Prions are a type of protein gone wrong. The complex three-dimensional structure of a prion’s progenitor protein has been altered, somehow causing it to no longer function as expected. Worse, the malformation of these progenitor proteins into prions causes them to aggregate into amyloid plaques that can result in a disease state. Prions are responsible for an odd sort of protein-caused infectious neurodegenerative diseases like Mad Cow disease and scrapie in livestock.
What follows is a reprinting of the editorial penned by AAAS CEO Rush Holt originally printed in the Nov. 17 edition of Science found here.
Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of the Science journals
Faced with the uncertainty of what the 2016 U.S. presidential election means for science, we may find some reassurance in understanding that the health of the nation’s scientific enterprise depends on much more than the attitudes of the particular person who is president. We must not forget that members of Congress and other national, state, local, and international officials also make policy and collectively constitute a considerable force that is in many ways more influential than the president alone. There is now important work to do ensuring that all citizenry, including the president, understand the powerful benefits of science and that decisions made with scientific input are more likely to succeed.
As the nation readies for a transition in leadership, an immediate question for most scientists is federal funding for government science agencies in the coming years. Here, there is actually less uncertainty. Congress, for several years, has been on a “sequestration” path that, without a substantial turnover in Congress’s majorities (as there was not), will reduce the fraction of the budget for discretionary funding, which includes science funding. The election thus preserves a trend whose reversal might have been hoped for, but was always unlikely.
A truer uncertainty is the role of science advice in the new administration. President-elect Trump’s wish to drive economic progress and thereby improve people’s lives cannot come about without advancing science, technology, innovation, and an education system that prepares a capable workforce. He would be wise to appoint a science adviser who is a respected scientist or engineer. The adviser should be fully integrated into the most senior decision-making processes not just on topics with an obvious science connection such as infectious-disease response, but on many matters with science and technology embedded, including diplomacy, cybersecurity, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, and resilient infrastructure.
Beyond research funding and science advice, there is much more that determines the health of the scientific enterprise. Will the U.S. join other nations in collaborative research in which there is full access to data and free exchange of researchers? Will scientists be appointed throughout the agencies? Will government scientists be able to speak freely about their research? In regulatory agencies, will accepted scientific findings be given precedence over political influence? Will financial and tax policies reward science-based activities in the private and public sectors? Most important, will the next administration be evidence-based?
Over recent decades, a disturbing trend in the U.S. government has been for ideological assertions to crowd out evidence. This trend accelerated with this year’s campaign in which candidate Trump made statements that were unsubstantiated or contradicted by accepted scientific facts. Will there be members in the new administration who are familiar with the practices and findings of scientific investigation?
What are scientists to do? Certainly at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), following a tradition nearly 170 years old, we will advocate forcefully that science be fully and positively integrated into public policy making. Science need not be politically partisan. Given that the economic and technological benefits of research are appealing to citizens across the political spectrum, science can bridge differences. The openness and directness of scientists’ communication can be unwelcome to politicians, but the scientific community must present its best understanding of relevant evidence clearly, directly, and without condescension. We must make clear that an official cannot wish away what is known about climate change, gun violence, opioid addiction, fisheries depletion, or any other public issue illuminated by research.
This election is said to have been about rejecting the political establishment. We cannot let that mean rejecting established facts. We hope that President Trump will be more grounded in specific facts than was candidate Trump and pay more attention to the process of careful, open vetting of hypotheses and claims.
As a psychologist, Denise Dillard has made a career of providing mental health care to the Alaskan community she comes from. She teaches the subject as an adjunct at Alaska Pacific University and heads the research department at Southcentral Foundation, a health and wellness provider for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and nearby villages. But she has seen too few fellow Alaskan Native STEM professionals — she is of Inupiaq heritage — so she jumped at the chance to be a coach for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) when her long-time mentors and GUMSHOE directors Dedra Buchwald and Spero Manson asked. The GUMSHOE program (or Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) is one of four NRMN models that teach groups of postdocs and early career researchers how to write competitive grants.
With its signature crater, the largest of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, is sometimes called the Death Star, calling to mind the “technological terror” prominent in the Star Wars films. The moon has not only spurred the public’s imagination, but that of astrophysicists as well. Many had wondered how the impact that created such a huge crater could have done so without destroying the entire body. At nine kilometers in diameter, the crater, Stickney, takes up a huge amount of the moon’s surface—for scale, the entire moon is only 70 kilometers around.
Sometimes the best way to teach is by example. Personal stories can sometimes be more impactful than lecturing on best practices alone.
After negative lab experiences while pursuing research careers, Dina Myers Stroud, Research Assistant Professor in the Departments of Physics and Medicine at Vanderbilt University and Executive Director of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters to PhD Bridge Program, and Marcela Hernandez, Graduate/STEM Diversity Director at The Ohio State University, both adopted a seemingly counter-intuitive solution: choose the mentor over the science. Now in their administrative roles they’re preaching this gospel to would-be scientists.
Read more here.
A team of Japanese and South Korean researchers has pioneered a way to use seawater to obtain hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) instead of using pure water as a solar fuel. Their paper, “Seawater usable for production and consumption of hydrogen peroxide as a solar fuel,” was published in the May 4 edition of Nature Communications. “It is highly desired to utilize the most earth-abundant seawater instead of precious pure water for the practical use of H2O2 as a solar fuel,” the researchers said in the paper.
Founding any new business is extremely difficult and more hard work than most people can imagine. Founding a new technology-based business is arguably tougher than that, and founding a tech hardware (rather than software) venture even tougher than that. But perhaps the toughest of all is developing and scaling a technology-based hardware venture in remote areas with scarce resources for the benefit people living in extreme poverty.
In the process of deciding what career path she would pursue, Karen Thickman, a full-time lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, participated in many informational interviews as a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. During one such interview a staffer at a scientific journal told her that people don’t get doctorates to work nine to five jobs. Despite that flexibility it’s not always easy to find that ballyhooed work/life balance.
While it’s not news that underrepresented minorities struggle to reach parity in STEM fields, it was a 2011 Science paper, first authored by Donna Ginther, professor of Economics at Kansas University, that exposed a disparity between underrepresented minorities and whites seeking National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Research Project Grants, or R01s.
Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have provided evidence opposing the current model for how working memory operates at the cellular level. The current model says the cellular basis for working memory lies in consistent, sustained activity by brain cells, or neurons. Results from the MIT study, published in the March 17 issue of the scientific journal Neuron, shows the story is more complex, that brain cells involved in working-memory tasks are activated discretely and sporadically.