A PseudoRealScientist no longer: farewell and thanks, Jack Scanlan


Mr Jack L. ‘Torture’ Scanlan, invertebrate molecular geneticist – which is not the same as inveterate molecular geneticist, although in Jack’s case it may be – was good enough to grace us with his presence this week as your host and ours on @RealScientists. This week we discovered the ideal insect to genetically modify to gigantic size in order to smash cities to dust, why Bjork is the patron background music of fly geneticists, how to conceal your swagger while loading electrophoresis gels in front of teenagers, which Drosophila species would win in a fight, what makes a scientist, the secret plans for world domination being hatched in the high-security wing of the Bio21 Institute, and what the DUF family of genes actually does. Wait, scratch that last one. That might take some further work on Jack’s part. There was also unfeasible amounts of gratuitous cross-promotion for Jack’s side interests in the Young Skeptics and the PseudoSciPod podcast. Between that and his own Twitter account you’ve frankly no excuse for not keeping in touch with what Jack’s up to after his curation stint is over. Which it is. No, seriously Jack, it’s over. Don’t make us change the passwords again. Put down the mic and step away…



Jack’s amazing 770+ tweets for RealScientists have been collected in two storify files: Part 1 (Sunday-Tuesday) and Part 2 (Wednesday-following Sunday). Lots of great conversations, photos and links to revisit.

Next week, because we like to change it up at RealScientists, and because what people do with science is to us as important and interesting as what people do to make science in the first place, we welcome Maylynn Nunn, marine biologist and senior fisheries assessment manager at the Marine Stewardship Council, talking about the science of sustainable seafood. Amongst a great many other things, of course!

Can’t get enough of that wonderful DUF: Jack Scanlan joins RealScientists

Jack Scanlan is a Master of Science student at the University of Melbourne researching insect detoxification genetics, a one-man over-thinking machine, and head editor of the Young Australian Skeptics. Once the LGBT movement succeeds in “destroying” the sacred institution of marriage, he plans on wedding the concept of science. But in the meantime, for the next week of @RealScientists, he’s all yours.

Jack’s research interests include molecular genetics, protein biochemistry and evolutionary biology, and the many ways that they can fit together. This includes things like metabolic evolution, protein family evolution, regulatory evolution, endosymbiosis, plant-insect interactions and xenobiotic detoxification. His Masters research project in the Robin Lab is focused on an uncharacterised phosphotransferase gene family in insects that may be involved in the detoxification of plant defence chemicals, and involves a lot of swearing at questionably-curated insect genome annotations with helpful descriptions like ‘Domain of Unknown Function’. Jack admires biologists who study humans, but falls asleep when he thinks too long about medicine, anatomy or immunology.

Caught the red-eye

Caught the red-eye

The gene family Jack is working on is called DUF227, is most informatively described as ‘a protein family of unknown function’, and may be involved in inactivating the insect moulting hormone ecdysone, hence their description by some molecular databases as ‘ecdysteroid kinases’ – a ‘kinase’ is an enzyme which adds a phosphate group to some other biological molecule, such as another enzyme or a steroid, to change its activity. A ‘phosphatase’ takes a phosphate group away. Some enzymes can do both functions. Together, both classes of enzymes are broadly called ‘phosphotransferases’ and are very important in regulation of development, metabolism and cell signalling throughout all forms of life. Regulating the activity of molecules by adding or taking away a phosphate group is a highly ‘conserved’ (in evolution-speak) process. While DUF227 has been characterised as an ecdysteroid phosphotransferase (read as: insect-steroid phosphate-group-transferring enzyme) in the silkworm, and a version of Drosophila (the fruit fly, which is a ‘model organism’ for insect genetics) DUF227 has been linked to organophosphate insecticide resistance, it’s still broadly unknown what the DUF227 family actually ‘does’ in a biochemical sense in other insect families, or what processes it’s involved in. It’s worth remembering that different families of insects are usually separated by massive evolutionary distances – several hundreds of millions of years, much greater than the differences between (for instance) mammalian groups – so information taken from one species may not be the story across all or most insects.

Passionate about the interaction of science, skepticism, philosophy, religion, media and society, Jack loves to communicate and develop ideas in any way he possibly can. In his non-science-based spare time, he’s partial to pretentious indie music, amateur audio production, clever comedy, iconic British sci-fi, and American political fantasy shows set on and around the fictional continent of Westeros.

When he’s not dictatorially overseeing the Young Australian Skeptics or producing/editing its podcast, The Pseudoscientists, Jack blogs for The Panda’s Thumb and Nature Education’s Student Voices, and has written for COSMOS Magazine as a freelancer. He writes about intelligent design, evolutionary biology and nonsense at Homologous Legs, his personal blog. Jack tweets at @JackLScanlan. He also has tremendous hair.

Jack RS big

So if you don’t know Jack, you will after this week. Please welcome him to RealScientists.