Debbie Knight

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Responsible science is not about cutting corners!

In research issue(s) on March 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Reuters reported on March 28, 2012 that many cancer ‘discoveries’ were inaccurate and irreproducible according to a former researcher at Amgen, Inc. This researcher, C. Glenn Begley, chose 53 findings that were published by reputable researchers in top-tiered journals. He tasked his research team to reproduce those findings in the lab. Out of the 53, the team managed to replicate only six of the studies.

One possible reason for this?

According to the Reuters story, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies.

“We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure,” said Begley. “I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they’d done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It’s very disillusioning.”

What the heck?! A researcher reported on something he saw one time?!

That is so wrong!

Scientists aren’t trained this way. Or at least responsible scientists aren’t.

We’re taught to repeat (repeat! repeat!) experiments several times to be sure that the results are “real” and not a fluke. That it’s a real and observable phenomenon and not something we’ve inadvertently built into the system.

I can’t speak for other scientific disciplines like chemistry or physics, but in biology, the systems we’re studying don’t always cooperate nicely. We may have to repeat an experiment many times because there might be a lot of variability in the measurements we’re taking.

Even when we use supposedly pure cell cultures, we’ll see some “bounce” in the results. And when you’re talking animal studies or clinical studies, it’s just that much more complicated to see a pattern in the data. Often the pattern is so difficult to see that statistics are brought in.

Scientists are also trained to approach the problem from more than one angle, to show the phenomenon in more than one way. Again, this is to be sure that the results are real and not something to do with the way we’re testing our hypothesis. So, for example, say we want to show that a drug is not harmful to the cells. We might add the drug to the cells and merely observe them (documenting it in photographs, of course). But that’s not enough to say the drug didn’t kill the cells. To say this, we would have to perform other techniques, maybe look at certain proteins that become expressed on the surface of a dying cell or look for damage to the DNA or look at the health of the mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell – are they still cranking out the power or did they shutter up the factories and move on?). By coming at the question from various angles, the answer is closer to the truth.

Does an experiment work perfectly every time? Not always, even though we try to do things exactly the same way every time. There’s human error, instrument error, misalignment of the planets (for those who are a little on the superstitious side) and, of course, mother nature herself. Any or all of these things can make an experiment come out slightly different each time it’s done. But the pattern should be there.

Do scientists show their “best” data? You bet we do! We find the best photo that shows what we saw (every time, not just once). We show the best graph of the results we saw (every time).

Do scientists show results they’ve only seen once? If they’re ethical and honest researchers, absolutely not! Unless, of course, they explain that in the published article.

I am appalled that this researcher (the one who confessed to Begley) would act in such an unprofessional way.

Is there this much pressure to publish that the scientist would pluck one unreproducible result to show in his publication just because it fit his hypothesis?

All I know is that scientific conduct like that casts doubt on the scientific community and erodes public confidence in the scientific process.

So, come on all you scientists out there: avoid the shortcuts and do the good science I know you can!

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A Day in the Life: March 29, 2012

In research log on March 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…”

Today in our joint lab meeting, the chemistry graduate student mentioned he did an experiment “in situ.”  As he continued talking, it hit me that he (a chemist!) just used the term “in situ.” I know what it means to a biologist, but what the heck does that mean to a chemist?

Is it merely a “you say ‘potaytoh’, I say ‘potahtoe’?”

The term “in situ” is a Latin phrase meaning: ”in the natural or original position or place,” (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary).

To a biologist, the term is used in many circumstances. I’ve done a special staining procedure called “in situ hybridization” on a thin slice of animal tissue where you look to see what cells within that tissue are expressing a particular gene.

In situ, like in the case of cancer in situ, usually means an early stage of cancer where the cancer cells have stayed where exactly where they started – they haven’t spread to neighboring tissues.

So what would “in situ” mean to a chemist? I asked him. He said it meant he monitored the experiment in the instrument where he started the chemical process. He monitored it in place.

There are other Latin terms that have slightly different meanings between biologists and biochemists, for instance.

“in vitro”

To a biologist, this means studying what’s going on in a cell growing in culture in the lab.

To a biochemist? It means mixing reagent A with enzyme B in a test tube.

“in vivo”

To a biologist this usually means studying what’s going on in a living multicellular organism, like in an animal.

To a biochemist? It means studying the phenomenon in a cell growing in a culture in the lab. And yes, this is what biologists call “in vitro.”

