My body is my thesis: The 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest

The 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest is for hidden artists disguised as scientists, nerds and shameless self promoters who are tempted to dance their PhDs, upload it to YouTube and enjoy microcelebrity. A real thesis live, non-profit but for fun and a one and only chance to make a fool out of you.

This is a perfect match for John Bohannon, The Gonzo Scientist (whom I introduced you back in 2007) who is an organizer, chronicler and participator of the contest and I must say I liked the rather-theatrical-performance-than-simple-dance version of his thesis, entitled The role of the WSS operon in the adaptive evolution of experimental populations of Pseudomonas flurescens SBW25 (here).

But what to think of the performance of a professor with a thesis title: “Analysis of thymic nurse cells in the chicken”? Artist, nerd, self promoter, did I miss something?

Here are the details of how to enter the contest and don’t miss to read about the prizes too (guests at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago):

The contest is open to anyone who has (or is pursuing) a Ph.D. in any scientific field, Continue reading

PITTCON, 2008: bioDIY questions, RFVials, and Science’s new web hirings

pittconchildAs a local New Orleans face (my colleagues just call me Mitoman in the lab) I had the chance to just simply walk into the grandiose PITTCON exhibiton at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center and I liked it. In addition to getting answers to some strictly lab related questions concerning filters and fuges (nevermind), I satisfied my 2 major side interests: the older bioDIY and the brand new RFID.

1. I surprised every biotech vendor - some of them laughed, others were meditating a bit - with the question: ok, but what is the cheapest gadget you have for somebody who wants to set up his basic DNA private lab at his backyard?

In my coming series to help launch a grassroots biotech DIY movement I’ll put together concrete suggestions on what to buy, but according to the experts:

- the price of a new benchtop centrifuge (6-8000 x g) is $800-1200, but the manufacturer is simply not interested in individual service and recycle used machines for low-throughput hobbyist end-users

- liquid nitrogen: 24 liter tank around $5000 (you can get it lower), LN itself is not that cheap but it’s worth storing your cells in a local repository bank instead, at least an expert guy told me

- a laminar hood for sterile work with cells is also around $5000, way too much for garage biofreaks, but you can still build your own out of a household air purifier

2. Have you ever thought of tracking, reidentifying your eppendorfs and tiny PCR tubes in the lab instead of the almost impossible hand marking? Well, we are not there yet, but Baytek developed an RFID kit for glass GC or HPLC vials. Continue reading

The conditions of a mass biotech DIY movement

jobswozniakPCR

The idea of doing biological experiments with current biotechnological methods and conducting research projects at home is quite new. There are already many names in use referring to the same concept: bioDIY, home biology, biotech DIY, garage biology.

We have a detailed case example which can be considered as the first registered, high profile biotech DIY activity starting the era of useful garage biology: Recently Hugh Rienhoff amplified his daughter’s DNA at home to help doctors figure out her genetic disorder. From the Nature cover article:

“So he bought a used PCR machine, a microcentrifuge, some small-volume pipettes and a brand new gel box. All told, the equipment cost him about $2,000. With these simple tools and some sequence-specific DNA primers of his own design, he could pick the relevant genes out of his daughter’s genome and amplify them enough for sequencing. Freezing the samples and packing the tiny tubes on ice, Rienhoff sent them off for sequencing at about $3.50 a pop. He prepared upwards of 200.”

Another suggested project was the How to isolate amniotic stem cells from the placenta, at home! but so far I haven’t heard of anybody who really did that at home and I only isolated the cells at the lab.

In my coming series I’d like to examine the following conditions of a mass biotech DIY movement: acquiring skills, affordable kits, tools, hardware, motivations, business opportunities and impact.

acquiring the how to skills:

- good education tools, protocols, videos, howto-s on the web

- short intensive academic or industrial lab courses available for every citizen

- self-education in community: forming Homebrew Biotech Clubs

available, affordable tools, hardware:

- cheap kits: based on the Rienhoff example, a very basic home lab can be set up out of 2-3000 dollars, which is the price of a good laptop.

says Mr. Rienhoff in an email: I bought all the equipment used from a local vendor who buys equipment at auction and from universities. All the gear is at least ten years old so it was very used and low throughput. But given that my project was incredibly focused I did not need the more sophisticated equipment.

