Picower vs. McGovern

Interesting developments — although, hard to know precisely how serious any of this is. Any thoughts from students, postdocs, others in the trenches at MIT (and willing to give perspective to the outside world)?

Boston Globe, July 15

“The professors, in a letter to MIT’s president, Susan Hockfield , accuse professor Susumu Tonegawa of intimidating Alla Karpova , “a brilliant young scientist,” saying that he would not mentor, interact, or collaborate with her if she took the job and that members of his research group would not work with her.”

Boston Globe, July 19

“In a letter responding to professors who wanted MIT to investigate the senior professor’s treatment of the job recruit, Hockfield said there are “ongoing tensions among MIT’s neuroscience entities” and suggested that the current situation “threatens ongoing disruption of the collegiality of our academic enterprise.” The letter, dated Monday, was obtained by the Globe.”

Provocative Cognitive Neuroscience Presentations at IBM

This past May, the Almaden Research center, part of IBM research, invited some provocative speakers on the topic of “Cognitive Computing” to come and speak. Since IBM recently invested a lot of money into understanding the brain with the Blue Brain project, it seems like this meeting was a way to figure out the next step along this path.

Powerpoint presentations and videos of the event are available online.

From the synopsis:

The 2006 Almaden Institute will focus on the theme of “Cognitive Computing” and will examine scientific and technological issues around the quest to understand how the human brain works. We will examine approaches to understanding cognition that unify neurological, biological, psychological, mathematical, computational, and information-theoretic insights. We focus on the search for global, top-down theories of cognition that are consistent with known bottom-up, neurobiological facts and serve to explain a broad range of observed cognitive phenomena. The ultimate goal is to understand how and when can we mechanize cognition.

Confirmed speakers include Toby Berger (Cornell), Gerald Edelman (The Neurosciences Institute), Joaquin Fuster (UCLA), Jeff Hawkins (Palm/Numenta), Robert Hecht-Nielsen (UCSD), Christof Koch (CalTech), Henry Markram (EPFL/BlueBrain), V. S. Ramachandran (UCSD), John Searle (UC Berkeley) and Leslie Valiant (Harvard). Confirmed panelists include: James Albus (NIST), Theodore Berger (USC), Kwabena Boahen (Stanford), Ralph Linsker (IBM), and Jerry Swartz (The Swartz Foundation).

A genetically encoded fluorescent amino acid

A genetically encoded fluorescent amino acid — Summerer et al. 103 (26): 9785 — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Some cool silicon biology to add to the toolbox. Now you can tag proteins by using a nonsense codon that codes for a fluorescent amino acid-tRNA. This technique and similar ones could easily revolutionize cellular tracking of protein trafficking.

Fraternal birth order correlates with sexual orientation

Viren tipped me off to this fascinating result that reinforces the idea that we really have no clue about what is happening in the earliest stages of neural development. This recent PNAS study found that the strongest predictor of a man being homosexual is the number of biological, older brothers. The effect is independent of non-biological brothers and still holds when the brothers are reared apart. As presented in the paper, the evidence suggests that the early development in the uterus might be different for later children.

Abstract after the jump. Continue reading