Confusing? It certainly can be when scientists talk across disciplines.

A Day in the Life: March 28, 2012

In research log on March 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…”

Cleaning off your desk is that you can throw out something that you haven’t needed in months (or years) pretty much guarantees that you’ll need it the very next day (or soon thereafter). Such was the case with my office desk. Piles of papers piled semi-neatly on a corner of my desk. Piled there because I needed them but hadn’t quite gotten around to filing them or they were in purgatory — I wasn’t sure if I would need them or not and by placing them in the pile it deferred any immediate need to make a decisive decision.

I was sifting through the time capsule of a pile because I needed one of those papers. And while I sifted, I began purging the pile.

Seminar announcement from two months ago that I didn’t attend?

Toss.

Journal article on autoimmunity?

Save.

An advertisement from a scientific supply company from a year ago?

Toss.

Old flow cytometry results from testing a reagent for a lab class I helped teach?

Toss.

This happened about a month ago.

Guess what I needed today?

Those old flow cytometry results. I needed to use the very same reagent in today’s experiment. Those sheets of paper would have told me how much of the reagent to optimally use. But now? Now I have to scroll through the scientific literature to find a ballpark amount of the reagent to use. Why, oh, why did I throw out those sheets of paper?

A month ago, I had no idea I would need it since it wasn’t directly related to my research.

How short sighted of me!

(Sigh)

Such was my day today. Hope yours is going better.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am

After making a lab reagent that had a detergent called sodium dodecyl sulfate (or SDS as lab rats like to call it), I noticed how colorful the bubbles were and couldn’t resist taking a few photos. The glass flask (through which the photo was taken) made for some interesting reflections.

A Day in the Life: March 23, 2012

In research log on March 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…”

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how to start up a cell culture — from the deep freeze. Today, I will discuss how to move the cells from one culture flask to a larger one (or ones). This process is called “passing cells” or “passaging cells.” And it’s something you do if you need lots cells for an experiment or experiments.

I’m working with cells that were isolated from tiny blood vessels in the human brain — they’re officially called “human brain cortex microvascular endothelial cells” but in our lab we call them BMVEC (we pronounce it”buh-muh-veck”).

The cells were brought out of the deep freeze (or cryopreservation) three days ago and they have divided and grown. Here’s how they looked after the first 24 hours:

The cells 24 hours after passing. They are now completely attached and have gone through a round or two of cell division. Time = 24 hours

And after 72 hours…

Cells after three days in culture. They have gone through many cell divisions and have filled in all the empty spaces. We call this a "confluent monolayer" and these cells will be moved from this flask to a larger one.

The culture medium is removed. The cells, still attached to the growing surface, are washed twice with phosphate-buffered saline. This is to remove any residual medium and unattached (presumably dead) cells from the flask. You need to do this before added an enzyme that will detach the cells from the growing surface — there are components in the culture medium that will neutralize the enzyme’s activity.

A small amount of an enzyme called trypsin is added. This enzyme chews on certain amino acids in proteins — and the cells are attached to the bottom of the culture flask by a thin protein layer. So the idea is to treat the cells long enough that the enzyme only chews on those proteins and not on the cellular membranes. So you need to monitor the cells. The enzyme can detach the cells in a few seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on how long the cells have been in the culture flask (many cells can make their own attachment proteins, so the longer they’re in the flask, the more protein, the tougher it is to get them off the flask’s surface) and the strength of the enzyme solution.

Here is a series of photos showing the cells detaching from the flask’s surface.

Moments after trypsin (an enzyme) is added, the cultured cells begin to round up. This is seen under the microscope as they are going from a dark color to a white color.

About 30 seconds later, more of the cells are rounding up as they detach from the culture flask's surface.

Here all the cells have rounded up. At this point a sharp tap on the bench top will dislodge the cells completely from the culture flask's surface.

Once the cells have been detached from the surface of the culture flask, they are still in the enzymatic solution. The trypsin needs to be neutralized so that it will not damage the cell membranes, essentially killing the cells. To do this, culture medium that contains blood serum is added. The serum acts as a enzyme target as well as contains factors that inactivate the enzyme.

The cells have been detached from the growing surface of this culture flask using an enzyme called trypsin. After detachment, the enzyme was neutralized by adding culture medium.

The cells are then pelleted out of this solution using a centrifuge. And once pelleted to the bottom of the tube, the solution is gently removed. Culture medium is added to the pellet, the cells are mixed and transferred to new culture flasks.

