link dump: birds

A few links about the impacts of humans on our feathered friends:

the specimens’ dirtiness tracked environmental turning points in the country’s history. Both feather and air pollution peaked during the first decade of the 20th century, when coal consumption reached its all-time high. The pattern then dropped off during the Great Depression, and rose during World War II as manufacturing ramped up again. But soon after the war, it decreased dramatically, marking the impact of regulations like the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act and the 1963 Clean Air Act. Fuldner and DuBay’s methods was so sensitive, in fact, they revealed a small dip in black carbon between 1880 to 1910. This could be traced back to early environmental reforms and anti-smoking initiatives, the researchers say.

Researchers had evidence that birds nests which had cigarette butts woven into them were less likely to contain bloodsucking parasites, but they were unable to establish whether this unusual construction material was specifically selected for its tick-preventing properties. They have now demonstrated that birds intentionally add cigarette butts to tick infested nests. A clever way to adapt to humans.

I’ve been known to map out a road trip for fast food. Apparently birds are doing the same thing.



from Sweden to your doctor’s office

I’m still ruminating over last week’s Nobel prize announcements. Although the general public is aware of the Nobel prizes, I’m not sure how well the scientific community is explaining the research awarded therein. To be fair, it’s difficult to convey the significance of an extensive, sometimes tedious, body of research in terms that anyone can understand. And it’s even more difficult to do so when the discovery doesn’t seem to have a practical, real-world significance.

One example of this: the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two researchers who laid much of the groundwork for RNA interference, RNAi. While academic groups and handful of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies were using RNAi as a research tool at the time, RNAi still faced a number of hurdles as a viable therapeutic. Ten years after the Nobel for RNAi was awarded, the article When a Nobel Prize brings a shower of hype: the roller coaster ride of RNAi took a look back at the progress and missteps in turning this Nobel-award winning discovery into an actual therapeutic. Finally, 11 years after the Nobel prize: positive Phase III results, Alnylam has a drug with the startling power to mute defective genes. Alnylam and the other biotech and pharma companies had been trying to make RNAi “druggable” for far longer than the 11 years since the Nobel prize was awarded in 2006.

Drug discovery is hard, you guys.

Why so few women Nobel winners?

The 2017 Nobel Prize winners were announced this week. If you’re interested in learning about the science behind the chemistry prize, I highly recommend this story and video about Cryo-EM and the winners of the 2017 Nobel in chemistry.

Beyond the science, though, something else really stands out…

The Absurdity of the Nobel Prizes in Science – “They distort the nature of the scientific enterprise, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its most important contributors.”

Nobel Prizes Should Reward Science, Not Scientists – “The science Nobels (in medicine, physics, and chemistry) present an antiquated, sexist, racist, and thoroughly incorrect view of science.”

Where are the female Nobel Prize winners? – “Only 17 women have been awarded a Nobel prize in the three science categories since the awards’ inception in 1901. There have been no black science laureates. Of the 206 physics laureates recognised, two have been women – Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963).”

Why don’t women win Nobel science prizes? – This story does a great job at tackling the notion that the Nobel is intended to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, something to be awarded on the basis of a body of research conducted over the entirety of one’s career; “This scarcity of women (and black and minority ethnic men, for that matter) is often put down to the time lag between work being carried out and being rewarded with the highest accolade in science. The awards, it is argued, reflect the make-up of academic institutions way-back-when.” It’s this lag time which many use to wave off any gender disparities. However, the original intent of the Nobel was to recognize recent research; not to mention, it’s 2017, and there have been many notable women involved in all fields of scientific endeavors for generations now.

Even if you subscribe to the idea that the Nobel is a Lifetime Achievement Award, there is a need to help develop the pipeline so that there are more women put into a position where they will be seriously considered for a Nobel prize in the future. However, we aren’t making much progress on this front, either – only one woman won an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award this week. The Pioneer Award isn’t intended to be a Lifetime Achievement Award. Indeed, many of the recipients are mid-career researchers. If we aren’t providing early- and mid-stage awards to women, how can we expect their research to flourish?

All around, it wasn’t a great week for #WomeninSTEM. But at least we’re talking about the problem a little more openly now?


Saberseminar 2017

I had the honor of presenting at this year’s Saberseminar, on a few topics near and dear to my heart: Organic chemistry! Drugs! Pharmacokinetics! and oh yeah, baseball!

Here’s a link to a pdf of my slides: Stephanie Springer, Saberseminar August 2017

Of course, the slides on their own don’t really make much sense. As bright and scientifically inclined as the Saberseminar attendees are, it is really hard to cram that much analytical chemistry and biochemistry and PK stuff into a short talk for a baseball audience. And since I only had ten minutes, I glossed over the conclusion. I promise there will be a write up/follow up shortly.

I had so much fun at Saberseminar, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s a tremendous feeling to be surrounded by like-minded people, and it was a pleasure meet several people that I’ve been following for years.

“This Doesn’t Sound Legal”

This NYTimes article about Nike’s Oregon Project is interesting, and I’m looking forward to catching up on the story as reported by other outlets. This jumped out at me:

Even though L-carnitine is not a banned substance, the method of infusion used by Dr. Brown was prohibited, antidoping officials believe. Antidoping rules prohibit “infusions and/or injections of more than 50 mL per 6 hour period except for those legitimately received in the course of hospital admissions, surgical procedures or clinical investigations.

The method of administration should never be ignored. In this case, it makes the difference between carnitine being a legal supplement versus a banned substance.

PEDs and safety

Cardiovascular Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs“, Circulation, 2017, vol. 135, no. 1, pages 89-99

I still need to read the full paper, but from the abstract (emphasis mine):

This review will summarize the known health effects of PEDs but will also focus on the potentially greater health threat posed by the covert search for performance-enhancing agents that have yet to be recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency. History has taught us that athletes are subjected to unmonitored trials with experimental drugs that have little or no established efficacy or safety data.

Many athletes who test positive for PEDs allege that they did so unknowingly. If that’s true*, it’s very possible that someone is going to exhibit an adverse reaction to a compound that they are receiving as part of someone’s experiment. Hopefully it’s nothing as severe as what some of the East Germans experienced.

*I can’t imagine implicitly trusting someone to an extent where I would ingest or inject anything they gave me, without question.