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Making the most of negative results

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 03-02-2011

How often have we lamented that obtaining negative results has stymied productivity and gotten in the way of career progression? After all, no reputable journal will accept negative results, and without publications we may as well throw our science careers out the window.

The problem is that negative results ARE results nonetheless. While they may not be as sexy as positive data, negative data are a consequence of hard work and should be considered just as important as positive data.

One reason for this observed bias can likely be attributed to the early stages of scientific methodology. All scientific experiments start out with background research that leads to a hypothesis. The overwhelming number of scientists hypothesize that treatment A will result in consequence B happening to subject C. Very few scientists will hypothesize that treatment A will not result in any changes to subject C. Who wants to do THAT kind of experiment.

What we often fail to remember is that the hypothesis is really just an educated guess which must honestly be proven to be either correct or incorrect. Unfortunately, only hypotheses that are proven correct end up making it past the cutting room floor of the high-impact journals which is akin to rewarding good guessing over hard work.

In an effort to recognize the important contribution of hard-working scientists who’s experiments have concluded with negative results, an online database called Figshare has been created as a global repository for all the unpublished negative data coming out of hard-working science labs.

The idea is to have scientists publish ALL their negative data in the database. The database is open access and therefore any information stored there can be used freely by other scientists as long as it is properly attributed.

At the very least, such a system helps prevent other scientists from wasting untold amounts of money repeating the same experiment only to eventually come up with similar negative results. Whats-more, should your data eventually be published by another researcher, you will receive a citation and perhaps even an opportunity for collaboration.

As is written on the figshare website:

Unless we as scientists publish all of our data, we will never achieve access to the sum of all scientific knowledge.

Although Figshare cannot replace the thrill of publishing in a top-tiered scientific journal, it should help take away the sting of negative results and lead to an appreciation for all scientific data both positive and negative.

Friendship: It’s all in the genes

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 01-20-2011

NewScientist reported this week on a University of California research study that analyzed the genes of 3,000 pairs of friends looking for genetic differences or similarities that might indicate a genetic predisposition for certain types of friendships.

The study found that close friends share similarities in the DRD2 gene and are less likely to share similarities in the CYP2A6 gene.

Here’s how the story was reported on ABC News:

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1011687108

Standing Room Only-The Effects of Protein Crowding

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 01-12-2011

One of the biggest challenges for any scientist is to ensure that their experimental model of choice actually mimics natural biological circumstances. While it is one thing to conduct research in a test tube or cell culture dish it is quite another to translate those results into human biology. It is therefore imperative for scientists to choose a research model that most closely resembles its scaled up reality.

Over the past decade, the field of proteomics has experienced exponential growth. With the rise of technologies such as protein crystallography, protein arrays and surface plasmon resonance more information can be gathered on a proteomic-wide scale than ever before. Nonetheless, most proteomic experiments are conducted in-vitro often after protein extraction and clean-up techniques in an environment that is far removed from their cellular milieu. Under such circumstances, one must wonder how biologically relevant results techniques such as protein-protein interaction actually are. In fact, in a recent story published in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), staff writer Celia Arnaud describes the often overlooked effect of protein crowding on proteins function and stability.

According to the article, when proteins are packed into a cell (as is often the case under natural biological conditions), excluded-volume effects occur, which means that many things happen simply because molecules occupy space. This circumstance is often compensated on the bench with the addition of chemical agents such as Ficoll, however this is not an ideal way to replicate protein crowding and will not necessarily replicate biochemical conditions found in the cell.

According to Martin Gruebele, a chemist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “Eventually, people will expect that a complete protein data set includes in-cell or crowded studies of various kinds, in addition to the current aqueous buffer data. This is clearly where things will shift in the next five to 10 years.”

For more on the importance of protein crowding see Close Quarters

Blog updates

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 01-03-2011

Welcome to a new year! I hope that everyone enjoyed the holidays with family and friends and that you’re all geared up for a great 2011.

I’ve been receiving dozens of messages from wordpress (the publishing platform used to power the American Biotechnologist blog) that many of the plugins and themes used on the American Biotechnologist were out of date. As any good molecular biologist would have done, I listened to my gut which told me that if it aint broke, don’t fix it. (Isn’t that how molecular biology works? If you get your best transfection results Tuesday afternoons at five while wearing a pink labcoat and blue nitrile gloves, you wouldn’t dare transfect cells under any other conditions.) Nonetheless, the warning messages of vulnerabilities in the site and necessary “emergency fixes” started eating at me and so, this weekend I bit the bullet and gave the site a thorough upgrade. All of this happened behind the scenes and hopefully you won’t notice any difference to the look, feel and functionality of the site (I didn’t). However, if you do come across any abnormalities such as links not working or strange things appearing on your screen please email me or send me a message using the comment section.

As always, if you have ideas or suggestions for improving the blog or topics you would like us to cover (or if you are interested in doing a guest post) please let us know! I look forward to your comments!

Vote Yes for Science Fair Funding

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 12-27-2010

Recently, the New York Times reported that financing for local science fairs is down significantly and that many events are in jeopardy of being canceled. These events include Mastodon Art and Science Regional Fair, the Illinois Science Olympiad, and The Academy of Science — St. Louis Science Fair,

According to the NYT:

Securing financing for these competitions and for the time-honored local science fair has become increasingly difficult because of the poor economy, organizers say. Sponsors have dropped out of local science fairs, while some schools are scaling back extracurricular activities, including science programs, because of state budget cuts.

We at the American Biotechnologist feel that science fairs are an important part of science education and that they are useful in shaping the goals and aspirations of student interested in science. Please help us increase the public’s awareness of the poor state of science fair funding by voting yes for more funding for science fairs and education. If you’re really keen to help, please leave a comment with your institution and city showing your support.

My vote counts for science fair funding

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