John Fleischman

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

It was either serendipity or the anxiety of an entire generation of graduate students coming to a boil, but last fall something triggered an explosion of science advocacy on the Emory University campus in Atlanta. A grad student "advocacy journal club" has sprung to life with 50 members, ambitious plans for organizing more, and a working alliance with the dean and with Emory's Office of Governmental Affairs.

NIH Director Francis Collins yesterday unveiled an unusual open access alliance of 10 "biopharmaceutical" companies and eight nonprofits to wade through the growing flood of bio data on four diseases—Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes, and the autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus—to identify therapeutic targets and characterize biomarkers. All data and analyses will be publicly shared. The pharma and nonprofit allies will put up $230 million over five years in hopes of making translational sense of the mass of new imaging, "omic" sequencing, and other data on these four diseases with massive impacts on public health. The new alliance is called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP).

Amoebae, start your engines. Dictyostelium discoideum a.k.a. Dicty, the slime mold with a vast reputation (and literature) as an experimental model system, will go head to head (or leading edge to leading edge) next May against a neutrophil challenger, a human neutrophil-like cell line called HL-60, in a desperate race through a microfluidic maze. The winning cells will get a drink of chemical attractant and their human managers cash (amount undetermined but likely small) and fame (fleeting).

In nominating John Pringle for the E.B. Wilson Medal, the ASCB's highest scientific honor, Daniel Lew, who is now at the Duke University Medical Center, described his friend and collaborator as the "father" of yeast cell biology. David Drubin, who introduced Pringle's Wilson lecture at the ASCB Annual Meeting last month in New Orleans, took it further. "Today it's hard to appreciate that back in the '70s and '80s, a lot of cell biologists didn't accept yeast as a eukaryotic cell," explained Drubin, a leading yeast cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Consider it a triumphant return appearance. Their roles and most of all their science had changed in the dozen years since Elaine Fuchs, then president of the ASCB, introduced her keynote speaker at the 2001 ASCB Annual Meeting, Craig Venter. That had been during Venter's first big moment in the world media spotlight as head of Celera, his private "shotgun" gene sequencing company that had just completed the first draft of the human genome in an uneasy alliance with the public consortium led by the National Institutes of Health. Already a leading investigator of stem cells, a term that was just coming into the public consciousness in 2001, Fuchs was about to move to the Rockefeller University in New York City.

In the pantheon of Great Biologists, there are major discoveries and powerful insights but great humor is more or less limited to GBS Haldane's wisecrack about evolution revealing the Creator's "inordinate fondness for beetles." But if you're looking for funny in cell biology, try the pantheon's very small humour annex in Chicago where Stan Cohn teaches at DePaul University and studies diatoms, the vast group of unicellular algae that anchors the oceanic food, acts as water pollution markers, and continues to intrigue cell biologists because of their silica cell walls and exquisite photo sensitivity.

Insurrection, intellectual rebellion, or learned remonstrance, call it what you will, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, or DORA, began one year ago this week in a windowless meeting room in the depths of the Moscone Convention Center when a group of scientists, journal editors, and publishers decided they had a common problem that needed addressing—the journal impact factor, or JIF.

It is the Talk of Talks. Win the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology and you get an hour in the brand new 1,000-seat Aula Medica of the Karolinska Institutet in which to explain the science that earned your airfare to Stockholm. In your Nobel lecture, you can thank your mentors, colleagues, and former labbies plus include a wave hello to family. You can also point out the philosophical implications of your work or issue a dire warning.

One is an insider who just came in from the outside, the other, an outsider serving as an advisor at the very highest level. But both are key players in the future of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Both will be on stage at the ASCB Annual Meeting in New Orleans on Monday, December 16, at 1:30 pm in Room 356.

An experiment: Some warm and starry night, take two senior cell biologists out on a boat. Put wine or beer or something that signals "closed for the day" into one hand and a copy of Craig Venter's latest book, Life At the Speed of Light into the other. (You might have to hold the flashlight.) Ask aloud, "So what do you think of Craig Venter?" Be prepared for a long but interesting night.