Countdown to #xBio 2014

Apr 11 2014 Published by under EB2014, Societies and Meetings

Two weeks from today I leave my home and head to glorious San Diego for Experimental Biology 2014, the annual gathering of the organizations that comprise the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, AKA FASEB. My favorite of these groups, the American Physiological Society, once again asked me to blog the meeting. I have finally gathered scheduling information and abstracts to organize my activities.

I will be attending and summarizing Saturday's session on storytelling for scientists, presented by Randy Olson. He has followed that traditional career trajectory from tenured professor to film school, and he wrote two books about scientists and communication skills (or, more accurately, lack thereof). I heard him speak at a screening of his film, Flock of Dodos, a few years back. His latest book, written with Dorie Barton and Brian Palermo, is Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking. I am looking forward to seeing how his message has morphed over time. Obviously, I love communications, so this session is right up my alley.

Saturday also starts more traditional fare, including the Cannon Memorial Lecture. James M. Anderson of the NIH will present his talk, The Contribution of Paracellular Transport to Epithelial Homeostasis. As someone who teaches renal pathophysiology, this topic will be relevant. Look for some live tweets during this session.

Of course I will also attend and discuss the Gottschalk Award Lecture for the Renal Physiology Section on Monday afternoon. Susan Wall of Emory University will present her work on The Role of Pendrin the the Pressor Response to Aldosterone.

I have selected a number of abstracts that interest me; next week I will contact authors about coverage, either through email interviews, conversations on site, or perhaps even videos of them at their posters. See something in the program you think I should explore? Drop me a line via twitter (@phlane) or email (pascalelane [at] gmail...you know the rest).

Be sure and follow me on twitter as well as @expbio, and track the official meeting hashtag (#xBio) while you're at it. You may not be gazing on San Diego harbor in the sunshine, but you can still get a feel for the science at the meeting.

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Give a Bit of Yourself

Feb 14 2014 Published by under Gadgets, gizmos

$299.95

The best Valentines are personal, especially if you are a Special Snowflake whose descendants will honor you in perpetuity. To this end, you can leave offspring born and unborn your DNA, preserved at room temperature for all time in the DNA Time Capsule:

This is the patented, triple-sealed time capsule that securely stores your genetic fingerprint for use by future generations. Preserving one's DNA in the present enables future scientific advances to reveal any predispositions to disease—currently undetectable by today's methods—a family's genetic makeup may bear. Dispensing with the need for long-term refrigerated storage in a lab, a chemical matrix of dissolvable compounds stabilizes DNA within a blood sample at room temperature (blood provides a higher quality and quantity of DNA than samples taken from cheek swabs), preserving the sample for over 100 years. A blood sample can be taken at your preferred medical facility or using the included kit. Once a sample is secured within the capsule, it can be stored within a home or bank lock box for decades until one's progeny submits it for genetic analysis.

Yup, for just under $300 you can leave your genetic code behind for at least a century! Now I am unclear on why your descendants would want to test your DNA rather than just doing their own ("Look Grandpa could have developed dementia if he hadn't been hit by that train!"). Maybe researchers might want to pinpoint when a mutation occurred in a kindred, but that would be for research not any practical benefit (that I can see) to your future relatives.

Maybe I am missing something that the good folks at Hammacher Schlemmer thought about, but I seriously doubt it. They just have a gizmo to sell, and they hope someone with $300 to spare will buy it.

Personally, I would rather have a giftcard for shoes.

Happy Valentines Day anyway!

 

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Art & Fashion, Meet Science

Feb 07 2014 Published by under Fashion (or not)

Loving this scarf.

Loving this scarf.

Are you looking for a gift for someone special? Valentines Day is next Friday, you know. If your sweetie wears scarves and loves science, you should give a sciencey scarf from Michelle Banks. Today I am wearing my latest acquisition, Portrait of a Human. Each panel on the 72 inch silk charmeuse scarf shows her rendition of a different cell from the human body.

Below is a better view of the details of the scarf; I wish this photo did justice to the vivid colors.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

What could say "Be my valentine" better than a scarf with a normal ECG, Heartbeat? Neurons and various microbes also adorn silk in this Etsy shop. What if your sweetheart is not a biology junkie? No fears; Michelle produces other wonderful designs with an astronomical flare.

Of course, not all of the world can rock a scarf like yours truly; for the less fashion minded, original watercolors of various designs and other ornaments can be had.

So buzz on over the the Artologica Etsy Shop and buy a colorful piece for Valentines Day or some other occasion. You will not regret it!

