Want to Make Genes Tell Secrets? Silence Them.

Dr. Gregory Hannon’s lab may be a place of "organized chaos," but the work coming out of it is revolutionizing medical science. By manipulating the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway that functions as a defense mechanism within cells, Hannon's team "silences" individual genes in order to understand their biology better. The genes they're most interested in? Those that play a role in the development of cancer.

In his Big Think interview, Dr. Hannon describes the barriers that currently stand between RNAi manipulation and new cancer therapies, and predicts how they will ultimately be overcome. He also tells the story behind his research into a particularly exotic form of cancer: the transmissible facial tumor currently devastating Tasmanian Devil populations. (The tragedy was first brought to his attention by a conservation-minded Tasmanian grad student.)

Speaking of grad students, Hannon believes their training should be shorter. Curtailing academic education in favor of hands-on learning, he says, helps keep science "young and full of fire." Youthful energy, in turn, comes in handy in a profession whose members must battle constant frustration...at least until the rare moment of discovery that makes it all worthwhile.

Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
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Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
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Horseshoe crabs are drained for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

Credit: Business Insider (video)
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
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10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
  • These 10 novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
  • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and hiding out in inner-city Newark.
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