Book Review: Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

Hubby and I have been busy little bees thanks to both of us having to  present at our lab meetings last week and with my students having an upcoming exam. We apologize for the lack of blog activity. Here is a book review for you.

Today, I review Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life by Marcus Wohlsen. I was initially drawn to this book because science in a research lab at a university can be quite the expensive endeavor. I mean thousands and thousands of dollars to run a lab. You just can’t do science because you enjoy it. You end up having to beg for money from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health in hopes that you will have the money to pay for lab materials, care for research animals, and possibly employ a post-doctoral scientist in you lab. It’s a daunting task. So, I wanted to read about how scientists were doing the sort of science I do every day, but in their garage.

The book starts out with a story of Kay Aull, a woman whose father was diagnosed with the disease of hemochromatosis. It is a common hereditary disease, but is often tricky to diagnose because its symptoms resemble many other health problems. Genetic testing for this disease is expensive, and insurance companies often won’t pay for the test until other disease possibilities have been ruled out. Aull wanted to see if she could develop a genetic test for the disease at home. Aull had the know how since she attended MIT and worked for a DNA synthesis company. She constructed a lab in the closet of her small apartment. She was able to determine that she carried the mutation for the disease, allowing her knowledge that could be valuable if future health issues arose.

This ingenuity and desire to make science more accessible is at the heart of this book. The above story is one of many about biopunks who want biology to be something anyone has the ability to do at home, from guys who want to develop field tests for infectious diseases in developing countries, to a woman who wants to have an at home test for melamine contamination. The book also shares stories about some of history’s earliest biopunks, including Lady Montagu, who played around with early inoculations for smallpox.

The risk of being a biopunk is also discussed. This poorly understood sect of individuals become closely watched due to the threat of bioterrorism. People are afraid of what these folks could be cooking up in their homes. In fact, the FBI has a liaison that attends biopunk conferences in order to build relationships with the community.

Overall, this book is an interesting read. It’s nice that there are people out there who want to make science accessible and affordable. Who knows what types of innovations are being cooked up in someone’s garage?

Oh where oh where should I publish?

As a scientist, part of life involves writing up scientific papers about the research I’ve conducted and having them scrutinized and reviewed by a body of my peers, which hopefully culminates in publication of said paper in a journal. One of the major things to consider is where to submit your papers for them to undergo review and hopefully publication. I am currently trying to figure out where I should send a QTL paper. Here are some things we have to consider when choosing where to publish. Continue reading

Revise and Resubmit: Science and Fiction

As the Bokononists of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle used to say, I’m busy, busy, busy.  I’m leaving for a course in Vision Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory soon, so I’m rushing to collect and analyze data before I go.  I’ve also got to resubmit my latest study for peer-review since both PLoS Biology and PLoS Genetics passed on it.  Boo.

In addition to that, on Monday the Baltimore Review rejected one of my short stories, “Savages.”  As usual, I got a nice form rejection, though they did apologize for keeping the story so long (six months):

Thank you for sending us “SAVAGES.” We appreciated the chance to read your work. Unfortunately, this submission was not right for us. We are all writers ourselves, and we understand that it’s never easy to receive this message. Sorry for holding this for so long. Hope you’ll try us again in the future.

Right now I’m keeping all the rejection slips on a nail in front my desk.  They should probably disappoint me more, but they don’t.  Just need to revise and resubmit, revise and resubmit.

Laws Block the Study of Gun Violence

Violence happens.  People use guns to kill other people, and if not guns, then some other weapon.  Murders are so common, in fact, that homicides claim roughly 1,000 victims everyday and images of guns and violence fill our TV screens.  Although mass-killings like those in Columbine and Aurora continue to horrify us, they no longer surprise us.  We understand that humans kill others and that violence is just one aspect of human social behavior that we sometimes accept — think war — but often reject — think bullying, fistfights, and Aurora.

But why?  Why do will hurt, hit, and occasionally murder one another?  Social scientists could shed light on the causes of gun violence and means of preventing it.  But, unfortunately, politicians and lobbyist have stymied research into both the social sciences and gun violence.  In a new op-ed for the Washington Post, Jay Dickey and Mark Rosenberg lament the dramatic cost of gun violence — over 30,000 deaths a year, more than those murdered on September 11th and almost as many that die each year from car-crashes — and their own failure to fund research into its causes. Continue reading

Old Misconceptions Die Hard: Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

ResearchBlogging.orgTeachers operate on the assumption that students are “empty vessels” they can fill with new information.  But many students begin classes with assumptions about the world that, although intuitive, are actually incorrect.  For example, many students incorrectly believe that individuals can evolve or that all members of a species evolve together.  Teachers assume that instruction and testing will make students understand that both of these assumptions are wrong and that only populations evolve.  However, recent research suggests that simply providing students with factual information doesn’t make them drop their faulty assumptions.  As it turns out, old misconceptions die hard.
Continue reading

Pepsi soda is people!!!! Ok, not really.

I recently got into a discussion on Facebook with someone who was a friend of a friend. My friend posted about how food companies use certain selling points to trick the consumer when it comes to artificial flavorings and preservatives. For example, “No sugar added” means they probably used some sort of sugar substitute that causes cancer in lab animals. Within the comments, a friend of this friend said something along the lines of “yeah and some companies are adding fetuses to the food and drink they manufacture.” I knew exactly what this was referring to, the HEK 293 cell line. Continue reading