While You Were At the Bench: Week 40

It’s been a busy week for scientists, but here are some of the highlights.

Contrary to the belief that retracted journal articles are due to simple errors, a recent PNAS article found that 67.3% of retracted journal articles are due to fraudulent data.  Com’n people.  We’re better than this!

Columbia University ophthalmologists used human induced pluripotent stem cells to improve the vision of blind mice.  This approach may be useful for restoring vision in humans with macular degeneration and other retinal deficits.

Kyoto University researchers successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to develop oocytes that produced viable offspring once fertilized and implanted into a surrogate mother.   This method could lead to new infertility therapies but raises potential ethical and legal issues.

Where’s Nemo?  A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science has determined the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in the last 27 years.  The contributors?  Cyclones (48%), Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (42%) and Bleaching (10%).

By measuring different isotopes of Carbon from ice core samples obtained in Greenland, researchers have determined the amount of methane produced by humans in the last 2000 years.  Human sources of methane production has increased dramatically since the start of industrial revolution in the 1800′s.

Has the Curiosity Rover discovered an ancient riverbed on Mars?  The photos look rather convincing.

In a follow-up to a previous blog regarding genetically modified food, the European Food Safety Authority has determined that a French study supporting the toxic effects of genetically modified corn was poorly designed and therefore does not support the conclusions made in the paper.  The authors have until October 12th to address concerns raised by the agency.

Geologists are attempting to drill 6 kilometers beneath the Pacific Ocean sea floor to obtain the first ever sample of the Earth’s mantle.  Maybe they can retrieve Brendan Fraser’s acting career while they are down there.  Zing!

Have a great weekend.

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What is RateMyPI.com

Since the launch of RateMyPI.com, we have had many inquiries as to the purpose of this website.  RateMyPI.com was founded to provide research investigators a comprehensive database to develop their profession through informative choices of career opportunities, collaborations, research materials, and community discussions.   We at RateMyPI.com feel the mentor – mentee relationship is vital to the advancement of scientific discovery.  Therefore, we are in the process of developing a comprehensive database of researchers across scientific disciplines in academia, biotech, industry, and government.  But, this can only be possible with the help of scientists like you visiting and creating profiles on RateMyPI.com. 

We have attempted to make the site as user friendly as possible.  The first time you visit RateMyPI.com you’ll need to determine if your name already exists in our database.  Click “Search Scientist” and enter your name.  If your name is available in the drop down menu, you can claim this profile by selecting your name then viewing your profile.  There you will find an option to claim that profile and create a user account.  If your name is not currently in our database, create a membership account by clicking the “Join” button on the upper right corner.  Membership is free and requires that you to enter a username, password, and email address.  Once you sign up, you’ll be directed to your member profile.  Here you can upload a photo, add pertinent contact and professional information, and provide links to your social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.  You can highlight your field of study and career status, so like-minded scientists can connect with you.  The associations tab is used for listing current and former employers, similar to a brief resume.  Every scientist is proud of their publications, therefore, we’ve created a section specifically for these achievements.  By entering the publication title and the PubMed ID a link is provided on your public profile to direct other scientists to your publications on PubMed.  At the bottom of the member profile page, you can upload your CV and resume that can be downloaded from your public profile.  This is a great way for future employers to have access to all pertinent career information in one easy to download file.

After the required information (name, address, and email address) in your profile is completed, you can begin reviewing other researchers.  Click on the “Reviews” tab at the top of the page and type the name of a researcher.  Once you begin typing, names will auto populate based on member profiles or previously reviewed researchers.  If the scientist is already in the database, you can select their name from the drop down menu.  If neither a profile nor a review is entered in the database you can easily add their name by clicking on the “add new name” link underneath the “name of person being reviewed” field.  In order to add a new name to the database, you will need to know their name, city, state / province (if it applies) and country.  Once you have selected a scientist to review, you will be able to rate that scientist on a several different areas including funding, mentoring ability and recommendation for future employment.   A comments box is available for additional information that other researchers might find pertinent.  All reviews are anonymous to encourage honest feedback.  We’d like to think of it as a unique peer review process.

Since RateMyPI.com was developed with the idea of helping researchers with career development, we’ve added two features on the rotating banner of the homepage.  Each month, RateMyPI.com will highlight a different series of young investigators in our “Featured Scientist” category.  By clicking on this banner, you’ll be immediately directed to their member profile.  The featured scientist might be an individual who recently published a ground breaking paper or someone whose research is related to a trending scientific topic.  Either way, we feel this will be instrumental for networking and promoting the career development of young investigators. 