In my case, the cells had been growing in a culture flask called a T75 which has a growth surface area of 75 square centimeters. For the BMVEC, they need buddies around to grow, so you can’t pass them too thin into another culture flask. They can should be passed at about a one-to-four ratio. This means that if they were growing in ONE T75, I can only pass them into FOUR T75s or an area approximately equivalent to those four T75s (i.e., 300 square centimeters). In my case, I am passing them into two T162 flasks — slightly more surface area than I just mentioned (324 square centimeters to be exact), but because it’s the next sized flask we have in the lab, I’ll be using them.

The cells are in the top flask and will be passed into two larger flasks so they continue to grow.

Here the cells have been moved (or passed) from the small flask on the right to the two larger flasks on the right.

Flasks are placed in the incubator so the cells will grow to cover the bottom surface of the culture flasks.

And there you have it, Passing Cells 101.

For the experiment I need to do, I will need quite a few more of these large flasks, so I will be repeating this process a couple of times — each time increasing the number of culture flasks I am working with. Next passage will give me eight flasks. And the following passage will give me 32 flasks.

How often do I pass the cells? It generally depends on how “happy” the cells are as they grow, but usually three to five days. So hopefully in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to do my experiment.

Photo of the Week

In photo log on March 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

This photo is taken of a friend’s lab bench. She was testing different culture conditions for a bacterial strain with which she works. It looks like the row of tubes that is second from the left is the winner — it is more cloudy than the other three sets.

A Day in the Life: March 20, 2012 (in honor of the first day of Spring)

In research log on March 20, 2012 at 9:00 am

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…”

In honor of the first day of Spring, I’m writing about cell culture. Specifically, thawing and growing cells after they have been in the deep freeze. Not so dissimilar to the grass turning a vibrant green and tulips stretching toward the sky after a long Winter’s nap.

Cultured cells can be stored for years in suspended animation simply by adding a cryopreservative (most labs use dimethyl sulfoxide or DMSO) and placing them in vat of liquid nitrogen (which freezes at a balmy 63 K (−210 °C; −346 °F) according to Wikipedia).

The cells I am working with today have been in liquid nitrogen for twelve years in our lab. And as long as we keep topping off the liquid nitrogen container (called a cryopreservation tank), they would keep indefinitely.

One of two cryopreservation tanks we have in the lab. Each tank has four racks each of which holds nine boxes which hold up to 81 vials of cells. So, one tank can hold up to 2,916 vials.

Because we have two cryopreservation tanks, each having four racks of nine boxes, we keep a record of where we put a vial of cells. Some labs use a computer-based system, but we find a handwritten logging system gives us more flexibility in the actual lab setting. This means we have to flip through a few pages in a 3-ring binder, but that’s okay.

This particular log dates back when the lab had only a few vials of cells and I simply didn’t know any better. I improved on this logging method when I worked in another lab — using a grid that shows the exact location of each vial in each box. While there was a computer database built into this system, it was still easier to just mark off the vial removed by hand.

Our cell log. We've found a handwritten logging system works better for us in the lab setting than a computer database. However, there are better ways than this to keep track of frozen vials of cells.

The cells I’m looking for are human brain cortex microvascular endothelial cells or BMVEC as we call them in our lab. We pronounce them “buh-muh-veck” rather than enunciating each individual letter — it’s easier to say.  So they are in rack #6 in box E. But didn’t I say that there were four racks per tank? Well, this means this rack is found in our second cryotank which contains racks 5 through 8.

I will be choosing the vials labelled “P5.” This indicates that the cells have been grown and moved (or passed) from a smaller growth flask into a larger one a total of five times. These cells can only divide so many times in their cultured lifetime.  BMVEC can only be passed about nine times before they will no longer grow.

Once the vial location has been found using the frozen cell log, I need to find them in the cryopreservation tank.

There are a couple of different cryopreservation tank systems. This one holds the cells under the liquid nitrogen surface rather than in the gas phase just above the liquid surface. You can see wisps of the gas phase coming out of the tank as I remove the insulated lid.

Here I'm pulling up one of four racks stored in the cryopreservation tank. Because the boxes of cells are stored in the liquid nitrogen, care must be taken as the excess liquid nitrogen pours off the rack and out of the boxes. Safety glasses and special insulated gloves should be worn at this point. At -346F, the liquid nitrogen can cause serious skin burns.

The frozen rack is set on a bench top or other surface that can withstand the extreme temperature.

