One of the nice things about reading older scientists’ blogs and Twitter feeds is that you get reminded of things you should know and have your own views corrected from their years of experience. One of the things that I’ve seen Larry Moran, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, write about repeatedly is the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.
The Central Dogma is a concept that was described by Francis Crick, one of the two scientists who described the structure of DNA, and can be summarised by saying that sequence information can be transferred between nucleic acids or from nucleic acids to protein but never from protein to either protein or to nucleic acid. Or, in graphical form with arrows showing transfer of sequence information:
It links back to an article on Inside Higher Ed by Lynn Talton about better structure in one’s work life. Specifically it brought up three main topics that shouldn’t be neglected; “Getting Involved in Something Outside Your Research,” “Exploring Research Beyond Your Specialty” and “Prioritizing and Planning Your Development as a Professional.” These are all things that I agree are really good to do but which I don’t think are given the attention they deserve.Continue reading →
On Thursday and Friday I was lucky enough to attend the Interscience symposium held at the University of Vienna and hosted by the Vienna Doctoral Schools. The idea was partly to show off the new doctoral schools that were supposed to join students together and partly to encourage interdisciplinary communication. There were four invited speakers with the rest being PhD students from the fields of maths, physics, biology and psychology.
Overall, it was a great experience and I got to see things that I ordinarily would not. I can’t say I followed everything (especially the maths) but many of the speakers were nice and clear and I got a better understanding of many different topics. I probably should’ve taken notes during the talks but I do remember two things that came up which I do want to mention.
First, one of the speakers was giving an idea of the sense of scale of various objects and mentioned the size of a “virus cell.” Viruses are not/do not have cells. They exist as viral particles or virions which are small protein structures that surround their genetic material. Those particles can then infect host cells which the virus uses to reproduce. As I recall, it was a physicist that made that mistake so it’s easily forgivable.
The next problem was slightly less forgivable as the speaker was an assistant professor although it is also so widespread a mistake that many accept the error as not being an error. The problem was that she displayed this as the symbol for medicine.
That symbol is called the Caduceus and, despite what you may think, it is not the symbol for medicine. It is the staff of the messenger god Hermes and represents thieves, merchants and messengers. The correct symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius; a plain staff with just a single snake curled around it.
Most professional medical associations do use the correct symbol with the incorrect one seeming to have originated due to a mistake made by the US army in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, UCT”s Faculty of Health Sciences used the incorrect symbol on their centenary tie (which I have) and that’s just a little sad. You can read about the two symbols in more detail in this article in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences or this blog post by Dr Keith Blayney.
There is a large and important debate in the scientific community at the moment which concerns access to research publications. Currently, a large amount of research is only available if a researcher or institution is willing to pay, often exorbitant fees, to access it. The debate has focussed on many issues, such as whether it is right for publishers to profit off research that is funded by the public when the researchers receive nothing or how a combination of high costs and funding limitations further the research gap between developed and developing countries.
This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.
I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say: Continue reading →
I published a new article in Bio-Protocol this week describing how to isolate strains of Ustilago bromivora from the spore material that forms on infected plants. It’s certainly not all my work; the protocol is a modification of a published protocol and has been worked on by many people in the Djamei lab, as indicated in the acknowledgements. I just happened to be the one who chose to write it up.
After the publication of our previous paper on the U. bromivora/Brachypodium pathosystem, we were approached by Bio-Protocol to publish certain protocols in full in their journal. You would think that people would be eager. It’s a lab protocol and writing it up takes very little work yet you get an article published. I was the only one that expressed an interest in writing this up. I imagine it’s because it’s not a “sexy” paper but that mindset neglects something very important. Science is not just about findings; it’s a way of discovering how the world works which can be applied to any situation. At the foundation of that is the idea of sharing one’s methods so that, at least in principle, anyone with sufficient skill can repeat what you have done. Continue reading →