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ArsenicLife Goes Longform, And History Gets Squished

By Carl Zimmer, Discover Magazine

 

If you haven’t been tracking the arsenic life saga closely over the past ten months, check out Tom Clynes’s big feature at Popular Science. It focuses on the travails of Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the lead author on the paper, who has gone from the Olympian heights of TED talks to getting “evicted” from the lab where she’s worked for the past couple years. (Her word.)

For those of us who’ve been tracking the story for a while, that last fact popped out. Wolfe-Simon had been working in the lab of her co-author Ronald Oremland, but that’s now over. Let’s recall that her senior colleagues dubbed the intriguing microbe she studied GFAJ-1, for “Get Felicia A Job.”

It’s a good article. I won’t be forgetting the opening scene anytime soon, when Wolfe-Simon is ambivalently posing for a television crew, and she sinks into the mud of Mono Lake, where she first encountered GFAJ-1.

But I do share some of the reservations that science writer David Dobbs expresses over at his blog Neuron Culture. As a genre, the profile is one of the most addictive and enjoyable of all. It doesn’t matter if the profile is of a hero or a scoundrel; the story is good as long as it’s full of human nature in all its extremes. But profiles of scientists are tricky, because science transcends any single individual scientist. To do the science justice, you may need to pull the spotlight away and get into the less human stuff, like chemical reactions and pH levels.

The story thus focuses mainly on Wolfe-Simon, with scientific critics effectively reduced to mean chair-throwers, their scientific objections dispatched in a couple lines. People and events are relevant insofar as they affect Wolfe-Simon. And in the process, Clynes writes some mystifying stuff … 

READ ON…

 

Click here to read the full post on DiscoverMagazine.com

 

 

Pioneer Geneticist Biologist James Watson with Molecular Model of DNA
Pioneer Geneticist Biologist James Watson with Molecular Model of DNA
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