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The Real Problem with Marie Curie

Nov 18 2013 Published by under [Science in Society]

So hot...like radioactive...

The internet went all a-twitter over the weekend about a video posted by Joe Hanson (@jtotheizzoe) in which he imagines the scientist bobble-heads in his collection joining him for Thanksgiving dinner. In it, the Einstein bobble-head repeatedly makes sexual advances toward the Curie figure, assaulting her at the end of the piece.  Certainly tasteless, even with bobble-heads, especially given recent events in the world of online science communication. Sophomoric? Certainly. Criminal? Hardly.

This video is part of Hanson's work for PBS Digital Studios, an ongoing series called It's Okay to be Smart. I am still unclear what this video had to do with Thanksgiving, being smart, or anything else, other than an excuse to play with bobble-heads. An apology eventually appeared, but the video remains on the internet. I wish PBS would take it down, but they haven't. There have been calls to fire Hanson. That seems a bit over-the-top to me, but then I watch Family Guy.

Then it came out that Joe Hanson will be moderating a session at Science Online in 2014. Moderaters were selected weeks ago; those in control could not have anticipated this unfortunate turn of events. At this point I tweeted a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we dress up as Curie and beat the snot out of him at his session. I imagined a group of 20 bobble-head look-alikes coming at him...well, my attempt at humor also bombed. Repeated tweets have called for a serious, non-violent response.

It's kind of like TSA began running twitter: "Do not joke about weapons on the plane" or violence at the unconference.

What I would like to point out is the real problem here: Marie Curie is the only female bobble-head! In that setting, gender becomes the most obvious characteristic of the bobble-head. Why should the male bobble-heads consider her scientific accomplishments when she is merely the token woman? Clearly, her only raison d'etre must be her sex! In real life, such tokenism contibutes to an environment that permits marginalization of women (and other minorities) and likely contibutes to harassment. Does that excuse Einstein's douchebaggery? Hell no - dudes (even resin bobble-heads) should be able to keep their pants on and zipped! But the dynamics would have been different had Rosalind Franklin, Gerty Cori, and Linda Buck bobble-heads joined the party. Why can't I buy bobble-heads of these Nobel laureates? It's like Marie Curie is the only woman scientist ever!

So perhaps we should all step back and take a deep breath. We have an episode here that illustrates a lot of issues that lead to a hostile environment for women in science. No one has been physically harmed, although good taste was violated. Let's use this episode to learn and grow, rather than blame and shame.

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Why I Will Be There: #Scio14

Nov 15 2013 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Thursday I did something I have never done before; I sat at my computer waiting for 2:00 pm CST when I could start clicking the link for Science Online Together 2014. All went well for me, and I will be returning to Raleigh in February for another round of the unconference.

Some have recently made clear their intentions to not be at the upcoming gathering (see here and here). Several factors entered into my alternate decision.

I came to Science Online at a different point in my journey from many others. I had scaled the rarified heights of academia to become a tenured full professor. As I embarked on a new journey, to create a news magazine for the American Society of Nephrology, I needed to learn about new-fangled things like blogging and Facebook and Twitter. Science Online 2011, my virgin year, gave me insights into the interactions possible between academic and popular media, as well as the potential interplay of Web 2.0 content and the dead tree media of my youth. That was the last really "small" Science Online, with our venue at Sigma Xi bursting with energy. I felt like I met most of the attendees at some point in time, and I learned a lot that has been put to work in my professional life. Sessions on narrative structure and writing tools have enriched my work as well. I now give talks to faculty about ways to get writing done, much of which is information intially gathered via Science Online sessions. I have recruited several articles for ASN Kidney News from Science Online participants. The magazine also hires journalists for events, so some of these are paying gigs for the freelancers in the crowd!

I also have a guilty secret. One of the reasons I love academic medicine is my love of writing. Had I not been a doctor, I likely would have majored in English and ultimately gone on to an advanced writing degree of some sort. Most academics do not understand this attitude; they hate the writing, even while acknowledging its role in their success. Attending Science Online was like visiting the Mother Ship. All of these people who liked science and writing existed! I was not alone! I also love it now when my husband likes a book, and I can say I have met the author.

Like all meetings, Science Online is not just about work. Evenings include a lot of chatting and networking (and often drinking), just like those at my professional meetings. If anything, I attend more sessions at Science Online than at "real science" meetings, simply because the unconference venue is not adjacent to the hotel. Once you are there, you may as well be in a discussion session since you can't run back to your room and "work on your paper" (AKA chill out with Diet Coke and a novel or daytime TV).