In keeping with the theme of career development, we also highlight the “Top Rated Scientists” on the homepage.  This is a great feature for scientists looking for potential collaborators or for future employment opportunities.  Similar to the Featured Scientist, this banner will be directed to the Top Rated Scientist profile and reviews. 

As RateMyPI.com grows, we plan on implementing additional website functionality.  A community discussion board will provide a forum where researchers can gather advice on experimental design, techniques or products for advancing their scientific endeavours.  Since the theme of RateMyPI.com is career development, we also want to implement a Job Board.  Here you will find career opportunities targeted specifically for scientists looking for postdoctoral, tenure track, or alternative career positions.  Finally, a long-term goal of RateMyPI.com is to provide yearly travel awards to young investigators (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers) to use towards attending conferences.  Conference attendance is vital for promoting your research, networking and developing future research. 

Since RateMyPI.com was launched just last week, we’re still in BETA mode and we welcome any comments or suggestions.  Feel free to email us at Info@RateMyPI.com

I hope this brief tutorial gives you a better understanding of how RateMyPI.com can help you with your career goals.  When you get a chance, check us out and create a member profile and let others know how colleagues, collaborators, and PI’s have been instrumental in your career development.   Remember, RateMyPI.com is not just for rating principle investigators.  Ask your professional colleagues, lab members and PI to comment on your scientific capabilities as well.  It might just be instrumental in landing your next big opportunity.

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While You Were At the Bench: Week 39

In case you were glued to your lab bench, here is a roundup of this week in science.

The US House of Representatives fell 20 votes short of passing a bill that would allow foreign students with advanced degrees in STEM fields to obtain an employment-based green card.  Options???  Why not work 12 miles off shore.

Scientisits at UC Berkeley have discovered that cytokeratin found in the eye produce antimicrobial peptides.  This has the potential to lead to a new class of antimicrobial compounds.

This African spiny mouse can regrow skin complete with hair follicles and sweat glands similar to salamanders regrowing limbs.  The molecular mechanisms behind this phenomenon might be possible in humans.

Pregnant rats exposed to dioxin, a compound found in agent orange, promotes epigenetic mutations leading to increased instances of ovarian, prostate, and kidney diseases in F1-F3 generations.

For the first time, the radius of a black hole has been measured.  By linking together 3 radio dishes, scientists were able to observe matter surrounding the black hole referred to as the ”event horizon.”

As a scientist, I admire Einstein.  As a neuroscientist, I admire Einstein’s brain even more.  Now you can too!  Available on the iPad for $11.

Lucky number 113.  Japanese scientists have recently discovered the elusive atomic element 113.  Now they get first crack at naming rights.  Might I suggest Mothranium.

Have a great weekend and remember to check out RateMyPI.com!

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How Safe is GM Food?

What are the health effects of eating genetically modified food? 

That’s the question Séralini and colleagues sought to answer by studying rats fed Round-up tolerant genetically modified (GM) corn (with and without 0.1 ppb Roundup in water) for a period of two years.

Publishing their findings on September 19, 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology, rats fed GM corn had shorter life spans, severe liver and kidney damage, and developed large mammary tumors compared with control rats. 

This study has become a media firestorm both in the European Union and the United States.  The French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has requested that the National Agency for Health Safety review the study.  Austria has asked the EU to reconsider their approval process for safety of genetically modified food.  And, in the US, this research has provided strong support for California’s Proposition 37, an initiative to place labels on genetically modified food, something that is already required in at least 50 countries. 

But all might not be as it seems.   This study has come under criticism for several reasons.  First, the type of rat used, Sprague Dawley, is susceptible to developing mammary tumors when their diet is not properly controlled.  Second, the number of control rats used was low (n=20 males and females; 10 per sex) to draw definitive conclusions.  Third, rats fed the largest percentage of GM corn, had less severe symptoms compared with the lowest percentage group. 

Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed feeding studies supporting the safety of GM food, Séralini and colleagues have lumped GM food into cigarette smoking or bisphenol A consumption. 

Now, the question becomes not is GM food safe to eat, but rather how valid is this study?

Tim Worstall has provided an interesting argument to the topic.  Harlan, the provider of rats used in this study, has used genetically modified corn in their rat chow for the last ten years.  If GM corn was increasing the formation of tumors and causing liver and kidney necrosis in laboratory animals, scientists and veterinarians would have noticed these health concerns years ago.  Tim suggests we use common sense when examining the conclusions drawn from this study. 

Regardless, the media coverage following this study will help sway the court of public opinion against GM food.  As for myself, I agree with Tim.

Update: October 4, 2012
The European Food Safety Authority has determined that a French study supporting the toxic effects of genetically modified corn was poorly designed and therefore does not support the conclusions made in the paper. The authors have until October 12th to address concerns raised by the agency.

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