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Archive → November, 2008

Nobelists Talk Funding, Fruit Flies

cimg2007cropcomp.JPGYou can tell when December is approaching in DC. The air is crisp, the squirrels are all a-twitter, and the Nobel Laureates come to town. Yesterday, the Embassy of Sweden hosted a panel discussion for the laureates right before they met with President Bush. The panel was right down the street from C&EN’s offices, so I decided to go and listen to what they had to say. Video after the jump.

At this year’s discussion, chemistry laureates Roger Tsien and Martin Chalfie were joined by economics winner Paul Krugman. The economy was tops on everybody’s mind, so Krugman fielded most of the questions, including one from Tsien.

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T. rex Data Stomp Back Into Spotlight

The controversy over the Tyrannosaurus rex

data that Raj Mukhopadhyay posted about last month just won’t go away. Now, questions about data sharing are being raised in response to how the lead investigator, John Asara, made the mass spectral data available to the proteomics community.

Adding fuel to the already blazing fire, Asara deposited the data into a free public proteomics database, but he included a rider that stated that any other peptides identified by anyone else were owned by the T. rex

researchers and were not publishable without their permission. Many proteomics scientists were appalled that such restrictions were placed on free data.

The whole brouhaha got us thinking about the larger issue of data sharing in proteomics. After interviewing proteomics experts, we found that database administrators do not routinely check entries for such restrictions. In addition, some researchers say that all proteomics data sets should be freely available so that bioinformaticians can develop better tools with them. Other researchers counter they’d like to keep mining their data sets that they worked so hard to generate, so they’d prefer to keep some of the information private. And on the whole, proteomics scientists are more reluctant than their genomics counterparts to make their data publicly accessible.

What do you think: when should data be shared, and why might proteomics researchers have a different view than other –omics investigators?

Image: Shutterstock

Talkin' Turkey

shutterstock_1145245.jpgAmong the most time-honored Thanksgiving traditions, the propensity for guests to head directly from the dinner table to the couch ranks right up there with pilgrim hats, family football games, and drawings of turkeys that look suspiciously similar to the outline of a five-year old’s hand. Some people nap, some just stare vacantly at the T.V. for hours, but pretty much everyone attributes their post-meal grogginess to one source: tryptophan. Grandpas, moms, and third cousins alike got comfortable spouting off the name of the essential amino acid found in abundance in turkey.

But it turns out that whole tryptophan thing is a myth. As the nation gears up for the holiday, several newspapers have stories explaining that while turkey does contain tryptophan, the level is so low that you’d have to eat a 40-pound bird to feel its effect. See articles here and here for some related tidbits, but the best scientific explanation is probably in this piece in the LA Times.

So what’s the real culprit? Most think it’s the spike in insulin that results when we’ve stuffed ourselves full of carbohydrates. As a vegetarian who often finds herself on Thanksgiving staring down a plateful of white food—mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, crescent rolls, a mysterious “salad” involving marshmallows—I find comfort in the news that my post-meal haze is not a result of sympathy pains, but rather, a shared state of carb overload. After all, isn’t Thanksgiving about maintaining familial bonds?

Thoughts While Diving

Three days after the U.S. elections, my wife, Jan, and I left the country for a week of scuba diving on Bonaire, an island in the Netherlands Antilles off the coast of Venezuela.

Bonaire is about as far off the beaten track as one can get, especially for a news junkie like me. There are no newspapers other than advertising circulars. There’s television, but Jan and I tend not to watch broadcast news.

And scuba diving just lends itself to tuning out the outside world. It’s a relatively physically demanding activity—it’s amazing how much weight it takes to sink a human body in a 3-mm-thick wetsuit—so you go to sleep early and sleep well. There is also a fair amount of time during the day to sit back and reflect.

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As Seen On TV

It’s not every day that an analytical chemistry technique makes it onto TV. On November 24th, a portable mass spectrometry technique for chemical analysis developed by researchers at Purdue University will make its television debut.

Season 7, episode 9 of CSI: Miami (on CBS) will reference the DESI MS imaging technique for analyzing latent fingerprints originally published in Science this August. Researchers can use the method to tell what a person recently touched and also to distinguish overlapping fingerprints from different individuals.

Thanks to a Purdue press release, the DESI paper was picked up by the mainstream media when it was published. CSI: Miami, a forensic show, is known for its portrayal of new technology. Brad Iten, a researcher for the show, says that the staff combs through mainstream media reports as well as some scientific journals looking for new technologies. “We’re trying to find new ways to pull things off,” he says.

Image credit: CBS

Doctorates on the Dance Floor

Aaron Esser-Kahn’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley looks like a good place to get down. The University of California, Berkeley graduate student was one of 36 scientists to enter the 2009 Dance Your Ph.D. contest.

Esser-Kahn’s hip-hop interpretation of his thesis on “Protein Cross-linked Hydrogels” didn’t win, but it certainly gets C&ENtral’s science’s vote for best dance with an ice bucket.Winners are after the jump, along with some of our favorite chemistry-related grooves and one marine biology graduate student who was totally robbed. You can see all 36 entries here.

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About Those Feeds

We’re just as bummed as the rest of you that the graphics have disappeared from the ACS journals feeds. But rest assured, they’ll be back. Here’s the official word from our counterparts in ACS Publications:

“We are aware that the journal RSS feeds are currently not displaying the TOC graphics that were present before we moved to our new Web platform. Please be patient as we work to bring these graphics back to the feeds. Thank you for voicing your concerns and making sure that we recognize their importance. We truly value your feedback and hope that this will be resolved soon.”

The unofficial word is that soon=very soon. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Soon has arrived. I’ve been told that the graphics are back in action.

Et Tu, Stephen?

Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert weighed in on the soup advertising war between Progresso and Campbell’s last Monday night, and managed to poke fun at IUPAC names and the NJ Turnpike’s chemical corridor while doing it.

We at C&ENtral Science are deeply saddened by this turn of events, particularly because two C&EN reporters were recently called on for advice when staffers for Stephen’s TV show were trying to make the froth from a baking soda/vinegar volcano a bit more voluminous (check out the result after the jump). How could they betray chemistry like that when we shared the secret to a frothier volcano?

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