This will be my fourth Science Online, and I see the meeting at a crossroads. First, the venue (North Carolina State University McKimmon Center) and participants expanded in 2012 and 2013. Many of these participants remain unfamiliar to me; the meeting has already crossed the "intimacy" line (and not in the slimey sense of the word; you know what I'm talking about). Also, last year the informal organizational group became a real entity with a dot-com web site. Spin-off conferences, in a variety of locales and on selected topics, sprung up in 2013 as well. The people and concept of Science Online are evolving, and growing pains are inevitable. Will Science Online become a more formal organization with a bigger, more professional conference? Or will it step back and downsize into several smaller gatherings in an attempt to maintain the "community" feel?

I do not know which way things will go, but I plan to make my opinions known. If things proceed in a direction I do not like, I may be writing one of those "Why I'm Not" posts next year. In the meantime, I know I have achieved things I would not have without the Science Online experience. I will be there in 2014, for the learning and the party - just like every other meeting I attend.

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Down with Glam; Up with Fast & Cheap

Apr 03 2013 Published by under Publication, Research issues

A lot of folks are trying to reinvent the way we share research. I cannot remember the last time I read a paper journal; even with traditional publishing models, the dead tree format ends up in the recycling. When I need to know something, I search online via PubMed or Google Scholar. Topics I want to keep up-to-date at all times have shared searches that update me periodically.

Some journals will now be online-only, either with a fairly traditional publishing model or a more liberal acceptance policy (PLoS One, for example). Platforms such as Figshare allow investigators to make raw data publicly available and citable, even if not included in the final paper for a study. Recently, Beyond the PDF 2 took place in Amsterdam where visionaries gathered to once again discuss the printing press of this century. More information can be found about this conference and conversation here.

PeerJAfter scanning this discussion, I began playing around with PeerJ. The model is intriguing; you pay a lifetime fee up front. You can freely pre-publish works (PeerJ PrePrints) and get public feedback . With a mouse-click, you can send your manuscript to peer review which will be based on scientific soundness of the research without attention to impact or "sex-appeal" factor of the work. The goal here is PLoS One without the high publication fees. For $99 you can become a basic lifetime member, able to submit unlimited public "pre-publications" and publish one peer-reviewed article for life. Of course, you will be expected to also review at least one article for life. All authors on the article must have memberships; if you wait until article acceptance to join, fees will be ~30% greater. Right now, content in PeerJ is limited to biomedical science and health issues. PeerJ only publishes research articles. Literature review articles, commentaries, case reports and other works may instead be submitted to PeerJ PrePrints.

My biggest concern took some digging about the web site:

PeerJ will be indexed in all major Abstracting & Indexing databases, including for example PubMed, PubMedCentral, GoogleScholar, and Microsoft Academic Search. We will also be applying for indexed status in services such as MedLine and Web of Science.

This model certainly has the right price; $99 runs less than the page fees for my last journal submission. As a senior professor, this site may be perfect for some of my less impressive results that I just want to get out there. When I was early in my career, PeerJ would have let me get some new data peer-reviewed and published and still make my grant deadline.

What other new-wave publishing services deserve exploration? Any Whizbangers have experience with PeerJ or similar platforms?

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#EB2012: Renal Section Honors

Apr 24 2012 Published by under EB2012 Meeting, [Biology&Environment]

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Di Feng makes an award-winning presentation

Every year the Renal Section of the American Physiological Society grants awards to undergraduate and post-doctoral trainees for work they submit and present at the meeting. A committee selects 5 finalists based on the abstract submitted, and their presentations are judged during the Posters and Professors Session that was held on Sunday, April 22.

Undergraduate Finalists

  • Justine Abais, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Di Feng, Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Teresa Kennedy-Lydon, Roya Veterinary College
  • Jacob Richards, University of Floriday
  • Ryan Cornelius, University of Nebraska

The award went to Di Feng for her work :

Genetic regulation and functional relevance of the p67phox gene in salt-sensitive hypertension
Di Feng1, Chun Yang1, Jozef Lazar2, David Mattson1, Paul O'Connor1, Allen W. Cowley, Jr. 1,3. 1Physiology Department, 2Human and Molecular Genetics Center, 3Cardiovascular Center, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

