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.

The Kanawha River cuts through Charleston, West Virginia, on its way north to join the Ohio. On this brilliant October morning, the sun is quickly burning off the fog filling the river bottoms and setting the golden dome on the state capitol ablaze. It is the perfect fall Saturday for tossing a football or raking leaves. And yet 70 grad students, postdocs, and biology faculty turn up at the West Virginia University (WVU) Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center to hear and talk about cell biology.

A task force, organized by the ASCB to consider the next scientific steps in the stem cell revolution, unveiled its preliminary report on Friday Nov. 13. The report highlighted three "opportunities" for using cultured human embryonic (hES) and human induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells in both human and animal model systems. The ASCB Stem Cell Task Force predicted that the greatest scientific payoff for stem cell research in the next few years would come from strengthening our basic knowledge of cell and developmental biology, through better understanding of genetic variation within and between species, and finally by taking advantage of what's already been learned from stem cell biology about biological mechanisms to construct artificial or enhanced organs.

Sydney Brenner is, of course, the Nobel Prize winner who brought us Caenorhabditis elegans, the lab model organism. That should make Brenner "a man who needs no introduction" except in cell biology where historical amnesia is as common as Pipetman. As Brenner himself noted last year in Science, "I once remarked that all graduate students in biology divide history into two epochs: the past two years and everything else before that, where Archimedes, Newton, Darwin, Mendel—even Watson and Crick—inhabit a time-compressed universe as uneasy contemporaries." 

Recently the organizers of Celldance may have gone too far when they threatened to reveal the fates of all the characters on a certain retro TV dramatic serial involving Madison Avenue. The show is wreathed in cigarette smoke so we weren't feeling bad about choking it off.

Two pioneering online biology video sites, iBioSeminars and iBioMagazine, have undergone another step in their evolution and been merged to create a new website, Following the model of its predecessors, will continue to offer videos by world-class biologists for free.

Binge viewers planning to watch the entire run of a certain retro TV series involving a Madison Avenue advertising agency should leave the room. Celldance 2013 has obtained the plot outline for the final episode and is prepared to reveal what happens to every character (even the dead ones). However, you can distract us from this indiscretion while making cell biology "really useful" to the world and winning $500 in the process. All this can be done by submitting your winning video entry to Celldance 2013 by Wednesday, October 31, by 5:00 pm EDT.

A senior researcher who can't get an answer from a shutdown NIH about a proposed clinical trial on a neurodegenerative disease, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who fears that a generation of innovators will be lost, and a young investigator wearied at the lab by endless funding cuts and frustrated at home by the halt to promising research into a genetic disorder that affects her daughter

ASCB member Pascale Cossart of the Institut Pasteur in Paris won the 2013 International Balzan Prize, worth 750,000 Swiss francs (roughly $800,000), for her work on the molecular biology of pathogenic bacteria and their interaction with host cells. Speaking for the Balzan Foundation, Peter Suter, honorary vice president of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, said, "Her research has provided very significant insights into the mechanisms underlying infectious diseases and how they might be combatted."

The ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter is named for the German mathematician Theodor Kaluza (1885-1954), who is the namesake of Beckman Coulter's flow cytometry software system. The posthumous reputation of Kaluza, who was not a biologist but a German mathematician, has been on the rise in recent years, and the eponymous honor of a $5,000 cash prize for scientific achievement for an ASCB graduate student is only the latest feather.

ASCB's Public Policy Committee is running a dead-serious but amusing contest to collect group photos of every basic biology research lab in the U.S. It's called We Are Research, and the idea is to show the lab portraits to Congress as proof that scientists are flesh and blood and that if we continue to choke off science funding, those young smiling faces of future Nobel winners will go away. The sucking sound that Congress will hear in 5-10 years will be American leadership in bioscience and health research.