Archive by category | American Society for Cell Biology

Behind the Scenes at this year’s Cell Slam

I had a primo vantage point for this year’s Cell Slam, ably covered by our intrepid reporter Ewen Callaway here. Cell Slam is a free form poetry and performance art competition for life science geeks. There are few rules to follow — basically three minutes, a mic and no Powerpoint — and the event drew quite a crowd. I was involved (as an absurdly non-illustrious member of an otherwise illustrious panel of judges, including NYTimes’ Natalie Angier, WaPo’s Rick Weiss, NPR’s Joe Palca, Science’s Jennifer Couzin, and NIH director Elias Zerhouni), so I can’t really cover the event in an official unbiased way. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share just a bit of what went on behind the scenes.  Read more

Soup, meet sandwich.

I stopped in for a press briefing today on the origins of life. It’s one of the few talks I’ve seen at the American Society for Cell Biology meeting that had no cells in it whatsoever. One of the great questions of our time has been how complex molecules began to aggregate in meaningful ways and pitch forward into something that could be recognized as life. The Stanley Miller experiments helped establish the idea that some primordial soup gave rise to complex interacting organisms. But folks have recongized that in a vast sea – or even a small puddle, interactions wouldn’t be energetically favourable or concentrated enough to get anywhere.  Read more

What to expect from the new NIH peer review

Since at least June, NIH peer review, the process by which the bulk of U.S. federal funding for biomedical research is meted out, has been under an intense review process by two groups working in parallel. The reason, funding increases haven’t kept pace with inflation and the biomedical research community is feeling the pinch. With slim funding prospects the approval rate for funding proposals has dropped from a historic 25% to somewhere around 10%. At ASCB Keith Yamamoto of UCSF, Mary Beckerle of the University of Utah, and Katherine Wilson of Johns Hopkins University talked about some of the radical ideas that have been floating around to totally revamp the process by which investigators compete for funding.  Read more

Germ cell epigenetics (and why I’m glad I’m not colour blind)

There was an interesting session on epigenetics at ASCB this evening. Epigenetics is a term with a slippery definition, but it is basically the study of changes to the way the genome is managed that are heritable but generally don’t affect the genome sequence itself. A lot of research in this area looks at the histone proteins around which DNA wraps, and the specific chemical modifications that can be made to them that in turn appear to affect gene expression in a persistent way.  Read more

ELSO gets absorbed

I talked to Kai Simons today. He’s the fellow who, I think, had some interesting ideas on new approaches to Alzheimer’s disease research last night. He praised the format of the minsymposium on AD that was designed not to present data but to direct approaches and identify future goals in a field that really has stymied researchers for a time. The style allowed for a lot of discussion and argument, and that’s not something that happens a lot in regular talks. Simons had an interesting take on all this calling out the stodgier aspects of the traditional symposium for not engaging in debate. Simons told me he doesn’t even read abstracts anymore. So often the things folks write up are not what they can present, but what they hope they can present by the time the talk comes up.  Read more

Raising the curtain on cell slam

OK, I’ve got to admit. I’m a little excited about being a judge at the ASCB 2007 cell slam tomorrow night. For the uninitiated, a cell slam is kind of like a poetry slam — which are geeky enough on their own — but adds the extra geeky element of being all about biology. The basic remit is “three minutes, one microphone, no AV.” For the record and in interest of full disclosure, I’ve participated something akin to this before. My colleague Erika Check Hayden caught the action last year, and it sounds like it was quite a trip.  Read more

Is Alzhiemer’s research suffering a lamp post effect?

I had a chance to ask ASCB president Bruce Alberts what had him excited about this year’s meeting. He directed me to a session (actually two sessions) that take a bit of a departure from the usual format. I went to the working group symposium on the cell biology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Rather than present data, we got outlines of future prospects and directions from two established experts in AD research and two cell biologists who have come to study AD from different directions. Audience participation was encouraged, and it made for some good arguments that I daresay seemed the slightest bit productive. I’ll warn you that there’s a bit of alphabet soup coming, but bear with me, there are some neat new ideas here.  Read more

A worm with two heads at ASCB 2007

This week, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 7500 biologists descend upon Washington DC for the American Society for Cell Biology. I made it here today just in time to hear a lecture given by Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at University of Utah, who’s been using the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea as a model for regeneration. His website has beautiful pictures. Planarians are regenerative heroes — long know for their ability to completely redevelop from pieces as small as 1/279th of the original. And even though they’re strange – they have a mouth that doubles as an anus that Sanchez Alvarado calls a “manus” – they are actually surprisingly complex.  Read more