Untitled

Feng receives her plaque while Jacob Richards looks on

A narrow region on rat Chr 13 was identified to harbor salt- sensitive genes. p67phox, a cytosolic subunit of NAD(P)H oxidase, is located in this region. We have previously found that on a high salt diet, the renal outer medulla (OM) of Dahl salt-sensitive (SS) rats exhibited higher levels of p67phox expression and NAD(P)H oxidase activity than salt-resistant congenic rats that contain the p67phox allele from the salt-resistant Brown Norway rat. We generated the first p67phox null mutant (p67phox-/-) SS rat in which we observed significantly reduced salt-sensitive hypertension. In our present study, we sequenced a 1650 bp promoter region and found that the SS allele of p67phox had a 204 bp deletion and four SNPs compared to the BN allele. The activity of the SS p67phox promoter was 1.7 fold higher than that of the BN p67phox promoter. We further characterized p67phox-/- rats and showed that they had a 40% reduction in OM H2O2 levels measured from interstitial fluid collected by microdialysis. Respiratory burst responses of peritoneal macrophages to phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate were abolished in p67phox-/- rats. p67phox-/- rats also showed reduced renal injury, including reduced OM fibrosis, infiltrated T cells and macrophages, and glomerulosclerosis. These data provide new insights into the genetic regulation and functional relevance of p67phox in salt-sensitive hypertension. (HL-82798; HL-29587)

Postdoctoral finalists included:

  •  Krishna Boini, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Richard Grimm, University of Mryland
  • Elena Mironova, University of Texas-San Antonio
  • Ann Riquier-Brison, University of Southern California
  • Ankita Roy, University of Pittsburgh
Untitled

Dr. Grimm gives me a guided tour of his work

Richard Grimm took home the award for this submission:

SPAK, OSR1 and Cab39/MO25 form an Interdependent Signaling system which Regulates Thiazide-Sensitive Salt- transport, Distal Tubule Mass and Blood Pressure
P Richard Grimm1, Tarvinder Taneja1, Jie Liu1, Richard Coleman1, Yang-Yi Chen1, Eric Delpire2, James B Wade1, Paul A Welling1. 1Physiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, 2Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Nashville, TN

STE20/SPS-1-related proline-alanine-rich protein kinase (SPAK) and, Oxidative Stress Related Kinase (OSR1), co-localize at the apical membrane of the Thick ascending Limb (TAL) and Distal Convoluted Tubule (DCT) and both regulate the potassium- dependent sodium-chloride co-transporter, NKCC2, thiazide- sensitive sodium-chloride cotransporter, NCC in vitro. Yet genetic ablation of SPAK in mice causes a salt-wasting nephropathy that is restricted to the DCT, reminiscent of Gitelman’s syndrome. Here, we explore why proper DCT function is especially SPAK- dependent. In the TAL of SPAK-/- mice, OSR1 and Cab39/MO25, a newly described OSR1/SPAK regulatory protein, remain at the apical membrane where they function with a compensatory increase in the AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) to hyper- phosphorylate NKCC2. By contrast, the OSR1/SPAK/M025 signal transduction apparatus is completely disrupted in the DCT. OSR1 and MO25 become largely displaced from the thiazide-sensitive sodium-chloride cotransporter, NCC, and the apical membrane. OSR1 redistributes to dense punctate structures within the cytoplasm. These changes are paralleled by a dramatic decrease in NCC abundance and phosphorylation. Without SPAK and the proper localization of OSR1 and MO25, phosphorylation- dependent regulation of NCC by dietary sodium restriction is lost. SPAK-/- mice also exhibit a decrease in the mass of the distal convoluted tubule, exclusive to DCT1. As a result of the interdependent nature of OSR1 and MO25 on SPAK in the DCT, SPAK-/- mice are highly sensitive to dietary salt-restriction, displaying prolonged negative sodium balance and hypotension.

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Dr. Grimm wins

 

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#EB2012: A Pendrin for Your Thoughts

Apr 23 2012 Published by under EB2012 Meeting, [Biology&Environment]

Pendrin, also known as SLC26A4, is a luminal anion transporter. Anions, molecules with a negative charge, include chloride, bicarbonate, iodide, and others. The family of similar transporters (see figure) have some functional overlap, although knock-out studies confirm some individual transport specificities.

A child that lacks pendrin has Pendred Syndrome. This usually occurs as a monogenic recessive disorder (both parents have a mutation in the pendrin gene) although a few families have a digenic inheritance where the mutation occurs in a gene that controls the creation or function of pendrin. The major manifestation of the syndrome is progressive hearing loss; this syndrome may produce as much as 10% of congenital familial deafness. The syndrome also causes enlargement of portions of the inner ear and an enlarged thyroid gland (or goiter). The function of the thyroid remains normal, but it accumulates material and grows.