Removing the box that contains the cells I will need. It should be noted that I am only wearing latex gloves. Ideally I should be wearing specially insulated gloves, but I find them too bulky to manipulate these boxes and vials. I work quickly because this stuff is really cold and can cause a serious freezer burn.

I have located the vial of cells I will be using today.

The cells need to be thawed relatively quickly (but gently) because they do not tolerate the cryopreservative very well. Using water that is room temperature and a styrofoam rack to help the vial float so water does not seep under the lid, the cells are thawed.

A frozen vial of cells is placed in a styrofoam rack and into room temperature water to thaw.

Vial of frozen cells thawing in a beaker of room temperature water. This only takes a minute or two.

Once thawed, the cells need to be quickly removed from the freezing medium which contains a cryopreservative. (Please pardon the poor focus in this photo)

The thawing process only takes a minute or two. The cells do not tolerate the cryopreservative so it needs to be removed in a timely manner. The cryopreservative is in the medium to coat the cells and prevent ice crystals from rupturing the cell’s membrane. But the cells are floating around in this cryopreservative, so how do we get them out of there? We first move them from the vial into a larger tube. More medium (without the cryopreservative) is added to the tube to dilute out the cryopreservative. Then the tube is placed in a centrifuge to spin the cells just hard enough so they accumulate at the bottom of the tube into what we call a “cell pellet.” The liquid on top of the cell pellet, or supernatant, is removed so that all that is left in the tube are the cells. At this point, some labs add more medium and centrifuge the cells again in a process called a “wash.” We don’t do this. We just add the culture medium and move it into the culture flask.

One thing that should be noted, the culture flasks that BMVEC grow in need to be pre-coated with a solution that helps the cells “stick” to the culture flask’s surface. In this case, we use a solution of fibronectin, a substance produced by another cell type called a fibroblast.

Gently mixing the cells before moving them to a new tube.

Transferring the cells from the vial to a tube.

Putting the tube into the centrifuge "bucket" to pellet the cells.

The centrifuge must be balanced with another tube of similar weight, including the same volume of fluid. It is critical to balance a centrifuge to prevent damage to the rotor.

The cells are pelleted at 1200 rpms (400 times gravity) for ten minutes in a centrifuge. The spin is fast enough to pellet the cells but not so fast as to break them open. Note: the rpms may be different depending on the centrifuge size.

Checking for a cell pellet at the bottom of the tube. While it may not be apparent in this photo, there is a small pellet of cells (whitish color) at the bottom of the tube (the end with a slight point).

About 10 milliliters of culture medium is added to the cell pellet, gently mixed to break up the pellet, and moved to a pre-coated culture flask. This is what we call a T75 flask -- it has a surface growth area of 75 centimeters squared.

Once the cells and their growth medium is placed in the culture flask, the flask is placed in a cell incubator. This incubator hold the cells at body temperature (37C or 98.6F). The atmosphere is made of 95% air that’s in the room and 5% carbon dioxide — the carbon dioxide helps the culture medium maintain a neutral pH.

The culture flask is placed in the incubator so the cells can grow so they pack in the flask.

The cell culture incubator. It keeps the cells at body temperature (37C or 98.6F). It also maintains a carbon dioxide level of five percent inside the incubator to help the culture medium stay at neutral pH.

These cells will take a few days to completely cover the growing surface (we call this “confluence”). The growing surface is the bottom of the flask which is covered by the culture medium. Once completely packed in, these cells will stop growing (until they are passed into a larger flask). This is different than other cell lines that are taken from cancerous tumors — those tend to keep growing despite crowded conditions because their growth is unchecked (they are cancer after all).

We can look at the cells using a special microscope called an inverted phase contrast microscope. The optics are such that cells that are attached and spread out on the growing surface look dark and the cells that are lightly tethered to the growing surface or floating in the culture medium look white (we call them refractile).  I have included a few photos of what the cells look like right after passing them and over 72 hours.

We use an inverted phase-contrast microscope to look at the cells in the culture flask. Light passes up through the flask and the light is captured and redirected to the eye pieces. In most light microscopes the light passes from the top and collected under the stage for observation.

