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So far Contributor has created 61 blog entries.

Dr. Rick Lifton on genes, genomes, and the future of medicine

by Ella Epstein Over the summer, Rockefeller University president Dr. Lifton gave a lecture on the impact of genetics on human health and disease. Interested to learn more, I reached out to Dr. Lifton to ask him more about his work.

Shai Shaham on creativity in science and music

Steven Lewis sat down with Dr. Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics at Rockefeller University, to discuss how growing up surrounded by both science and music has shaped Dr. Shaham's perspective on creativity. Research in the Shaham lab uses the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to study both programmed cell death during animal development and the roles of glial cells in nervous system development and function. Shai Shaham outside his laboratory with one of two C. elegans created by Coco 144 What attracted you to science and who have been your biggest influences? "The biggest influence for me going into science was probably my dad, who was an astrophysicist. Growing up, I heard about the science of celestial bodies and was always fascinated by it. I started out pretty sure I would become an astronomer or physicist." Your sister and brother, Orli and Gil Shaham, are professional musicians and I understand you play and perform as well. What was it like growing up in such a musical household? "My parents were both musical. My mom is a human cytogeneticist and my dad was an astrophysicist and they both played. My mom played piano and my dad violin. I remember, growing up, they would play

#FeeltheMath: finding a balance between passion and data

By Wiley Schubert Reed Photo: Bernie Sanders Rally @ RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., by Johnathan Comer Gravitational waves exist, climate change is real, and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Last fall, nearly all polling suggested that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. But political leaders and pundits trusted their guts instead of the math. Few believed his run would succeed, and the Republican establishment did little to stop it. Today, Trump is preparing for the General Election, just as the polls predicted. In his article, How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump, data expert Nate Silver admits making a “big mistake” by “selectively interpreting the evidence” and using “subjective odds” rather than basing estimates on a statistical model. Had he stuck to a data-driven approach, he concedes, he would have predicted Trump’s upsurge far earlier (he went back and ran data from the fall and winter to confirm). Similarly, this spring, New York Times columnist and Hillary Clinton supporter Paul Krugman wrote an OpEd piece advising Bernie Sanders supporters who were “Feeling the Bern” to instead “Feel the math.” The data clearly forecasted Clinton as

#microbiome: unraveling truth from hype

by Ella Epstein Almost every day, new research emerges on how the microbiome* will help us address obesity, protect us from disease, or shape our behavior. Recent research ties the microbial communities inside us to everything from digestive disorders to autism. Scientists are looking to harness and manipulate the microbiome to treat diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, asthma, colon cancer, and more. If that sounds like an ambitious goal, it is--scientists have not yet developed any FDA-approved drugs that alter the microbiome. Last month, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced their National Microbiome Initiative, investing over $121 million to “to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems.” As with any sweeping initiative (see the 2013 BRAIN Initiative designed to advance technologies for neuroscience research), hype and truth can often become dangerously intertwined, breeding misconceptions about science that can do serious damage to people’s health. Some people, feeling like they've exhausted the possibilities of modern science, try to hack their microbiome to improve their health. In fact, as we learn more and more about the ecosystem inside us, the number of ways to “cleanse,” “detox,” and “restore” balance in our bodies grows and grows. Take the booming,

Theranos: the fall of a paper billionaire and the value of transparency & collaboration in science

by Steven Lewis As someone with type 1 diabetes, I prick my fingers several times a day to test my blood sugar. When I heard about Theranos and how it could completely revolutionize laboratory blood testing, I was beyond excited. I was not alone. When Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003, it seemed like she was “poised to change health care.” “You'd have to look really hard not to see Steve Jobs in Elizabeth Holmes,” Kimberly Weisul reported for Inc.com in October 2015. Like the turtlenecked icon Jobs, Holmes dropped out of college and seemed destined to radically disrupt an industry before she was 40. Last year, she topped the FORBES list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women with a net worth of $4.5 billion. But on June 1st, Forbes revised its estimate and announced Holmes’ net worth to be zero. Absolutely nothing. On June 12th, Walgreens ended its relationship with Theranos amidst allegations that the company’s technology did not work and that their tests had been run on the machines of competitors. Losing Walgreens was a "crippling blow for Theranos," causing Theranos to close 40 of 45 Theranos Wellness Centers, a critical source of revenue for the company. Despite my hope, I was not shocked.

What science diplomacy taught me about science

by Maryam Zaringhalam   With the Rio Olympic games around the corner, I am reminded of the unifying power of sports. At the risk of playing into the stereotype of a scientist, I must admit I am by no means a sports fan. But I cannot help but admire that for the last 120 years, nations have set aside their differences to congregate in competition. Of course, this year’s Olympics have also been surrounded by a darker cloud: the looming global threat of Zika virus. With a coalition of scientists around the world mobilizing to address this danger, the epidemic underscores the unifying power of yet another more unsung global endeavor: science. International scientific cooperation is nothing new. From the threat of epidemics to the mysteries of our origins, the questions and challenges scientists tackle are universal. The language we use to discuss them, a common tongue. Despite this international view of science, the term “Science Diplomacy (SD)” still sounded strange to my ear. The concept of scientist as diplomat struck me as paradoxical — a stark contrast between the archetypes of the antisocial, hyperintellectual scientist and the sleek, socially savvy diplomat. That is, until I took Rockefeller University’s Science

