Does it matter to your P.I. what you did this weekend?
Aug29

Does it matter to your P.I. what you did this weekend?

A few weeks ago, I used this photo in a talk at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. These are very exciting times at UAMS, capped by the recent dedication of their Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute tower. I had a lovely visit with pharmaceutical chemists, neurobiologists, clinical pharmacologists, and young exciting researchers and educators across the College. I also found that, despite the August heat, Little Rock is an enjoyable, medium-sized city with great cultural amenities and an excellent quality of life. However, my only previous experience with the Arkansas River that runs through the state capital had been way upstream at the headwaters just outside of Leadville, Colorado. This picture shows yours truly as a young assistant professor and some of our lab group taking a midweek day off to enjoy that season’s snowcap runoff. My thoughts returned to this photo last week at the MEDI Lunch-and-Learn session on Chemical & Pharma Blogging led last week by C&EN’s Carmen Drahl at the national ACS meeting in Boston, nicely liveblogged here by Lisa Jarvis. In my inaugural post last week, I noted with joy the chance to sit present and field questions together with Derek Lowe (In the Pipeline), Ed Silverman (Pharmalot), and Michael Tarselli of Scripps Florida.During the discussion, a women asked a question about the wisdom of blogging as a Ph.D. trainee as her forward-thinking institution asked her to launch a blog to chronicle the graduate student experience. I applauded the idea but recommended blogging under a pseudonym and writing more broadly on the experience rather than specific interactions with individuals in the work environment. But some in the audience and on the panel noted that mentors might object to such activities saying that every moment spent on another activity is a moment that could be spent in the laboratory. I called that hogwash, stating that we lab heads have no business in the personal lives of our trainees and their choice of hobbies – hiking, softball, music – on their own time (so long as they aren’t writing online about my shortcomings as a P.I.). But much chuckling and groaning ensued, with my compatriot, Derek Lowe, noting that his major professor routinely stuck his nose into any penchant for non-lab activities. I’m sorry, my friends, but this is nuts. Yes, I realize we work in a competitive business and that many laboratories operate 24/7 with many trainees working 70 or more hours per week. But I don’t think that is healthy. Everyone needs time away from the lab – not just to deal with personal or...

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Terra what?
Aug25

Terra what?

Welcome back, friends, and thank you for all of the warm wishes yesterday on our relocation to CENtral Science. Today, I thought I’d address one of the top two questions I get when introducing myself as Abel Pharmboy of the blog, Terra Sigillata. We dispensed yesterday with my beloved pseudonym as I’m now writing under my real name after what had been kept an increasingly poorly-guarded secret. So, question two: What is Terra Sigillata and why did I choose this as the blog name? What follows is a periodically updated post that ran originally on 20 December 2005 at the blog’s first home at Blogger. If you Google, “Terra Sigillata,” you’ll get a number of hits for various clay pottery recipes. It’s made by a differential sedimentation process of clay – very complicated stuff – requiring the use of a deflocculant to separate out large clay particles from the small ones. Terra sig, as it is known among pottery hipsters, is then used to coat finished pieces to produce a very smooth, high luster and waterproof finish. Since originally writing this explanation nearly five years ago, clayworkers and other artists who’ve stumbled on the post have directed me to some of the many variations on terra sigillata. The best so far has been this copyrighted recipe and description by Vince Pitelka at the Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Tech from research he had done since teaching ancient clay arts classes at the UMass-Amherst. Take a read later on because the process is really an ancient chemical method and is quite fascinating. What does this have to do with pharmacology and natural products? Terra Sigillata is a Latin term that literally means “sealed earth.” In the common potter’s vernacular, the term is used to describe its use as a high-lustre seal on clayworks due to the uniform orientation of kaolinite crtystals. But, in ancient pharmacy history, Terra Sigillata refers to the first trademarked drug product, a small clay tablet or planchet bearing an official mark of authenticity. In this case, the “seal” was a mark for trade and marketing purposes. Those of you with pharmacy backgrounds may also know that the notation for dose, duration, and route of administration on a prescription is abbreviated, “Sig.,” short for Signatura, meaning to sign, seal, or mark. Dirt as medicine Yes, pre-Christian cultures ingested dirt (but only special dirt) as medicine. (Admonishment from my soil scientist colleagues: I meant to say, “soil” – sorry.). The medicine known as Terra Sigillata began as a unique clay first harvested around 500 B.C. from a particular hill on the Mediterranean island of Lemnos, now part...

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The Right Chemistry
Aug24

The Right Chemistry

Welcome to the new home of Terra Sigillata, a blog about the pharmacology and chemistry of natural product drugs and dietary supplements, issues of under-represented groups in the STEMM disciplines, science and medical journalism, and the influence of science in popular culture. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you more about the blog itself but I wanted to launch with a personal narrative of how I got here. Hello, my name is David…and I’m a science blogger I’m your humble blogger, David Kroll, a molecular cancer pharmacologist and professor in the pharmaceutical sciences at a state university in the southern US. If you are an old-time reader of Terra Sig, you’ll know me as Abel Pharmboy, the pseudonym I selected to honor John Jacob Abel.  Abel is considered the American father of pharmacology, having founded the first US departments of pharmacology (at Michigan and Johns Hopkins) as well as the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. But feel free to call me Abel. It’s a habit for many and folks in my daily life still know me as Abel. And if you followed me on Twitter @abelpharmboy, just go ahead and follow me now @davidkroll. After a fantastic four year run at ScienceBlogs.com, Terra Sig has spent a month in indie blog limbo while I searched for the right home for us. Some of my very dear friends are now at the wonderful new blog collective, Scientopia. I do hope to have a presence there in an educational capacity. But where to bring little ol’ Abel and his Terra Sigillata? I was fortunate to have a post of mine picked up last October by Dr. Carmen Drahl, an associate editor at Chemical & Engineering News and co-blogger at the CENtral Science pharma blog, The Haystack. Carmen referenced my defense of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz, and Ada Yonath “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.” On the morning of the award, I anticipated the response of my chemist friends as to this prize being given for a series of biological work.  However, I noted from the prize announcement a chemical scheme representing catalysis by the ribosome and noted, “if I see electrons being pushed around, it’s chemistry.” Carmen’s coverage of my post made it to the editor’s page of a subsequent issue of ACS Chemical Biology – I submit that pharmacology was the original chemical biology – and I had the chance to meet her at ScienceOnline2010, an international science writing and communications conference held in Research Triangle Park,...

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