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Obama Honors Memory of Girl with Cancer Research BillA 10-year-old girl who died of brain cancer is leaving a legacy for other sick children in a new law signed by President Barack Obama.Obama signed the bipartisan Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It directs $126 million in federal money to be spent over the next decade to research pediatric cancer and other childhood disorders. Her parents and brother watched Obama sign the bill.Read more:


Obama Honors Memory of Girl with Cancer Research Bill

A 10-year-old girl who died of brain cancer is leaving a legacy for other sick children in a new law signed by President Barack Obama.

Obama signed the bipartisan Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It directs $126 million in federal money to be spent over the next decade to research pediatric cancer and other childhood disorders. Her parents and brother watched Obama sign the bill.

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"Race doesn’t matter!" , "Isn’t science just science?! why bring race into it!!", "It is not about the colour of skin!" meanwhile in the real world:

Is There a Bias Against Black Scientists? Funding Sparse for Minority Researchers

Black researchers and other minorities face nearly insurmountable barriers against career success, according to new research.

A February 2014 article in the Journal of Career Development details the work experiences of minority researchers in the social sciences.

Rebecca R. Kameny of the 3-C Institute for Social Development in North Carolina, directed the study, which collected data from people of color who attended a workshop on the topic of career barriers.

An astounding 72 percent of participants reported encountering workplace barriers due to their race or ethnicity.

Racism: A Sad History

Bias against minority researchers is not a new subject. In 2011, Donna K. Ginthner and her associates published a study about the NIH and grants to minority researchers. (The NIH, or National Institute of Health, is a government agency that serves as one of the prime supporters of scientific research.)

The Ginther study examined the rates at which grants were given to 83,000 researchers. Unfortunately, they found that the funding agency is biased against African Americans who submitted grant applications. According to the study, blacks are 13% less likely than equally-qualified white candidates to receive funding that is initiated by an NIH investigator.

The study’s writers explained that the researchers’ race is not always written on the application, but the applications’ reviewers could infer race from the applicants’ names and places of study. Without receiving federal funding, a researcher is less likely to receive a teaching position, less likely to be given tenure, and has more difficulty procuring funding to produce research and publish in scholarly journals. Ultimately, the repercussions of grant refusal are reflected in the face of academia.

When the study was published, the director of the NIH noted that the data is troubling and the situation is unacceptable. The NIH launched a $500 million, 10-year program to support young minorities in science. It is also considering changing its review process to review grant proposals anonymously to prevent this issue in the future.

Bias Against Blacks: Misinterpreted Data?

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Informetrics, however, contradicts the premise of bias against black researchers. The study, led by Jiansheng Yang of Virginia Tech, paints a different picture, concluding that the NIH review process contains no inherent racial bias.

Yang and his associates reviewed the work of 40 black faculty members and 80 white faculty members at U.S. medical schools. They assessed the scientists’ productivity, based on the number of publications they wrote, their role on each paper, and the prominence of the journals in which they published. Overall, Wang’s team found that the black faculty members were less productive than their white colleagues.

The researchers then reviewed the work of 11 of those black researchers and 11 of those white researchers who had received NIH funding. When they compared blacks and whites who had the same level of productivity, they found that people of both races received the same level of NIH funding. Wang concluded that funding is determined by level of success, and not by race.

Not Apples to Apples

Ginther, who found ample evidence of the NIH’s racial bias, argued in Science that Wang did not study the same aspects of the process that she did, so he cannot refute her claim. She noted that Wang’s study examined only a small number of researchers, and also looked only at how much funding they received, instead of whether they had a chance of receiving funding in the first place.

Ginther also noted that the black scientists’ lower level of productivity pointed to their difficulty in receiving positive mentoring, which is a further function of bias.

Discrimination is Not Dead

It seems that a majority of African Americans would agree with Ginther’s point about bias. A 2013 Pew Research study about discrimination in America found that a full 88% of blacks reported that there is discrimination against blacks. 46 % believe that there is a lot of discrimination, and the rest report feeling some discrimination.