Cells appear as bright white spheres immediately after they are passed into a culture flask. They have yet to settle out of the medium. Time = 0 hours

Cells two hours after passing. They no longer look white but are a deep gray. They also are still somewhat spherical because they have only just begun to "stick" and spread on the growing surface of the culture flask. They will spread out a little further on the culture surface over the next few hours. Time = 2 hours

The cells 24 hours after passing. They are now completely attached and have gone through a round or two of cell division -- there are more cells here than there were in the previous photo. Time = 24 hours

The cells after two days. They have undergone more cell division -- there are more. The two cells circled in the lower left-hand corner have just completed a round of cell division and will spread out. Time = 48 hours

Cells after three days in culture. They have gone through many cell divisions and have filled in all the empty spaces. We call this a "confluent monolayer" and these cells will be moved from this flask to a larger one (see later post). There are still some cells actively dividing in this photo. Time = 72 hours

And for some photos of BMVEC going through cell division…

The cell that has a whitish "glow" around it is in the early stages of cell division. Here the chromosomes can be seen lining up (dark squiggles with halo around them inside the cell).

The cell in the upper left corner (with a white glow) has just divided its chromosomes (dark matter) into two compartments and a cell membrane has begun to form across the middle to form two cells.

The white-haloed cells in the center have completed cell division, the chromosomes are the dark objects inside, and are in the process of separating from each other.

And there you have it: how to thaw and culture cells. Of course, I didn’t cover how to do all this so that the cultures do not become contaminated with bacteria or fungus. Aseptic technique is something that needs to be taught either in person or in a very well-produced video.

All photos were taken by me with cell phone in hand — not so easy to juggle cell culture and a cell phone while trying to keep the culture sterile, let me tell you!  But hopefully this gives you an idea how cells are cultured in the lab.

Happy first day of Spring, everyone!

Photo of the Week

In photo log on March 15, 2012 at 9:00 am

Photo of a scanner digitizing Western blot results.

Although there is technology available that can take a direct digital image of a Western blot, we don’t have it in my lab. What we do have is x-ray film. It may be old school, but it gets the job done. We expose the Western blot to the x-ray film for various amounts of time, hoping to get the right exposure for that publication-quality image.  The film is then scanned to create a digitized computer image.

In this photo, there are several little Western blot results on a single piece of x-ray film.

For more information on how a Western blot is done, see this blog post.

A fly on the wall

In observation on March 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

I was a fly on the wall this week.

I sat in the back of a classroom as graduate students discussed, dissected and debated whether two controversial studies on the bird flu virus (Influenza H5N1) should be published in their entirety.

The scientific manuscripts in question were submitted to Science and Nature for publication. These reports reveal the exact mutations the scientists created giving the bird flu virus the ability to pass airborne from one mammal to another (in this case, a ferret – a commonly used animal model to study airborne virus transmission). The studies suggest that with a little reshuffling of the virus’ genetic material –whether by Mother Nature or in the laboratory – the mutated virus may pass from human to human via a sneeze or a cough. Up to this point, the bird flu (the one found in nature without these mutations) typically passes to humans only by direct physical contact with an infected bird, killing about six in ten people it infects.

The controversy arises because the manuscripts give the details on how the mutant viruses were made and what the exact genetic sequences are — a possible recipe for disaster if the information falls into the wrong hands, such as a bioterrorist.

The bird flu virus (Influenza H5N1). Photo from CDC

Since the students couldn’t read the actual manuscripts, they had to prepare for their classroom debate by reviewing four commentaries published in Science this year, one of which was written by the authors of one of these controversial studies. (The references/links for these papers are listed at the end of this post.)

The students also had to consider the recommendations given by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to only publish a portion of the story – the part without the methods and the DNA sequence. These missing parts would be available only on a need-to-know basis because of the risk that the information might be used to craft the virus into a bioweapon.

I can only imagine how difficult making the decision was for the panel of scientists as they set forth an unprecedented recommendation that was published in Science last month.

In this article, they wrote: “There was significant potential for harm in fully publishing these results and that the harm exceeded the benefits of publication, we therefore recommended that the work not be fully communicated in an open forum.”

They continued: “By recommending that the basic result be communicated without methods or details, we believe that the benefits to society are maximized and the risks minimized.”

Did the students agree with this?

Many were skeptical.

One student pointed out that weapons such as guns get to underground groups all the time. And the same may happen with this rather sensitive information.

“No matter what you do to keep that information secure, you’re only going to end up hiding it from your own people that would be developing a vaccine or something helpful,” she said.

Putting the danger of bioterrorism into perspective, one student argued that the polio virus can be made in the lab just from the DNA sequences available online, without even having access to the virus itself. The genetic sequences of smallpox and ebola viruses are available online as well.

