“These pernicious anti-scientific trends”
Dec10

“These pernicious anti-scientific trends”

I sauntered over to Duke University this morning to sit in an auditorium and watch the Nobel medal award ceremony via nobelprize.org with some fellow researchers and writers like Anton Zuiker and Eric Ferreri. As I’ve written ad nauseum, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to watch the goings-on with half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 with Duke’s Dr. Bob Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz shared the prize for the chemistry behind G-protein coupled receptors with his former fellow, Stanford’s Dr. Brian Kobilka. And as my students know, nobelprize.org is an absolutely terrific (and free) site for some of the most noteworthy documentation of the great scientific discoveries since 1901. So, I’ve been very interested to now follow the Nobel lectures for all the prizes. But what I absolutely loved was tonight’s banquet speech given by Lefkowitz on behalf of himself, Kobilka, and their families. Here’s an excerpt that warmed my cockles: For those of us in the sciences, we watch with delight as every October the eyes of the entire world focus, if only transiently, on the power of discoveries in chemistry, physics, medicine, physiology, and economics to shape our lives. However, as an American Scientist, and now Nobel Laureate, I have never been more aware or more appreciative of this effect of the Prize announcements. We have just had a Presidential election in the United States. One of the fault lines in the campaign was the role that science plays in shaping public policy decisions. A clear anti-science bias was apparent in many who sought the presidential nomination of one of our major political parties. This was manifest as a refusal to accept for example, the theory of evolution, the existence of global warming, much less of the role of humans in this process, the value of vaccines or of embryonic stem cell research. Each of us Laureates aspires in our own small way to do what we can to counter these pernicious anti-scientific trends. I hope that this excerpt and message makes it to the mainstream media. And I’m happy to work with Dr. Lefkowitz in any way he sees to “counter these pernicious anti-scientific...

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Okay, Who’s Huffing Vicks VapoRub?
Nov14

Okay, Who’s Huffing Vicks VapoRub?

One of the fun things about having a blog is the traffic analytics feature on the dashboard of WordPress (although I really miss the features of SiteMeter that don’t run on WordPress because it doesn’t accept JavaScript. But I digress.) Besides the addictive nature of looking at one’s traffic numbers, I always find it interesting to look at the search terms that bring people to our humble little corner of CENtral Science. I became hooked on this way back when I started the original version of Terra Sig on Blogger: in February 2006, I had an unusual spike in traffic originating from the UK via the search term “terra sigillata.” So, I posted this and learned this. Usually, search term hits tell me that something has come up in the news. But, alas, I cannot find anything recent that would account for Vicks VapoRub to elicit much searching. Perhaps telling is that all 27 searches came via a misspelled search for “vicks vapor rub.” (By the way, the search term brought folks here to read this post I wrote on Vicks VapoRub after a 2011 PR snafu with journalists like Ivan Oransky at Reuters Health. I ended up writing a bit more about the North Carolina pharmacy history that brought the world this lovely concoction.) I do know that misguided youth will huff volatile chemicals for the acute high one might get. Vicks is most commonly used to enhance the experience of MDMA (ecstasy) – I’ve seen kids at raves wearing N95 facemasks inside which they have smeared the VapoRub. So, what’s with you people wanting to know about Vicks...

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Naming Genes Unlike Named Reactions
Oct29

Naming Genes Unlike Named Reactions

Our best wishes to all of you in the Northeast getting ready for Hurricane Sandy. I understand that even DC is closed today. So if you still have power at home, let me share a bit of levity with you. Over the weekend I learned that my science writing student, Meghan Radford (@meradfor), had a clever piece published at mental_floss, the magazine and website, “where knowledge junkies get their fix.” Megan’s article entitled, “18 Gene Names that Cover the Gamut, From Movies to Pop Culture to Cartoons,” illustrates the comical yet discordant and unscientific process behind naming genes. Her article reminded me of C&EN’s Carmen Drahl when she wrote about named reactions in both the magazine (C&EN, 17 May 2010) and her Newscripts blog here at CENtral Science. I’m not familiar with any genes that are named after the person who discovered them but, as Radford points out, a great many have been given interesting colloquial names. International gene nomenclature organizations exist but the standardized rules of these committees still make refer to the less formal names. For example, the human “sonic hedgehog” gene is SHH. The name of the original Drosophila hedgehog gene, hh, made functional sense as described by Nobel laureate, Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard: fruit fly embryos with mutated hh expressed pointy extrusions called denticles and resembled hedgehogs. The mammalian homologue, Sonic was named after the Sega video game character. My favorite from Radford’s list is one I hadn’t known: INDY, for “I’m not dead yet.” Beyond this laboratory levity is a very serious issue for clinicians. From a 2006 New York Times article by John Schwartz: A gene with a funny name may be linked to a medical condition that can be heartbreaking. The human variant of the fruit fly’s “hedgehog” gene, known as “sonic hedgehog” after the video-game character, has been linked to a condition known as Holoprosencephaly, which can result in severe brain, skull and facial defects. “It’s a cute name when you have stupid flies and you call it a ‘turnip,’ ” Dr. Doe said. “When it’s linked to development in humans, it’s not so cute any more.” But today, I take time to be proud of my student for pitching a story to mental_floss and getting published. You can also read more formal writing by Meghan Radford at her blog, Neural Expression. Source: Radford, Meghan. 18 Gene Names that Cover the Gamut, From Movies to Pop Culture to Cartoons. http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/148072, 27 October 2012....