Interestingly, white Americans agree that blacks are discriminated against, but to a lesser degree. Only 16% of whites feel that there is a lot of discrimination, but 41% sense some discrimination.

Regardless of percentages and perceptions, race-based barriers to success have no place in academia or the workplace.


Rejection Reconsidered

Paradigms Lost

Frankly, a lot of people are going to give a damn about new findings by Fadi Lakkis and colleagues. It turns out that organ rejection in transplantation doesn’t happen for the reasons scientists had assumed.

Fadi Lakkis, an MD and scientific director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, appreciates the elegance of simplicity. He has an affinity for the simpler question. He savors a good, clean, simple answer. One summer, before he started medical school at the American University of Beirut, he spent his time reading several books on immunology. One of the books was extremely well, and simply, written, he remembers. “That attracted my attention that someone can explain things in a very simple way,” he says. “It turned out to be quite exciting.”

As the young man progressed through his medical education, the intricacies of kidney disease also captured his imagination, again for the straight- forwardness of the physiology. “I found that in nephrology you can diagnose a problem just by understanding the science behind it,” he says. “Instead of having to memorize a set of symptoms and signs and then make a diagnosis, I thought, ‘Oh, if I understood how the kidney handles sodium, I [could] understand why this patient’s sodium is low and what to do to treat it.’ To me it was very appealing that you can start with a very simple thing and then make a very complex diagnosis.”

More recently, Lakkis (professor of surgery, immunology, and medicine, who holds the Frank and Athena Sarris Chair in Transplantation Biology at the University of Pittsburgh) asked a simple biological question about organ rejection in transplant patients. The answer surprised everyone, turned a long-held assumption on end—and just may pave the way for better, and much-hoped-for, antirejection therapies.

Finding a way to achieve tolerance is a lofty goal for many people. For transplant immunologists, it’s the quest of a lifetime. Many a transplant scientist has spent a career looking for a way for the human body to accept an organ without having to resort to immunosuppressive medication.

That’s not to say that contemporary immunosuppressive medication hasn’t been a godsend. It’s allowed for countless successful transplants, legions of lives saved. And over the years the regimen has been finessed, most notably by Pitt’s Thomas E. Starzl. Starzl developed a two-pronged immunosuppressive approach that reduces the amount of drugs a transplant patient takes. Even at the minimum effective dosage, though, the side effects can be unpleasant—and a suppressed immune system lacks the basic ammunition to fight off opportunistic infections and other attacks on the body, such as malignancies.

There are some reports of patients, a handful, becoming tolerant of grafted organs on their own. In other cases, bone marrow trans- plants have convinced the immune system to halt the attack on the organ. “It’s a little bit drastic,” Lakkis says of that approach. Patients have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation to eliminate their own bone marrow, which leaves them at great risk for infection until the donor bone marrow starts to kick in. “It’s a bit too much for someone coming in for a kidney transplant,” says Lakkis, especially knowing that the immunosuppressive medications are a feasible, if not perfect, course of action.

So the search for tolerance continues. A few years ago, Lakkis decided to go about it from a different angle. “When something has been resistant to good solutions for so many years,” he says, “you start worrying a bit that you’ve been missing something.” He decided to question the fundamental mechanisms of rejection—starting with a paradigm that has been accepted for the past 25 years.

“Organ rejection may seem quite complex,” he says. “In reality, it’s dependent on a single cell type—without that cell type, rejection will not happen. That cell is the T cell. If you take an animal or human that does not have T cells, they will not reject.” The T cell is a lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell originating in the thymus (hence the “T”). It has to get activated—prepared for duty—before it can go to the transplanted organ and initiate rejection. Some T cells are memory cells; they’re already primed by past infections or vaccinations to fight the foreign tissue. Other T cells are naïve and have to be turned into effector T cells before they’re ready to go up against what they perceive to be the enemy—the grafted tissue.

Lakkis was interested in taking another look at exactly how the activated T cells got to the graft. The paradigm involved chemokines—a flexible set of small proteins that can handily fold themselves up and pass through from one side of a membrane to the other. When tissue is inflamed, certain chemokines are present in droves. And a transplanted organ will inevitably result in lots of inflammation, particularly in the delicate endothelium lining of blood vessels.