“An ebola virus outbreak inNew Yorkmight be slightly more scary than even the bird flu,” he said. “Why choose (a bird flu outbreak) when an ebola outbreak is even much more ‘bioterroristy’?”

Later in the debate he pointed out that terrorists aim for impact (like frightening images). He invoked the iconic images produced when terrorists hit theWorldTradeCenter.

“Ebola? People bleeding out on the streets? That’s a big picture,” he said.

As it turns out, the discussion leader has worked with a virus that was on the list of biowarfare agents.

“It’s actually pretty hard to make bioterrorist agents – especially with viruses,” she said.

Another student pointed out that these papers covering the controversy have served to increase public awareness.

“I’m all for one discussing things openly, but if your aim is to keep information under wraps, why have a debate at all? Just release it to the scientific community – not many other people are going to hear it,” she said.

(I don’t think she considered what would happen if the media focused their beacon on the discovery, but this didn’t come up in the discussion)

One student suggested that scientists and government agencies should work on neutralizing the threat by developing an effective vaccine. (Good point)

By keeping the information on a need-to-know basis, you could be effectively keeping the information from people who could make a difference in developing those vaccines (i.e., researchers not considered as “needing to know”).

“It’s so dumb. The ‘bad guys’ are going to get hold of this (information) somehow, someway. So by keeping it away from all the ‘good guys’ for as long as possible we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” another student said.

Another professor present was asked to weigh in on the topic.

“I’ve been a scientist for a long time and I really have trouble shaking off the idea that we’re in this business to discover and disseminate,” he said. “I completely agree with the fact that restricting the information in these two papers is not going to stop people who want this information from getting it. I really think it’s going to be an obstacle for developing vaccines and antivirals.”

When the class was polled as to whether the manuscripts should be published in their entirety, the majority of the students raised their hands in favor of revealing all the scientific details.

This left me wondering if we’ve become so accustomed to the idea that there are really no secrets thanks to the Internet and watchdogs like the media. Do we assume that if the information is not openly reported in the scientific literature, it would somehow be leaked (intentionally or inadvertently)? (think WikiLeaks).

Have we, as a society, become so jaded to think that scientific discoveries such as this will be used by a nefarious group of individuals to create a bioweapon even though this same information could be used for the collective good, like developing vaccines?

The sad truth is that, yes, we probably are.

Were the scientists on the NSABB right in recommending that the information contained in these scientific manuscripts not be fully disclosed? Who is to say, but I do think it was a reasonable compromise amongst the board members.

Just imagine the fiery debates and passionate discourses that must have coursed through those meeting rooms!

I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall!

Additional reading:

1. A report written by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity: Adaptations of avian flu virus are a cause for concern. February 10, 2012. Science 335:660-661. Kenneth I. Berns, Arturo Casadevall, Murray L. Cohen, Susan A. Ehrlich, Lynn W. Enquist,  J. Patrick Fitch,  David R. Franz, Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, Christine M. Grant, Michael J. Imperiale, Joseph Kanabrocki, Paul S. Keim, Stanley M. Lemon, Stuart B. Levy, John R. Lumpkin, Jeffery F. Miller, Randall Murch,  Mark E. Nance, Michael T. Osterholm, David A. Relman, James A. Roth, Anne K. Vidaver.

2. A correspondence from the authors of one of the controversial papers: Restricted Data on Influenza H5N1 Virus Transmission. Published online January 19 2012 and in print February 10 2012. Science 335: 662-663. Ron A. M. Fouchier, Sander Herfst, Albert D. M. E. Osterhaus

3. H5N1 Debates: Hung Up on the Wrong Questions. Published Online January 19 2012 and in print  February 17 2012. Science 335: 799-801. Daniel R. Perez.

4. Life Sciences at a Crossroads: Respiratory Transmissible H5N1. Published Online January 19 2012 and in print February 17 2012. Science 335: 801-802. Michael T. Osterholm and Donald A. Henderson.

Photo of the week

In photo log on March 7, 2012 at 9:00 am

A landscape of lavender-top (or purple-top) tubes taken in my department’s molecular pathology lab.

These particular tubes contain an anticoagulant (EDTA) and are used when whole blood is needed. In this case the molecular pathology lab personnel isolate DNA from the white blood cells to perform genetic testing.

When a new specimen arrives, they are assigned a number (the blue label) so the specimen can be tracked throughout the genetic testing process.

I just thought it was cool to see so many lavender tops in one place.