Dear fellow bench scientist,
I cannot tell a lie. Dr. Washington is off today. But if you're working hard in the lab, either because your PI or your inner PI (you) requires it, Dr. Washington has a workaround. Sure, your Facebook friends are posting selfies with their President or El Presidente cocktails. But put down the beaker of despair (think of alcohol as just more glassware to wash) and take Dr. Washington's Instant Holiday.
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).
"Why is my bench sticky?" one card asks. If the answers, "Rotation students" or "Because the Bible says so," strike you as particularly funny, then you need to download and print out a new open-source card game called Cards Against Science. It was created by a physicist for scientists including non-physicists (like cell biologists), although with its references to spermatozoa and Drosophila, it wouldn't hurt to know your pipette from your elbow.
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).
Making pluripotent stem cells, cells with the ability to turn into almost any cell type, is easier than ever, according to new papers published this week in Nature. Just add stress.
By creating laboratory systems that can accurately model all kinds of normal and diseased human cells, tissues, and even organs, advances in stem cell culturing techniques could open the way for a "new era of human cell biology," Lawrence Goldstein, chair of the ASCB Stem Cell Task Force, told the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Advisory Council meeting on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, Friday. "There are tremendous opportunities using stem cell technologies... to advance our understanding of basic biological principles," Goldstein of the University of California, San Diego, told the NIGMS council when presenting the task force's recommendations. "There are some programmatic goals we think will help us get there," he said.
Just when it seemed that the pool of research funding was down to puddles, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced Wednesday a national open competition for 20-25 new HHMI investigators who will be awarded $150 million in new funds over the next five years. All applications are self-nominations and endorsement letters are only required if the candidate becomes a semifinalist.
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.
Time-lapse movies of a cellular "heaven and hell," a dividing crane fly sperm cell undergoing, and the early development of muscle cells were recognized with the top three awards in the American Society for Cell Biology's Celldance "Really Useful" Cell Biology Video Contest for 2013. The special Public Outreach Award went to a group of cell biologists at the Dartmouth College, Geisel School of Medicine who danced their favorite cellular processes as The Cell Dance.