After Richard J. H. Smith reviewed the features and genetics of the syndrome, Philene Wangemann showed the role of pendrin in ear development in mice.

Click to enlarge

Using conditional knock-outs of the gene, her group has established a critical 2-day period in gestation where lack of pendrin results in deafness. The mice also develop enlargement of the cochlea, just like humans. For her review on pendrin in ear development click here (PDF is free!).

So why does the thyroid enlarge in this syndrome? For those of you who are not endocrinologists (I may not be one, but I do sleep with one), thyroid hormone contains iodine.That's why a low iodine diet so profoundly affects growth and development (AKA cretinism). Since this family of transporters helps move iodine about, the thyroid can enlarge, even though its ability to make and release the hormone is intact. This topic was addressed by Peter Kopp.

Finally (saving the best for last?) Vladimir Pech reviewed the role of pendrin in blood pressure regulation. Pendrin resides in the type B intercalated cells of the cortical collecting duct where it exchanges chloride and bicarbonate between the lumen and the cell. Pendrin knock-out mice have normal blood pressures; however, during states where aldosterone would be activated (low sodium and low volume), pendrin mice are unable to conserve sodium as avidly as those with the transporter.

Huh? Most aldosterone-dependent sodium reabsorption occurs via the ENaC channel in the principal cell. How does a lack of pendrin tell another cell to behave differently? It does so by decreasing the activation of ENaC which requires a cleavage step to work. Perhaps this occurs via altered luminal pH or bicarbonate concentration, or some other signal that impairs the milieu for sodium channel activation. More to come; click here for a nice review (unfortunately not available freely online).

Ear and kidney abnormalities often occur together in children. Pendrin may provide one link to explain some of these issues.

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#EB2012 #Navar: Reflections on the Work of a Lifetime

Apr 23 2012 Published by under EB2012 Meeting, [Biology&Environment]

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Dr. Navar and his entourage, pre-lecture

The final official event of Saturday actually provided the official opening of the meeting for the American Physiological Society (APS). Current president Joey Granger walked us through 125 years of the APS, including the founding of the umbrella organization FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) 100 years ago. He then introduced the speaker, Gabby Navar, who presented his lifetime of work in renal physiology and the role of the kidney in hypertension (click here for more background).

Science takes place in baby-steps. Even a paper in a glamour journal with years of data, like a toddler's first efforts, is just as likely to lead to falling back on a full diaper as a movement forward. Take enough of these steps, and you can eventually get somewhere. You may always risk a trip and a fall, but with time you move forward.

Dr. Navar's contributions to science brought to mind two major observations. First, hypertension is not a disease. A disease has a cause and an effect. While the effect may be a single physiological measurement such as blood pressure, its causes clearly involve multiple genes and environmental factors. We should think of it as a syndrome.

Syndrome generally means a cluster of symptoms; the origins of the word signify concurrence. For example, a microangiopathic hemolytic anemia with kidney damage leads to a diagnosis of hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome may be the result of several known diseases as well as some not yet characterized. I propose that hypertension, while not a cluster of abnormalities, is a syndrome in  a similar sense. Multiple diseases, defined and not, can cause high blood pressure as their sole manifestation.

The other point I considered overnight was how essential animal research has been in our advances in hypertension. We simply would not be able to tease out the complex relationships between neural, renal, and other mechanisms in blood pressure control without the use of animals.

Congratulations to Gabby Navar for a great talk and a good start to a great meeting.

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#EB2012 #apsACE: My First Storify

Apr 22 2012 Published by under EB2012 Meeting, [Biology&Environment]

I attended an excellent session on the need to increase transparency and public outreach in animal experimentation. I tweeted throughout the session, and I have assembled the highlights using Storify. I had hoped to include original observations from others in the room, but most of the other tweets were retweets of me (or the others tweeting forgot to use the hashtag).

I am reminded of the following facts:

  • People are programmed to want the world to make sense
  • Nature abhors a vacuum
  • If there is no story to make sense of something, people will supply their own
  • If you want the truth to be known, you should supply the story

Until scientists supply the stories to justify their research on both scientific and ethical grounds, people will remain suspicious of our intentions. We must reach out to the public and let them see and feel and hear our stories; not hide in a vivarium-bunker.

 

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