The long-held assumption was that the crowd of chemokines signaled the T cells to get their attention. An inflamed endothelium is a sticky place. The T cells would slowly roll through the endothelium to the chemokines. Once they met up, receptors on the T cells would bind to the chemokines. With the T cell firmly adhered to the chemokine, the T cells slide smoothly through the barrier of the endothelium and into the grafted tissue where the T cells can initiate the rejection process. You can see how it would follow that if you blocked the chemokines from signaling, you would stop the rejection process. However, attempts to do that had been unsuccessful.

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How Social Networks Are Making Us Smarter

Many believe the secret to why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks and our ability to imitate — more important qualities than individual intelligence, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia.

As published by the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences, investigators show that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive generations.

“This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” says Muthukrishna, who co-authored the research with UBC Prof. Joseph Henrich.

image via flickr:CC | hanspoldoja

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Hermaphrodite Sea Slug Stabs Mate in Head During Sex

Cats may bite, and geese may have barbed penises, but one newly described hermaphroditic sea slug has taken violent animal sex to a new level by stabbing its mates in the head.

The perpetrator of this bizarre act, Siphotperon sp. 1, is a small sea slug found off the northeast coast of Australia. A simultaneous hermaphrodite, it has both male and female reproductive organs that it uses simultaneously during sex.

For its male organ, the slug has a two-pronged penis consisting of a penile bulb that transfers sperm, and a separate, needlelike appendage called a penile stylet that stabs and injects partners with prostate fluid-containing sex hormones called allohormones.

This stabbing behavior, known as traumatic secretion transfer, is fairly common amongst hermaphroditic sea slugs, and does not actually traumatize the slug — the term trauma refers to the Greek translation as “wound.” The behavior is well documented, but still not very well understood. It is thought to help individuals increase reproductive success by either inhibiting fertilization by others or increasing fertilization by their own sperm, but this remains unclear.

Researchers have also noted that different species, and even members within the same species, stab mates in different regions of the body, raising the question of how these individuals decide where to aim their shots.

Is Brain Project the Apollo of Our Time?

This spring, President Obama announced what could be this generation’s defining national science effort — an ambitious mission to map the human brain. In its size and scope, the project could claim a place in human culture on par with previous landmarks, like the moon landings and the Human Genome Project, experts say.

Big, national science efforts do more than just direct the science-funding spigot; they can also become a part of the culture. These kinds of national undertakings seep into the arts, pop culture — and the popular consciousness, said Cyrus Mody, a professor of science, technology and engineering at Rice University. “People start to think in the terms that define these projects.”

The brain-mapping initiative (officially BRAIN, for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technlogies) headlines a series of White House “Grand Challenges,” defined as “ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination.” The point, then, is not simply to tackle big questions, but also to shape the culture.


Scientists Report First Success in Cloning Human Stem Cells

It’s been 17 years since Dolly the sheep was cloned from a mammary cell. And now scientists applied the same technique to make the first embryonic stem cell lines from human skin cells.

Ever since Ian Wilmut, an unassuming embryologist working at the Roslin Institute just outside of Edinburgh stunned the world by cloning the first mammal, Dolly, scientists have been asking – could humans be cloned in the same way? Putting aside the ethical challenges the question raised, the query turned out to involve more wishful thinking than scientific success. Despite the fact that dozens of other species have been cloned using the technique, called nuclear transfer, human cells have remained stubbornly resistant to the process.

Until now. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University and his colleagues report in the journal Cell that they have successfully reprogrammed human skin cells back to their embryonic state. The purpose of the study, however, was not to generate human clones but to produce lines of embryonic stem cells. These can develop into muscle, nerve, or other cells that make up the body’s tissues. The process, he says, took only a few months, a surprisingly short period to reach such an important milestone.

