The Big Day dawns at last. As the sun heaves itself out of the Atlantic Ocean this morning and Boston stirs to life, the Dicty World Race will roar into action in the Massachusetts General Hospital lab of Dan Irimia. Twenty teams have sent in their finely tuned racing organisms to settle the question of which will be faster in a race against the clock through a microfluidic maze, the Dictyostelium discoideum a.k.a. Dicty, the slime mold with a vast reputation (and literature), or a human neutrophil-like cell line called HL-60. You can follow the action live here.
The first line of Franklin Carrero-Martínez's CV is a showstopper—"Scientist, Diplomat and Educator with a Ph.D. in Neurobiology." But he comes by all of it honestly. As of this writing, Carrero- Martínez, who is in his second year as a AAAS Science & Technology (S&T) Policy Fellow, is in Mexico City. He has been officially posted for two months to the U.S. Embassy there by the U.S. State Department to advise on Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) issues, including working on a Mexican version of our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) technology transfer program. It's a policy level program to encourage Mexican researchers to bring new ideas out of their academic laboratories and into real world applications. U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto agreed on sharing this and other technology ideas in talks last May. As a Senior Science Policy Advisor in the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary (STAS for those keeping acronym score), Carrero- Martínez is in Mexico City to make it happen.
Before that, Carrero-Martínez held the Pakistan S&T portfolio at both the U.S State Department and the U.S. National Academies of Science. That was during his first year in Washington as a Roger Revelle Fellow in Global Stewardship, a special AAAS policy fellowship program for early career faculty. As a Revelle Fellow, Carrero-Martínez was free to find his own placements. He ended up with two and with two offices—one at the State Department and one at the U.S. National Academy of Science (NAS). In both places, Carrero-Martínez picked up the Pakistan S&T portfolio, which was an orphan. "I guess no one wanted Pakistan because it was so hard. But I found it not to be too difficult. I guess I enjoy the higher adrenalin of dealing with complex issues and walking that line."
If cells were cars, then the three pioneering cell biologists just named winners of the 2014 E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest scientific honor of the American Society for Cell Biology, helped write the essential parts list. William "Bill" Brinkley of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, John Heuser of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Peter Satir of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx identified crucial pieces of the cytoskeleton, the cell's shape-shifting framework, and showed how these elements drive life at the cellular level.
Tim Mitchison, former ASCB President and deputy chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, was one of 84 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). New members are elected annually by current members based on their research achievements. The NAS was established in 1853 by an Act of Congress with the goal of its members giving objective, independent advice on science and technology to the nation. Five hundred members of the NAS have won Nobel Prizes.
After a month of online voting by ASCB members, Peter Walter of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), was voted 2015 President-Elect. Walter, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will serve on the ASCB Executive Committee next year before becoming President in 2016 and continuing on as Past President in 2017.
Forget the Super Bowl. If you want to draw a HUGE crowd, throw a science and engineering open house in the Washington, DC, convention center. But get ready to stand back. This weekend, the USA Science & Engineering Festival attracted over 325,000 fans. Yes, you read that correctly—325,000 kids and adults turning out for a science event. Inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, they loaded up on gumdrop molecules or paper mutant Drosophilae. They wore Eppendorf tubes of precipitated DNA around their necks or carried plastic condiment cups filled with soil and germinating seeds. Some had "infection" stickers on their shirts, part of a Virus Tracker game to illustrate disease transmission. Fortunately for the massive crowd the event had more than 3,000 science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) activities inside the cavernous center waiting to soak up their attention.
The Kaluza Prizes to honor the best in graduate student bioscience research are growing. In announcing the opening of the 2014 Kaluza Prize competition, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), in collaboration with Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, said that the awards will increase to $5,000, $3,000, and $1,000 in ranked order for the top three winners.
ASCB Women in Cell Biology committee member Ora Weisz, of the University of Pittsburgh, was inducted last week into Johns Hopkins University's (JHU) Society of Scholars. The Society recognizes accomplished former JHU postdoctoral fellows or visiting faculty who have gained marked distinction elsewhere. Just over 600 people have been inducted into the society since 1969. Weisz joined distinguished academics from around the world for an induction ceremony at JHU's Peabody Institute on April 7.
Calling it "a recipe for long-term decline," four of the nation's most distinguished cell biologists describe the present U.S. system of biomedical research as "unsustainable" and "hypercompetitive," calling for a sweeping rebalancing of bioscience education, funding, and direction. In a "Perspective" just published in PNAS, Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus advocate reforms in the scientific workforce with a gradual reduction in the number of students accepted into biomedical PhD programs and an increase in compensation for postdoctoral fellows but limits on the length of fellowships. Alberts et al. propose a reordering of government research funding priorities, using sunset provisions to rein in large, ongoing research programs while favoring proposals from young investigators that "emphasize originality and risk-taking, especially in new areas of science." They support the recent controversial decision by NIH to look at the total grant portfolio of laboratories receiving more than $1 million a year when evaluating any new proposals.
It isn't your imagination. The recent ups and downs in biomedical research funding have made for turbulent times in academic laboratories across the US. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel points out in her overview article to an imaginatively reported "News Focus" section last week in Science on the work force and funding crisis in biomedical science that the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003 from around $14 billion to $27 billion but remained essentially flat for the next five years. The 2009 federal stimulus package created a bump in spending of an additional $10.4 billion but the "regular" NIH budget continued to lose altitude as inflation ate away at the actual value of flat funding. Then came last year's heart-stopping federal shutdown and the sickening 5% across the board sequester nose dive. The net result is that the number of R01 principal investigators (PI) has remained virtually static over the last 13 years: NIH funded 20,458 PIs in 2000 and 21,511 PIs in 2013.