Science News

Science News-February

Public health workers killed in Nigeria. Eleven public health workers involved in a polio vaccination campaign in northern Nigeria were assassinated on February 8. Meanwhile, 2013’s first confirmed case of wild-type polio occurred in Karachi, Pakistan; a rash of killings of polio workers occurred in that country in the end of 2012. Poliovirus, target of a global eradication effort, remains endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

School of Public Health weighs in on national gun conversation. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a summit on gun violence in mid-January; this week, the proceedings were published along with a list of policy recommendations.

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The NIH continues to run, fund grants. The eleventh-hour fiscal cliff deal delayed planned sequestration of funds for discretionary spending, including research funding, for two months to allow further negotiation. Whether this cut will go into effect as written remains uncertain. The NIH reduced its award rate for non-competitive grant renewals in October of 2012, and will continue to fund renewals at a reduced rate at least until the budget for fiscal year 2013 is finalized.

Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini has died. The Italian neuroscientist and senator-for-life was 102. She received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of nerve growth factor, the first diffusible growth factor to be described.

Sub-absolute-zero temperatures attained. Physicists at the Ludwig-Maximilianus University Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have generated a stable gaseous system with negative kelvin temperature and extraordinarily high kinetic energy.

Unusually harsh flu season hits area hospitals. The CDC reports an unusually high number of outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms, both nationally and in Maryland. Influenza season usually peaks in late January or early February. Meanwhile, Google Flu Trends has proven useful in predicting local outbreaks weeks in advance.

Publication Spotlight: December 2012

Publication spotlight is a series designed to showcase noteworthy BCMB publications from students and faculty. If you have a recent publication that you are proud of, tell us about it.

January

Wang JT, Seydoux G. Germ cell specification. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013;757:17-39. Review. PMID: 22872473.

Baile MG, Claypool SM. The power of yeast to model diseases of the powerhouse of the cell. Front Biosci. 2013 Jan 1;18:241-78. PMID: 23276920.

December

Wang Y, Rattner A, Zhou Y, Williams J, Smallwood PM, Nathans J. Norrin/Frizzled4 signaling in retinal vascular development and blood brain barrier plasticity. Cell. 2012 Dec 7;151(6):1332-44. PMID: 23217714.

Han L, Ma C, Liu Q, Weng HJ, Cui Y, Tang Z, Kim Y, Nie H, Qu L, Patel KN, Li Z, McNeil B, He S, Guan Y, Xiao B, Lamotte RH, Dong X. A subpopulation of nociceptors specifically linked to itch. Nat Neurosci. 2012 Dec 23. PMID: 23263443.

September

Tu-Sekine B, Goldschmidt H, Petro E, Raben DM. Diacylglycerol kinase θ: Regulation and stability. Adv Biol Regul. 2012 Sep 20. PMID: 23266086.

Sisk JM, Clements JE, Witwer KW. miRNA Profiles of Monocyte-Lineage Cells Are Consistent with Complicated Roles in HIV-1 Restriction. Viruses. 2012 Sep 25;4(10):1844-64. PMID: 23202444.

October

Deng K, Zink MC, Clements JE, Siliciano RF. A quantitative measurement of antiviral activity of anti-human immunodeficiency virus type 1 drugs against simian immunodeficiency virus infection: dose-response curve slope strongly influences class-specific inhibitory potential. J Virol. 2012 Oct;86(20):11368-72. PMID: 22875968.

Nalayanda DD, Puleo C, Fulton WB, Sharpe LM, Wang TH, Abdullah F. An open-access microfluidic model for lung-specific functional studies at an air-liquid interface. Biomed Microdevices. 2009 Oct;11(5):1081-9. PMID: 19484389.

If you have publication you would like featured in this month’s Spotlight, please let us know.

Science News

Insights into cellular traffic jams:  Biophysicists at UMass Amherst have shed further light on dynamic conditions in a cell using quantum dots (Qdots) and a custom fluorescent microscope. The team set out to better understand active motor transport of large organelles over long distances in a crowded cellular environment. In their model, they used Qdots attached to kinesin motors and show that cellular cargos associate new motors to overcome traffic jams along microtubules.  The paper by Ross J, et. al. is in the current edition of PNAS® and can be found in online here http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/11/28/1209304109.

Flu vaccine enters the modern era: The USFDA approved the first cell culture based seasonal flu vaccine. Vaccines have been made historically in chicken-egg based systems largely due to its widely accepted safety and efficacy. Growing demands and greater incidences of ‘flu emergencies’ like the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 have led to adopting alternative methods of vaccine production. The vaccine Flucelvax, made by Novartis, is already approved in the European Union and is made in canine kidney epithelial cells. The US is the single largest market for seasonal flu vaccines. The US department of Health hopes to tackle any future flu pandemics by this new process of faster vaccine production.

2 strikes and you’re out: the NIH has decided to stick to its rule that allows only one resubmission of a grant if the first proposal was rejected. This peer reviewed policy, instituted in 2009, is unpopular within the scientific community which argued that in an era of low funding, this rule made many worthy projects ineligible for consideration and curbed the learning curve for grant writing among junior scientists. This led to a 2011 petition signed by more than 2300 scientists asking the NIH to revert back to allowing a second resubmission of a grant that has been previously rejected.

Martian Carbon: The NASA Mars Curiosity Rover has fully analyzed its first Martian soil sample and found carbon, water, sulfur and chlorine-containing substances. The team of scientists working on the analysis are not sure about the origin of Martian organic compounds yet suspecting it could also be of meteorite origin.

Year End Lists: Nature Medicine® released a list of high profile drug approvals and failures for 2012. The list can be found here: http://bit.ly/11GGj01

Algae, SARS, and Talking Whales: Science News

This past month, the National Research Council (NRC) determined that large-scale production of biofuels from algae will not be cost- and energy-effective with current technologies.  Although algae-based biofuel production has been explored for the past thirty years, the process has recently become more popular due to the fact that algae growth doesn’t take away land from food crops.  Other biofuel production methods that use corn or sugar as the starting material require land that normally produces sustenance for humans and animals, but algae can be grown in shallow outdoor ponds or bioreactors that can utilize land unsuitable for farming.

This figure shows how biofuels are obtained from algae.

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A Career Planning Tool for Trainees & Mentors: myIDP

How many mentors in academic science are well-versed in the career path one takes to be a science policy analyst?  Scientific consultant?  Sales and marketing?  Unless the mentor has undertaken a side venture of their own, chances are that their experience outside academia is limited.  This can be a frustrating situation for both the mentor and their trainee who wishes to explore these non-academic career paths.  Bruce Alberts, editor of Science, and Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers think that they have developed a tool to help both mentors and trainees who find themselves in this situation.

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Aerial silk dancers and the launch of the Nature ENCODE Project

Science-related social media was abuzz on September 5, 2012 in regards to the launch of the Nature ENCODE database.  @NatureMagazine could not contain their excitement, with a variety of tweets:  announcing the new venture, linking to the database, movies about the database, and even pictures of aerial silk dancers at their Nature ENCODE launch press conference.

The Nature ENCODE Project launch press conference included aerial silk dancers, seen here imitating concatenated DNA. The image was reproduced from http://www.facebook.com/nature.

Aerial silk dancers? Yes, these dancers were imitating various DNA elements, including looped DNA (as seen above) and primed DNA polymerases, found here.

What was the reason for all this fanfare? What is Nature ENCODE?

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