Nuclear transfer involves inserting a fully developed cell – in Mitalipov’s study, the cells came from the skin of fetuses – into the nucleus of an egg, and then manipulating the egg to start dividing, a process that normally only occurs after it has been fertilized by a sperm. After several days, the ball of cells that results contains a blanket of embryonic stem cells endowed with the genetic material of the donor skin cell, which have the ability to generate every cell type from that donor. In Dolly’s case, those cells were allowed to continue developing into an embryo that was then transferred to a ewe to produce a cloned sheep. But Mitalipov says his process with the human cells isn’t designed to generate a human clone, but rather just to create the embryonic stem cells. These could then be manipulated to create heart, nerve or other cells that can repair or treat disease.

“I think this is a really important advance,” says Dieter Egli, an investigator at the New York Stem Cell Foundation. “I have a very high confidence that versions of this technique will work very well; it’s something that the field has been waiting for.” Egli is among the handful of scientists who have been working to perfect the technique with human cells and in 2011, succeeded in producing human stem cells, but with double the number of chromosomes. In 2004, Woo Suk Hwang, a veterinary scientist at Seoul National University, claimed to have succeeded in achieving the feat, but later admitted to faking the data. Instead of generating embryonic stem cell lines via nuclear transfer, Hwang’s group produced the stem cells from days-old embryos, a technique that had already been established by James Thomson at University of Wisconsin in 1998.

Full Article


Some beautiful night shots on our visit to Hastings Natural Reserve.   While we only got to see this one night, seasonal researchers who live on the reserve get to see these views for several months of the year!


The Acorn Woodpecker stores acorns in oak trees for food.  They’re constantly pecking holes in trees and have a system where as the acorn dries and shrinks they move it to a smaller hole higher up the tree.

On our visit to Hastings Natural Reserve one of the things that we noticed is that our cabin had metal plates on it and this was to protect the structure from damage from these birds. 

We met researchers there who have been studying these woodpeckers as part of a multi-decade study that focuses on their cooperative breeding habits.  They had setup posts on trees to track the acorns since this is an important food source and plays a role in the bird’s ability to find mates.

[top image via sea25bill on flickr]


Seastars are the canaries in the coal mine for climate change

At the Bodega Marine Lab, Eric Sanford studies sea stars and mussels to determine how climate change will affect ecosystems along the California coast.

“Our results suggest that if during the summertime there are more warm events, then this can have a really big effect on marine ecosystems.  What we found is that sea stars are actually really sensitive to small changes in temperature, they get really stressed out and they consume fewer mussels and end up growing a lot less.”

PhD Comics has a great video about the research process… all explained in 2 minutes…

“I’m not trying to solve a puzzle, I’m trying to open the box and find the pieces.”


Overly Honest Methods: Uncovering the hilarious truth behind how science actually gets done

Earlier this week, in a fit of comedic inspiration, a postdoc named Leigh tweeted a funny lab confession and included the hashtag #overlyhonestmethods. By the end of the day, dozens of scientists had joined in, and the result is nothing short of hilarious.

Science is an incredibly painstaking and difficult process, and in addition to being quite funny, these tweets pull back the curtain on just how human a process research really is. Some of them had me raising my eyebrows right after I finished giggling, because please tell me you didn’t actually do that. Others had me nodding sagely in agreement, because sometimes you drop a tube or run out of a chemical and the world has to keep on turning, man.

Check out this collection of 75 of the best, and Robert Gonzalez has picked quite a few gems at io9. What are your favorites? Got any confessions?


Electrons are known to possess both particle and wave proprieties; and are able to surpass classically forbidden barriers as a result of their wavelike characteristics. This phenomenon is a quantum mechanical effect known as ‘tunneling.’ Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) is an analytical technique that uses a piezoelectric tip to produce a tunneling current between a conducting or semi-conducting material and the tip; and ultimately results in a topographic map of the surface at a near-atomic level. An STM image of graphite is shown. The dark spots represent the centers of the 6-membered carbon rings. Using this technique, the lattice constant and bond length between adjacent carbon atoms can be calculated.


