Of the eleven scientists just announced as winners of the new Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, four of them have their labs within a block or two of each other in Manhattan: two at Rockefeller University, one at Weill Cornell Medical College, and one at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The prize, given to recognize past achievement in research aimed at curing disease and extending human life, comes with $3M to allow each of those researchers the freedom and flexibility to pursue even more groundbreaking work in the future. The founding sponsors of the prize are tech entrepreneurs Sergey Brin (Google) and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Priscilla Chan, Art Levinson (Apple), and Yuri Milner (venture capitalist). The 11 winners this year will serve on the board to choose 5 winners each in subsequent years.
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In an attempt to shore up both the reputation and functionality of the nations's largest state-funded cancer agency, officials at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) just announced the appointment of Dr. Margaret Kripke as the agency's new chief scientific officer. The embattled agency has faced accusations from many of its key scientists that irregularities and favoritism in the funding process have undermined their scientific credibility and put commercialization above research.
An Oregon State University research lab led by Gregory Rorrer has just been awarded a $2M NSF grant as part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program for Engineering projects. Of the 15 ENG/EFRI awards for 2012, 3 were in the category of Synthetic Biorefineries research: "the large-scale use of micro-organisms that harness solar energy to produce chemicals and fuels from carbon dioxide." Rorrer's lab will study diatom photosynthesis as a means of creating biofuel, as well as two other bioengineered products. Diatoms are a type of algae with a unique biosynthetic ability to extract silicate from the ocean to create cell walls of nanostructured silica. According to the grant proposal, the OSU team will identify cellular processes and cultivation strategies towards the design of scalable systems for a future diatom-based photosynthetic biorefinery.
How is it that a prominent Rockefeller University professor and director of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior is sought out by a fashion magazine one month, the New York Magazine the next, and a CBS interview just last week? Dr. Leslie Vosshall studies the mechanism of scent recognition in humans on the one hand, and attraction to humans by mosquitos on the other. We still know so little about smell, and even less about why an insect like the mosquito hones in on one of us more often than another, but the Vosshall Lab is adding insight to the genetic basis of olfactory recognition. Given that mosquitos are a global vector for disease, including right here in the U.S., Vosshall's research aims to find out what it is about a particular one of us that excites the little bug to such raptures. If we know that, perhaps we can intervene productively to keep them at bay. As for the fashion magazine (Elle Canada), they wanted an expert on scent to comment on designers' and retailers' new fad for marketing their products with a scent component.
Human beings like stories. We think narratively. If there isn't a beginning, middle, and end, we try and create them from the information we have at hand, because things happen in time and, we like to think, with purpose and significance. Life science research takes as its subject living things, and all living things have a life cycle, at the end of which they die, just like in a story. There is no stasis, and nothing in real life happens in a clean room: living things interact with other living things and physical processes in what we sometimes call ecosystems, which are messy, elegant places of contingency and interdependence.
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The NIH has funded a five-year, $21 million Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism grant to support a multi-site consortium led by Oregon Health & Science University researchers Kathleen A. Grant and Betsy Ferguson. The grant represents the second competitive renewal for the INIA consortium (founded in 2001), which is made up of 15 lead investigators from 10 institutions in the United States and Europe. OHSU's share of the current funding is $6.3M. Dr. Grant is the head of neuroscience at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), where Dr. Ferguson is an associate scientist. The Division of Neuroscience at the ONPRC conducts research aimed at identifying and defining fundamental aspects of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system function.
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The National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program has just announced the 2012 winners of its prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who are exceptional both as teachers and researchers. The University of Colorado Boulder boasts two winners this year from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology deparment (EBIO). Together their awards bring over $1.5M in new funding to their research on amphibian and avian biology. The laboratory aspects of Drs. Safran and Johnson's research involve genetics, stable-isotope analysis, and the study of microscopic disease-causing parasites.
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If you're in a modern building with an HVAC system, you probably think of it as a controlled environment: air, relatively clean, either warm or cold depending on the setting, is pumped in for your respiratory benefit. Yet hospitals and schools are some of the worst places to go if you don't want to get sick, even if you never touch a single surface. That's because the air is full of trillions of microbes, and buildings (any buildings) host their own complex ecosystems which we're just now starting to study. Researchers in this relatively new field include biologists as well as architects who are working together to understand the "built environment microbiome." The University of Oregon's BIOBE Center (Biology and the Built Environment) is a hub for this research into what makes a building good for human health, or not.
Pulling material from technical science publications that is directly applicable to the business of science marketplace is sometimes a challenge, however, here is a thought provoking publication by Greirson et al. that addresses something most of us rarely think about.
"Plants are fundamental to all life on Earth. They provide us with food, fuel, fiber, industrial feed stocks, and medicines. They render our atmosphere breathable. They buffer us against extremes of weather and provide food and shelter for much of the life on our planet. However, we take plants and the benefits they confer for granted."
Of the one hundred or so plant research questions posted, the critical 10 appear to revolve around human societies need for survival.
The old days of doors being closed to women in the sciences seem to be at an end, at least if Google has any say in the matter. With the finale of their 1st annual Science Fair competition on July 11, Google announced the three winners (out of 10,000 young scientists from around the world), and they were all young American women engaged in bioscience research. The contest allowed projects in any science field, and gender was not a selection category for the winners, though age was.