Nature: It's good to blog

From the department of self-affirming citations, Nature has an article this past week titled It’s good to blog on the importance of blogging as a way of conversing directly with paper authors. Perhaps most relevant is this:

Indeed, researchers would do well to blog more than they do. The experience of journals such as Cell and PLoS ONE, which allow people to comment on papers online, suggests that researchers are very reluctant to engage in such forums. But the blogosphere tends to be less inhibited, and technical discussions there seem likely to increase.

Moreover, there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers. A good blogging website consumes much of the spare time of the one or several fully committed scientists that write and moderate it. But it can make a difference to the quality and integrity of public discussion.

PBS: Not so neuroscience-savvy

Salon has an interesting piece condemning a recent PBS show purportedly on Alzheimer’s treatment but really more of a sketchy informercial. The program concerns a neurologist with tenuous ties to UC Irvine who advocates SPECT (single photon emission computed tomograpy, a technique which, similar to PET, uses a radiotracer) and some unfounded preventative treatments for Alzheimer’s. The neurologist Bill Amen has appeared on many big-name media outlets including CNN, the Today Show, and Fox News (and the real sign of media success — Oprah) although his approach to Alzheimer’s detection and treatment is lacking in scientific credibility:

“SPECT scans are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to be useful in the diagnosis of A.D.,” neurologist Michael Greicius , who runs the Stanford University memory clinic, and has a special interest in the use of functional brain imaging in the diagnosis of A.D., tells me. “The PBS airing of Amen’s program provides a stamp of scientific validity to work which has no scientific validity.”

Continued pontification on neuroethics issues after the jump. Continue reading

Quantitative biology database

BioNumbers – The Database of Useful Biological Numbers

Here’s a neat new website. It’s a repository of quantitative information on biological things (eg. organisms, biomolecules, etc.) Some stuff I found while glancing through:

Number of mRNA/cell in E. coli: 138

Volume occupied by all RNA in E. coli: 6%

Average gene length in mammals: 16.6kb

Average gene length in nematode C. elegans:  4 kb

Mutation rate per genome per replication in humans: 0.16 mutation/genome/replication

Average time between blinks in humans: 2.8 sec

Amount of photons necessary to excite a cone in humans: 100

Citations are included for most numbers too. The database seems a little sparse on neuroscience topics, so go over and contribute some numbers!

YouTube for Biologists: Journal of Visualized Experiments

A friend recently alerted me to The Journal of Visualized Experiments, a revolutionary way to present science by showing the actual experimental procedures. Poking around the site I already picked up tips for my own research just by watching others perform procedures that I do myself in the lab (eg. use Sparkle glass cleaner not just for objectives but also for sample coverglass, how to properly interpret the OD ratio on the spectrophotometer for RNA purity, etc.)

Click more to see some of my favorite videos on the site.

Continue reading

Neurotechnology Ventures: New Course

Our brains have a lot of problems that need to be solved — now. And neurotechnology is a hot field. But what knowledge and skills do you study if you want to be a neurotechnologist? What problems are important, but also tractable within a reasonable timeframe? And, can you survive while climbing this possibly-very-high mountain?

A team of three academics at MIT and the University of Hong Kong is launching an international collaboration to create a set of novel courses to address this need. The first one, Neurotechnology Ventures, is being taught in Spring 2007 and focuses on neurotechnologies that are close to solving major human problems. The class explores the problems that neurotechnologists encounter when envisioning, planning, and building startups to bring neuroengineering innovations to the world.

Emphasizing the global nature of any modern neurotechnology, Neurotechnology Ventures will be videoconferenced between the U.S. and China, which is increasingly becoming a major neurotechnology player (including some very daring and scientifically interesting developments in fields such as human spinal cord regenerative medicine). Information will be posted online as the class evolves dynamically, to the web site HTTP://Neuroven.Media.MIT.edu. The goal is to open up this new field to the world, and see if we can solve the major problems of the brain in an open and efficient way.

Ed