Electrons are known to possess both particle and wave proprieties; and are able to surpass classically forbidden barriers as a result of their wavelike characteristics. This phenomenon is a quantum mechanical effect known as ‘tunneling.’ Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) is an analytical technique that uses a piezoelectric tip to produce a tunneling current between a conducting or semi-conducting material and the tip; and ultimately results in a topographic map of the surface at a near-atomic level. An STM image of graphite is shown. The dark spots represent the centers of the 6-membered carbon rings. Using this technique, the lattice constant and bond length between adjacent carbon atoms can be calculated.


Fig. 7. Effect of PDGF-BB on microfilament reorganization, as revealed by phalloidin staining. Quiescent mesonephric mesenchymal cells (A) were stimulated for 15 minutes (B) with PDGF-BB (10 ng/ml). Note that treated cells exhibit a rapid change in microfilament reorganization and in cellular morphology (phalloidin staining at the leading edge of the cell and extensions of lamellipodia). Bar, 20 μm.

Antonella Puglianiello et al, Expression and role of PDGF-BB and PDGFR-β during testis morphogenesis in the mouse embryo; Journal of Cell Science, March 1, 2004 vol. 117 no. 7 1151-1160

The role played by PDGF in testis morphogenesis is still incompletely understood. The present study investigates the expression and potential role of platelet-derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB) and its receptor, PDGF receptor β (PDGFR-β), during mouse testis cord formation, and the possibility that the growth factor may be involved in the migration to the gonad of mesenchymal cells of mesonephric origin.


Green Bean Galaxies: New Kind of Galaxy Identified

A new galaxy class has been identified using observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Gemini South telescope, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). Nicknamed “green bean galaxies” because of their unusual appearance, these galaxies glow in the intense light emitted from the surroundings of monster black holes and are amongst the rarest objects in the Universe.

Many galaxies have a giant black hole at their centre that causes the gas around it to glow. However, in the case of green bean galaxies, the entire galaxy is glowing, not just the centre. These new observations reveal the largest and brightest glowing regions ever found, thought to be powered by central black holes that were formerly very active but are now switching off.

Astronomer Mischa Schirmer of the Gemini Observatory had looked at many images of the distant Universe, searching for clusters of galaxies, but when he came across one object in an image from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope he was stunned — it looked like a galaxy, but it was bright green. It was unlike any galaxy he had ever seen before, something totally unexpected. He quickly applied to use ESO’s Very Large Telescope to find out what was creating the unusual green glow.

“ESO granted me special observing time at very short notice and just a few days after I submitted my proposal, this bizarre object was observed using the VLT,” says Schirmer. “Ten minutes after the data were taken in Chile, I had them on my computer in Germany. I soon refocused my research activities entirely as it became apparent that I had come across something really new.”

The new object has been labelled J224024.1−092748 or J2240. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer) and its light has taken about 3.7 billion years to reach Earth.

After the discovery, Schirmer’s team searched through a list of nearly a billion other galaxies and found 16 more with similar properties, which were confirmed by observations made at the Gemini South telescope. These galaxies are so rare that there is on average only one in a cube about 1.3 billion light-years across. This new class of galaxies has been nicknamed green bean galaxies because of their colour and because they are superficially similar to, but larger than, green pea galaxies.

In many galaxies the material around the supermassive black hole at the centre gives off intense radiation and ionises the surrounding gas so that it glows strongly. These glowing regions in typical active galaxies are usually small, up to 10% of the diameter of the galaxy. However, the team’s observations showed that in the case of J2240, and other green beans spotted since, it is truly huge, spanning the entire object. J2240 displays one of the biggest and brightest such regions ever found. Ionised oxygen glows bright green, which explains the strange colour that originally caught Schirmer’s attention.

“These glowing regions are fantastic probes to try to understand the physics of galaxies — it’s like sticking a medical thermometer into a galaxy far, far away,” says Schirmer. “Usually, these regions are neither very large nor very bright, and can only be seen well in nearby galaxies. However, in these newly discovered galaxies they are so huge and bright that they can be observed in great detail, despite their large distances.”Astronomer Mischa Schirmer of the Gemini Observatory

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