and their cultural influences. Isis claims to be the oldest and most widely circulating English-language journal in the field. Subscriptions to the journal are linked to membership in the History of Science Society. Marga Vicedo from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, writes in Isis that textbooks have a low status in the history of science because they have been seen as mere repositories for scientific knowledge. However historians have recently shown that they play a number of roles that can illuminate different aspects of the history of science, from priority disputes to pedagogical practices. Textbooks are seen as passive receptacles of the bounties of scientific creativity and research. They serve as showcases for accumulated knowledge but do not contribute to scientific development. Their main role is to initiate the student into the well-established views and practices of specific scientific communities. Thomas Kuhn considered textbooks in the natural sciences as repositories of exemplars from the reigning paradigms to indoctrinate students into the wisdom of the elders. Over the last twenty years or so, sociologists, historians, and philosophers of science have discredited the “trickle-down” model of scientific popularization (figure provided at the website). The many observations in this article may broaden our view of textbooks as being of value in the history of science.


Elsevier remains among the major publishers of highly rated scientific publications. At the time of visiting Sciverse there was a feature of giving free access to papers by the 2012 Nobel Laureates. Fortunately, my institution has a subscription to all Elsevier publications provided through Sciverse, so I can get all content as full papers. That content is enormous with over a thousand journals listed under biochemistry and molecular biology. Additionally, there are many journals in medicine and kindred life sciences. The current Sciverse portal builds on the previous utilities called ScienceDirect and Scopus. I arrived at Sciverse by the circuitous route of searching for images of CYP450 action and found just what I wanted in the Elsevier Journal of Chromatography. Going back to the home pages led me to browse through some familiar journals and to be impressed with the clear online layout of the articles that I downloaded. Making information easy to search and retrieve is essential to contemporary portals and Sciverse will not disappoint.


Health Canal has set out to provide students, post-docs, researchers, healthcare professionals, governments, and educators with information and news about health and medical research. The information is free after registration, and the funding model is a hybrid of user donations and paid advertising. The website is vast in scope and certainly allows teachers an easy and enjoyable way to stay current with developments in the life sciences. One of the home page categories of subjects to browse is Metabolic Problems and this led me to a compilation of 700 news and research items that were relevant to my lectures in metabolism and nutrition. Many articles related to diabetes. One that caught my attention was titled “Researchers Identify Lynchpin to Activating Brown Fat Cells.” Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have discovered how to activate uncoupling protein-1 in brown fat cells, which burn fat molecules instead of storing them, making them a target in fighting obesity. The role of brown fat in keeping infants warm has been long established and is an interesting confirmation of Peter Mitchell's chemiosmotic model of ATP generation. Brown fat is also central to the survival of hibernating bears. Soon it may come to help obese adults who possess small but significant deposits of brown fat to burn-off excess energy stores. Unfortunately, the simple approach of using a non-selective whole-body metabolic uncoupler like dinitrophenol to burn fat is thwarted by toxic effects. The Health Canal report on brown fat was compiled by a staff journalist who started from a paper published on October 12 (2012) in the journal Cell and followed up by interviewing the authors. In interview one author stated “We have shown how fatty acids attach directly to UCP1 and help it to break down an electrical potential across the mitochondrial membranes, causing the cell to burn more fat and to generate heat in order to regenerate this potential.” In addition to the specific compilation of metabolic developments the site covers population health divided into numerous categories. Health Canal espouses the lofty ideals of improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. The archives contain over 30,000 news articles.