Spotlight on Kadiatou Dao: tackling biological nonproliferation in Mali

by Maryam Zaringhalam   CRDF Global Robin Copeland Memorial Fellow Kadiatou Dao shares her journey to becoming a leader in biological nonproliferation in Mali and why women are so critical to the field. Kadiatou Dao “Women are the key to peace,” Kadiatou Dao declared to an eager audience at CRDF Global headquarters in April. Founded in 1995, CRDF Global is a nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through a number of incredible programs including the Robin Copeland Memorial Fellowship. The award recognizes a woman leader working to promote nonproliferation in emerging countries. So as the 2015 fellow, Dao is uniquely qualified to make such a bold and inspiring statement. With funding through the U.S. Department of State, she has spent the last year gaining the expertise to tackle biological nonproliferation of infectious disease in her mother country of Mali. I had the great fortune of meeting Dao when Rockefeller University’s Science Diplomacy class visited CRDF Global. There, she shared her experiences — which include working in the bacterial meningitis diagnostics at Mali’s National Institute of Research in Public Health and studying malaria’s resistance to drugs at the University Pierre et Marie CURIE in Paris —

Wiley Schubert Reed’s argument for the arts

by Wiley Schubert Reed Credit: Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Wildman S. R. explored how art drives the creation of technologies that improve people's lives. More than 2,500 of the world’s leading business, government, academic and cultural influencers gathered this past January in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how new and emerging technologies will revolutionize humanity. World Economic Forum (WEF) Founder Klaus Schwab describes this Fourth Industrial Revolution as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Moreover, Schwab asserts, “there has never been a time of greater promise, or greater potential peril.” New technologies have the power to change the world for the better, but also for the worse. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR have the potential to cure genetic diseases, but also create the possibility for bio engineered eugenics (The CRISPR Quandary). As digital networks expand and intertwine, the chance for cataclysmic systems failure expands as well: a single hack or act of cyber terror could shut down the power or crash the markets of

One step forward, two steps back….?

by Judith M. Reichel One step forward, two steps back By Judith M. Reichel, PhD The Status Quo So much has been said and written about the “special kind of hell” that often describes the daily life of a postdoctoral research fellow. There have been objections against the poor pay and horrid hours, advice on how to combine a young family with the demands of a prosperous career, and many other more or less specific issues regarding the career choices and trajectories of postdocs. But after all this reporting, writing, and the discussions – what has actually been achieved? Small steps Unfortunately, not much has really changed. While there have been some isolated improvements for more pay, they are limited to a select few universities. In January 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released guidelines announcing slightly augmented postdoc stipends and yearly stipend increases. However, until each institute where postdocs are employed enforces these guidelines, postdoc stipends remain at the discretion of all-too-powerful PIs. The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), established in 2003, is trying to rectify this situation. Yet, the NPA is still a fairly young organization, struggling with its own organization and without a big enough budget to put some well-deserved

Ella Epstein on genome editing with CRISPR

by Ella Epstein This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Ella E. spoke with Dr. Kivanc Birsoy, Head of the Rockefeller University Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics, to learn more about the CRISPR DNA editing system and its implications for the future. If you have kept an eye on the news lately, you have probably heard of a breakthrough discovery called CRISPR. Scientists are hailing this bacterial immunity system as the biggest step in genome editing since PCR, and it has been the topic of an international debate over the ethics of human genome editing. (For a quick primer on CRISPR and how it works, check out this great video by science writer Carl Zimmer). Dr. Kivanc Birsoy, Head of the Rockefeller University Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics, uses CRISPR to study cancer and cellular metabolism. Specifically, his lab uses CRISPR to identify what metabolic pathways are best to target for therapy. “We basically design ways to knock out all the metabolic genes in the genome at once using CRISPR,” explained Dr. Birsoy. “We ask the question of which of these genes is important to

RockU Friday: Painting with Light

by Meredith Wright Materials: Digital SLR (or any camera that allows for adjustment of exposure time) Tripod or sturdy surface A room that is very dark Flashlights or other materials that emit light Kids or kids at heart I watched with amusement as students filed into the Carson Family Auditorium at Rockefeller University. Their tiny heads bobbing barely above the chair backs, their toes not touching the floor. The excitement that these small students displayed, far exceeding their physical size. A few weeks ago, the Science Outreach Program (SOP) at Rockefeller hosted the final Friday night science session for children of Rockefeller employees. The program, dubbed RockU Fridays, caters to K-8 children and aims to teach about science through hands-on activities. This last session focused on the principles of bioluminescence--that is, when organisms give off light. The Lead Scientist of the SOP, Beth Waters, first took the children through an overview of bioluminescence. She explained that organisms create light for a variety of purposes, from attracting their prey to communicating with other organisms. Beth gave some examples of bioluminescent animals (I was surprised how well the children could identify the anglerfish, which made a cameo in “Finding Nemo”), and emphasized