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Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

More Deadly Biohazards Found at the NIH!

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-10-2014

So what can you get while working at the NIH? In the past we told you about your risk of exposure to Anthrax, Smallpox, and the Avian Flu Virus. Well, now you can add ricin and Burkholderia pseudomallei, two well-recognized biological weapons, to your shopping list!

The Washington Post is reporting that during a beefed up safety inspection, NIH employees unexpectedly found these and several other deadly biological agents improperly stored among old and long-forgotten stockpiles, some dating back over 60 years.

I must admit that, unfortunately, I have found the news much less shocking this time around than in the past. In fact, I believe that I have now gone through several of the classical stages of grief:

  • Denial (it can’t be that the most respected scientific agency in the United States would irresponsibly allow the dangerous transfer of Anthrax to a low level bio-hazard lab)
  • Anger (what the heck is wrong with the scientist that left Smallpox at the back of the freezer?
  • Depression (we are all going to die from the Avian Flu virus)
  • Acceptance (ricin, staphylococcal enterotoxin, Melioidosis…these are just some of the things you should expect to find at an unsecured government research facility)

There really isn’t much more to say. I applaud the fact that the NIH are trying to introduce measure to more strictly control these substances, but I am not sure that the system will ever be 100% foolproof. There are probably tens, if not hundreds, of dangerous materials floating around labs all over the US, (not to mention the rest of the world). Is this a reason to be scared? I think so. What about you?

Why We Should Trust Scientists

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-09-2014

How to Succeed in Science?

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-29-2014

Want to know how to be a successful scientist? Watch and learn!

When JIF Becomes a Dirty Word

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-28-2014

It’s not that we are obsessed with the Journal Impact Factor, (OK so we’ve written about it at least 7 times on this blog), however, we do feel that it plays an important role in the life of budding scientists and we strongly identify with DORA’s call to abandon its use in evaluating scientific merit.

You can read more about our opinion on the JIF factor in the links provided below. The intention of this post, however, is to draw attention to DORA’s call for research scientists to provide examples of JIF-less metrics and methods that can be used in lieu of the JIF as a metric for scientific accomplishment.

Some examples include:

  • The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s recruiting policy which encourages candidates to discuss their most significant scientific accomplishment without referring to their JIF ranking
  • Germany’s Max Planck Society is asking its recruits to provide full copies of the three papers which they consider to be their best ones-independent of their JIF ranking
  • The American Society for Cell Biology has moved away from the JIF and now evaluates candidates for the prestigious ASCB Kaluza Prizes based-upon the significance of discoveries they have made

To learn more about DORA’s call to abandon reliance on Journal Impact factors (JIFs) and adopt more enlightened approaches visit the DORA website.

For more information see:
Exploring scientific productivity
The Ugly Side of the Journal Impact Factor
Don’t Judge Me-I’m a Scientist
A Journal Impact Factor Scandal
Nobel Prize Winners Address Brutal Cuts in Federal Funding
The Journal Impact Factor and the Lazy Scientist
A YouTube Rebellion to the Journal Impact Factor

Viruses May Not Be So Bad After All

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-22-2014

In contrast to their negative reputation as disease causing agents, some viruses can perform crucial biological and evolutionary functions that help to shape the world we live in today, according to a new report by the American Academy of Microbiology.

“Viruses participate in essential Earth processes and influence all life forms on the planet, from contributing to biogeochemical cycles, shaping the atmospheric composition, and driving major speciation events,” states Marilyn Roossinck of Pennsylvania State University, a member of the steering committee that helped to organize the colloquium.

The report, ‘Viruses Throughout Life & Time: Friends, Foes, Change Agents,’ is based on the deliberation of a group of scientific experts who gathered for two days in San Francisco, CA in July 2013 to answer a series of questions regarding the variety of roles that viruses play in the natural world.

“The inspiration for holding the colloquium was that recent metagenomics studies of viruses have indicated we know very little about the real world of viruses. Almost all published research is about the viruses that cause disease in humans and their domesticated plants and animals. This certainly represents only a very small fraction of the viruses that really exist,” says Roossinck. “It is very important to understand the real world of viruses, as this can inform our basic understanding of life and its origins, as well as major earth phenomena like carbon cycling.”

Beyond their pathogenic impact, the report examines in depth the size of the virosphere, the origin of viruses, the overlooked biological and microbial ecological role of viruses, and how these live forms have contributed to evolution. Additional highlights from the report explain how some viruses are commensal organisms or symbionts, their functioning in microbial communities, and their role in maintaining the biosphere. The array of responsibilities taken on by viruses is due to their incredible sequence diversity and genomic plasticity, referred to as “viral dark matter”.

The report concludes by stimulating the readers to think about key questions: “What if viruses had never existed on Earth? Would life have evolved quite differently”? Continued viral research will help to answer these enticing questions.

Thank you to the American Society of Microbiology for contributing this story.