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Elion-Hitchings Building Tour: A Storify
Oct22

Elion-Hitchings Building Tour: A Storify

As discussed in my post last week, I had the opportunity on Saturday to tour the old Burroughs-Wellcome US headquarters building in Research Triangle Park, NC. Designed in 1969 by architect Paul Rudolph, the building was completed in 1972. The building became known as the Elion-Hitchings Building after BW scientists Trudy Elion and George Hitchings shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicinewith Sir James Black.The building was acquired by Glaxo when they merged with Wellcome in 1995 (Glaxo had built its US headquarters in RTP in 1983, just north of the BW property.). Now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company began liquidating buildings and consumer products over the last two years. When they announced their intent to sell the Elion-Hitchings Building in April, 2011, I suggested that someone purchase it to fashion into hipster condominiums. My hopes were dashed when United Therapeutics purchased it and two other buildings for $17.5 million in late June of this year. United Therapeutics has a 55-acre lot adjacent to the GSK property where they’ve constructed a new headquarters building of their own. What follows is a Storify compilation of my tweets from Saturday with photos that I sent out. I’ll post other photos later. Triangle folks: You can still come to tour the Elion-Hitchings Bldg in RTP today 9:00 – 12:40 for $15 at door http://bit.ly/T5YrxE David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 05:15:07 ReplyRetweetFavorite Just arrived at former GSK-held Elion-Hitchings Bldg, now owned by United Therapeutics. http://pic.twitter.com/qOiH8kf7 David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:34:40 ReplyRetweetFavorite @davidkroll It looks like the building is held up by giant lab jacks Matthew Hartings Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:11:50 ReplyRetweetFavorite You can’t erase the GSK. Logo outline on frosted glass. #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/RiJPqN3a David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:46:47 ReplyRetweetFavorite I wonder if GSK was still paying these 1996-97 wages? #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/okKeIVAU David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 06:52:55 ReplyRetweetFavorite This was the view for the executive secretarial pool. RTP requires that 40% of lots remain wooded #elionhitchings http://pic.twitter.com/YGGT75i4 David Kroll Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:12:27 ReplyRetweetFavorite @davidkroll Very cool! Didn’t know that stat! Stephanie Beck Sat, Oct 20 2012 07:36:12 ReplyRetweetFavorite Since Stephanie is a news producer for WRAL-TV in Raleigh, I thought I should do some fact-checking and find the source for this factoid once I got home. Turns out that I was wrong — I underestimated the wooded requirement.According to RTP’s Land Management plan, the built-up area of each lot is limited to 30%, leaving much more of the pine forest than I had originally cited. The #elionhitchings patio where Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood appeared in “Brainstorm”; Burroughs-Wellcome then http://pic.twitter.com/AO67RfIK David Kroll Sat,...

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Burroughs-Wellcome Elion-Hitchings Building Open for Public Tours October 20th Only
Oct18

Burroughs-Wellcome Elion-Hitchings Building Open for Public Tours October 20th Only

I’m not an architect but I absolutely love quirky and creative buildings. During the eight years I lived in the foothills outside of Denver, I passed the clamshell-shaped home featured in Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, “Sleeper” – yes, the home with the Orgasmatron (a prop made from a cylindrical door like those used for research darkrooms). For you youngsters who may not know what I’m talking about, here’s a two-minute movie clip that’s probably safe for work. Well, from that era is another futuristic building designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1971 — then known as the Burroughs-Wellcome Headquarters Building in Research Triangle Park. The building has survived mergers and acquisitions as BW became Glaxo Wellcome and then GlaxoSmithKline and was recently sold to United Therapeutics. Like the “Sleeper” house in Colorado, the structure was featured cinematically in the 1983 movie “Brainstorm” with Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood. Now known as the Elion-Hitchings Building in honor of BW’s 1988 Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine*, the building will be open to the public this weekend for the first time in decades, with thanks to the new owners. Since United Therapeutics is currently renovating the interior, the building will be empty but visitors will be welcome to take photographs. The event is sponsored by Triangle Modernist Houses and, at the time of this post, tickets ($9.95 each) are still available for all times this Saturday morning, October 20. For more background on the building and details on purchasing tickets: go to this page for Triangle Modernist Houses. I hope to see you on Saturday! *The 1988 Nobel to Trudy Elion, George Hitchings, and Sir James Black is one that very easily could have been justified as a chemistry Nobel. UPDATE 19 October, 7:30 pm EDT: I have three extra tickets for the 12:15 pm tour. I’ll give them away (yes, FREE – $9.95 face value) either as a pair and a single, or all three, to the first one or two people to leave a comment below that answers a question I posted on Twitter. Be sure to put your real email address so I can send you my receipt and instructions to pick up your tickets. The tickets have been given away – thank you for...

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Lefkowitz Nobel: “There’s a lot of love here”

How many of you could say this about your laboratory group? In the hall outside the champagne reception for Bob Lefkowitz’s lab on Wednesday at Duke University Medical Center, I had a chance to catch up with Marti Delahunty, PhD. Delahunty is a research scientist in a connecting building but worked in the Lefkowitz group from 1998 until 2006. This brief chat brings to mind Carmen Drahl’s post about one’s laboratory being your second family.     PIs, trainees, technicians, and administrators: Tell me if you’d be able to say the same about the environment of your laboratory....

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