Posts Tagged ‘American science’

The End is Near for American Scientific Supremacy

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 11-12-2014

For as long as most of us can remember, America has remained at the top of the scientific food chain. American scientists were generously funded, supported by robust government policies and able to secure world-class training at the best scientific institutions. All that is about to change, however, as many economists are predicting that within 5 years, China will be spending more on scientific R&D than their American counterparts.

According to the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2014, China’s total R&D budget match the US’s $400 Billion scientific budget by the year 2016 and will grow to as much as $600 Billion by 2024. In contrast, the American R&D budget is only predicted to grow by 19%, (from approximately $410 Billion to $490 Billion), during that same period.

Despite this positive outlook for China, several critics have claimed that China’s fast assent into the scientific limelight comes at the expense of research quality. Such assertions have been supported by the disproportional rate of scientific paper retraction on behalf of Chinese scientists when compared to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, since the Chinese funding sources give preference to the quantity of scientific papers published when evaluating scientific merit, the rash of retractions will not likely abate any time soon.

It is also interesting to note that the majority of Chinese funding is dedicated to building infrastructure with much less spent on bench research itself. This has led to a situation where there is a disconnect between the number of well-equipped labs in China and the quality of research papers coming out of those labs.

So should we be afraid that soon, many of our best scientists will likely explore greener pastures in China or is it possible that China’s bark is much bigger than its bite? Only time will tell.

Drinking Soda May Shave 4.6 Years Off of Your Lifespan

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 10-27-2014

Soda consumption may shorten your life. Sensationalist title? It certainly is. However, while there have been many studies demonstrating that a sugar-rich diet is harmful to your health, a unique study out of UCSF has actually measured a correlation between sugary soda consumption and shortened telomere length. When considered in conjunction with findings from other lab that have shown short telomeres to be associated with the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer, the story becomes much more worrisome.

According to the study’s principal investigator, Elissa Epel

This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness.This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.

Based on the way telomere length shortens on average with chronological age, the UCSF researchers calculated that daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. This effect on telomere length is comparable to the effect of smoking, or to the effect of regular exercise in the opposite, anti-aging direction.

The full paper can be found in the American Journal of Public Health.

Single gene controls jet lag

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 08-13-2014

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a gene that regulates sleep and wake rhythms.

The discovery of the role of this gene, called Lhx1, provides scientists with a potential therapeutic target to help night-shift workers or jet lagged travelers adjust to time differences more quickly. The results, published in eLife, can point to treatment strategies for sleep problems caused by a variety of disorders.

“It’s possible that the severity of many dementias comes from sleep disturbances,” says Satchidananda Panda, a Salk associate professor who led the research team. “If we can restore normal sleep, we can address half of the problem.”

Read more…

Computational Tool Offers New Insight Into Key Biological Processes

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 03-06-2014

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a computational tool designed to guide future research on biochemical pathways by identifying which components in a biological system are related to specific biochemical processes, including those processes responsible for gene expression, cell signaling, stress response, and metabolism.

“Our goal was to identify modules, or functional units, which are critical to the performance of the biochemical pathways that govern a host of biological processes,” says Dr. Cranos Williams, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work.

“For example, a car has lots of modules – the parts that make it go, the parts that make it stop, the parts that let you steer, etc. If you understand those modules, you understand how the car works. But if you just have a list of parts, that’s not very helpful.

“And what we have right now for many biochemical pathways is essentially just a list of parts – metabolites, biochemical reactions and enzymes that facilitate those reactions – and, in some cases, how those parts change over time. What we need is a clear understanding of which parts work together. That’s where our new algorithm comes in.”

The researchers developed an algorithm that allows them to identify which parts – the metabolites, reactions and enzymes – are related to each other and can be grouped into functional modules. The algorithm also identifies whether an individual component plays a role in multiple modules. For example, an enzyme may play a primary role in critical stress response pathways and a secondary role in processes associated with programmed cell maintenance or death.

The algorithm also characterizes how the relationships between different modules and individual components may change over time and under different internal and external conditions.

The input for the algorithm comes from using well-established dynamic models to observe changes in concentrations of metabolites, reactions and enzymes under various conditions. The algorithm then processes that data to establish primary and secondary relationships between all of the constituent parts.

“When modifying biological processes, there are thousands of possible combinations of metabolites, reactions and enzymes for any given biochemical pathway,” Williams says. “Our work should help life scientists narrow down the list of key players in order to target their research efforts on functional groups that are most likely to improve our ability to understand and control important biological processes. This has applications in everything from biomedical research to agriculture to biofuels.”

The paper, “Hierarchical Modularization Of Biochemical Pathways Using Fuzzy-C Means Clustering,” is forthcoming from IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Maria de Luis Balaguer, a former Ph.D. student at NC State.

Thanks to North Carolina State University for contributing this story.

Is It Time for American Scientists to Panic?

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 02-06-2014

According to the Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 Report released recently by the National Science Board, spending on academic research decreased significantly in 2012 compared to the period between 2009-2011 (source: academic r&d section of the report). The good news for us life scientists is that the government seems to value life sciences over the physical sciences and has continued to provide the largest portion of the funding pot to researchers in our field.

Furthermore, besides the growth in academic life science funding, lab space for academic R&D has continued to expand, although it has done so at a somewhat slower pace in 2012 compared to prior years. While this may sound like a good indicator of growth, it should be noted that spending on research equipment fell by 1.4% in 2012 which may have a significant impact on scientists’ abilities to perform their work.

Another worrying trend, indicated in the report, is the disproportionate increase in non-faculty positions, such as post-doctoral fellows, in comparison to faculty positions. Furthermore, fewer researchers were tenured in the first decade of the century compared to the late 90s. If we are to believe the law of supply and demand, this lopsidedness will eventually lead to unhappy scientists who are dejected by their inability to obtain faculty positions due to the overpopulation of qualified candidates for very few faculty positions.

Nonetheless, according to the Washington Post, all is not lost. Here are a list of reasons that Washington Post journalist, Lydia DePillis, thinks we should keep our heads held high:

  • the US continues to fund its academic R&D at levels that are much higher than the rest of the world
  • there are more undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and technology in the US compared to other nations
  • America earns more patents than anywhere else in the world
  • American collects more royalties compared to other countries
  • Most importantly-Americans represent the largest group of scientific publishers which is the ultimate indicator of success among academic researcher

So despite some worrying trends indicated above, the Post seems to indicate that we should consider ourselves lucky that we are living in America where our chance to become successful scientists is much greater than anywhere else in the world.

Would you agree?