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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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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Tucson clinical pharmacist does primary diabetes care

Those of you who do chemistry in colleges of pharmacy are used to discussions of how your graduates can truly use their Doctor of Pharmacy training. You’ve probably often wondered why your students spend so much time in clinical pharmacy when more than half of them end up in community pharmacy, a model that has largely kept its sweatshop-like workflow (the “counseling booth” at my local pharmacy has cobwebs for the simple reason that pharmacists cannot be reimbursed for cognitive services.) Well, I want to bring you a story of how pharmacists can contribute to primary care when in a regulatory environment that makes it possible. The Downtown Tucsonan tells the story of clinical pharmacist, Sandra Leal, a valedictorian graduate of the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy (Disclosure: Sandra was an American Cancer Society supported undergraduate in my laboratory while she was at the University of Arizona who we then recruited to Colorado for her PharmD.) As the first pharmacist in Arizona to earn limited drug prescribing authority, Sandra works in a team-based community practice environment. At El Rio Community Health Center, clinical pharmacists primarily manage long-term care of patients with diabetes while physicians can then work on the more involved acute cases. But the concept didn’t come from a shiny new college of pharmacy with dozens of clinical faculty members. This revolutionary idea of clinical pharmacists working directly with patients is run-of-the-mill medicine south of the border. Leal learned this while growing up in Nogales, Ariz. “My parents didn’t speak English,” Leal said. “We always went to Mexico for health care. You walked into the pharmacy and could get treatment. To me, that was primary care. The pharmacist was my doctor growing up. I never considered any other field. I made a decision in high school that I would be a pharmacist.” You can read more about Leal’s community practice model at the Downtown Tucsonan. You can also learn more about Sandra from a 2009 interview we did back at the old home of Terra Sigillata. The post was part of the Diversity in Science blog carnival during Hispanic Heritage...

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield
Aug16

Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al. At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years. My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.   Al the Scientist by Lori Dwyer-Nield as presented 11 August 2012 at Community United Church, Boulder, CO It’s an honor to speak about Al the scientist.  Al was my mentor and friend for 21 years, and in that time I learned that ‘Al the scientist’ was a complex character.  The more I think about it, though, I realize that Al the scientist was the same person as Al the family man and Al the writer.  We called Al our lab Dad.  I remember when I first interviewed for a post-doc position in Al’s lab, he had me meet with his lab first, and then with him.  That was quintessential Al.  His approach to lab management was egalitarian.  We all had to approve new lab members before he would let them join.  He saw his lab personnel as colleagues and friends, not employees.    In his eyes, the high school student or dishwasher was just likely to come up with the next great idea as anyone else.  And if someone contributed to a study, they got their name on the paper. He cared about each individual.  It didn’t matter if you needed to talk to him about a personal problem or an irksome experiment.  He did his best to help.  He was happy when one of his lab personnel got married, but he loved the babies.  Many mentors discourage having a family, but Al knew that family was important.  He also felt that we needed to have interests outside the lab, and even told one young...

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DEA jams synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” industry
Jul28

DEA jams synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” industry

With all the discord in Washington these days, it’s rare to see several US governmental organizations working together to address a significant public health problem. This week, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) mobilized Operation Log Jam, an unusual and highly-coordinated action with six other federal agencies aimed to shut down the synthetic designer drug industry in 109 US cities. The products targeted were of two broad classes: 1) synthetic marijuana “incense” products comprised of naphthoylindole cannabimimetic compounds first synthesized by John W. Huffman’s lab at Clemson in the mid-1990s, and 2) “bath salts” or “plant food” products containing the stimulant/empathogen mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) or the stimulant MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone). This compilation of posts on synthetic marijuana and, to a lesser extent, “bath salts” serves as a good primer on the subject. These products were sold widely on the internet, headshops, and convenience stores and were associated with 13,000 poison control calls last year, 60% of which were in individuals under 25. Disturbing acute and chronic side effects have been reported by users that include severe anxiety and paranoia, unnerving hallucinations, and even heart attacks. Several specific compounds were criminalized by an emergency DEA action and numerous state and local laws over the last two years. Still, products continued to be available containing compounds not explicitly criminalized, with marketers claiming legal status. Commenters here and elsewhere have argued that this industry would go away if marijuana would simply be decriminalized in the US. Earlier this week, TIME Healthland writer Maia Szalavitz made a good argument for this (or at least FDA regulation of recreational drugs) in the context of Operation Log Jam. Comprehensive action I find two aspects of this initiative quite unique since I began covering the synthetic formerly-legal highs phenomenon. First, Operation Log Jam aimed to address every level of the synthetic designer drug industry: manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. From the DEA press release: As of today [26 July], more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (ex. K2, Spice) and the products to produce nearly 13.6 million more, as well as 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones (ex. bath salts), and the products to produce an additional 392,000 were seized. In addition, $36 million was also seized in the raids. Among the federal agencies involved was the US Postal Service since the internet-marketed products are sometimes shipped via regular mail. US Customs and Border Protection acted to target the flow of compounds synthesized non-domestically into the country. And, of course, the IRS was involved to, “trace the path of illicit drug proceeds by identifying the financial linkages among the various co-conspirators,” as indicated by Richard Weber, Chief, IRS Criminal...

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Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality. The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category. So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)   This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think. I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense. I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?” My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once. When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would. I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall. How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.? Several of my friends, and even those who were not exactly friends, said it was the best talk I ever gave. One of my committee members took his turn during the questioning to note this was one of the clearest dissertations he had read in awhile. I picked him specifically because he was outside of my field but was a scientist who I respected greatly and continue to admire. I was the first graduate student of my mentor – he was promoted with tenure six months later. Funny, the difference in my perception and reality. It still wasn’t great – I only got two papers out of it. One was in a pretty decent journal, although not Cell, Nature, or Science. I ended up with a few postdoc offers, several in great institutions that...

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