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Chemistry you can dance to

There's a certain grace to the interplay of DNA and RNA molecules ... and the scientists who study those molecules can be graceful as well. Evidence for that hypothesis is provided by the winners of this year's "Dance Your Ph.D." contest, led by Carleton University researcher Maureen McKeague. The journal Science has sponsored the contest annually since 2008 to reward efforts that transform research into interpretive dance. In this case, the reward was $1,000, and a rare chance to highlight complex chemistry with jazzy showtunes.

McKeague and her colleagues at Carleton's DeRosa Lab put together a medley to demonstrate a chemical technique known as SELEX, or systemic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment. The technique produces short segments of DNA and RNA called aptamers, in a process that mimics the natural phenomena of evolution and survival of the fittest. McKeague's mission is to find aptamers that can offer a cheap and accurate method to measure levels of the amino acid homocysteine in blood samples. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Discoblog's Jennifer Welsh says the soundtrack for the dance of the molecules is "worthy of its own 'Glee' episode." I, for one, would welcome an episode in which the kids in New Directions take their inspiration from biology class. Failing that, I'd love to see a "Dance Your Ph.D." entry that incorporates tunes from "Rocky Horror Picture Show," a la "Glee." Let's take "The Quantum Mechanics of Time Travel Through Post-selected Teleportation" ... and then let's do the time warp again.

Watch videos from all four finalists in the "Dance Your Ph.D. Contest" at the ScienceNow website. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page or following @b0yle on Twitter. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," Alan's book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.