- used equipment network: Continue reading

Biotechies at O’Reilly ETech, March 3 – 6, San Diego

The O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (ETech) is on and this year they had a growing number of biotech related sessions. Fellow SciFoo Campers like Hugh Rienhoff and Timo Hannay, Makers like Phil Torrone and Limor Fried, Brain Hackers like Ed Boyden are visiting and many more.

ETechbiotech

Bubble City’s South Park: geek tourism

SouthPark1

Finally back from my Bay Area trip, the workshop I participated turned out to be very stimulating in terms of people and ideas. Also visiting The Blood Knot performance at the American Conservatory Theater and having a drink with Monya&Dan were absolutely delightful. I missed my flight on Saturday, so I slept in LA (and missed my wife) and discovered the city to the amount of a Taco Bell dinner near to the La Quinta Hotel. Also I did a little geek tourism and visited the South Park area in San Francisco (but forgot to check the Wired headquarters) which was so nicely described in Aaron Swartz‘s unfortunately unfinished (but not unfinishable) Bubble city:

Downtown San Francisco is a world of carefully-gridded streets and looming skyscrapers, but hidden behind a gas station on Third is a place that almost looks like another world. The sun shines brightly upon a park with green grass and tall shady trees and vibrant swings with children. The park is an oval and the perimeter is lined with small, pastel-colored buildings. Here and there are a smattering of small cafes and restaurants. And the other buildings are filled with startups. Twitter here. Adaptive Path there. Even Yahoo, when it wanted to encourage its employees to be more startup-y, opened up an office in the neighborhood. Sit on the grass and chances are you’ll sit near a friend from another company or bump into them in line at a cafe. The place crawls with companies and back on the street, surveying the scene with a distant but watchful eye, lie the journalists, whose publications cover with awe the rumblings of those below. It was here that Newsflip made its home.

butlerandchef

The Spittoon: the eminent corporate blog of 23andMe and Consumer Enabled Research

ceramicspittoonpictureThe personal genomics service 23andMe just launched publicly a corporate blog called The Spittoon that has been internally up for a few weeks. It is a new chapter in biotech corporate blogging. Just like the web page of 23andMe, The Spittoon’s WordPress blog platform, the concept and design is excellent: amongst others you can find scientific blog posts written by Matt Crenson science writer and posts written by founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki in the name of radical transparency. As Wired fellow Clive Thompson wrote:

Radical forms of transparency are now the norm at startups – and even some Fortune 500 companies. It is a strange and abrupt reversal of corporate values. Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong. Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, dishes company dirt and apologizes to startups he’s accidentally screwed. Venture capitalists now demand that CEOs be fluent in blogspeak.

Radical transparency could be standard in the case of Silicon Valley tech startups but in the Biotech Industry the standards are light years away from that. For instance the 23andMe research team communicates publicly on the biparental inheritance of mitochondrial DNA which is a sensitive issue concerning their genealogy service. The reason why Spittoon is so web-friendly and uptodate and is in fact a paradigm corporate blog for every other biotech company in the future is its web-based business model and Google-like corporate culture thanks to its networking background.

For instance, Anne Wojcicki co-founder introduces the concept of Consumer Enabled Research in her introductory blog post The Power of We:

spittoon

Our goal at 23andMe is to enable individuals to form communities around shared interests and to empower those communities to be actively involved with research. We call it Consumer Enabled Research. We don’t just want communities to have a voice, we want to provide a platform for them to collectively aggregate their genetic information. One of the significant bottlenecks in research is the lack of data. Researchers and physicians rarely have enough of it to really understand a disease or how to treat it. Our goal is to change that.

After registration readers can make comments and I strongly hope that the comment system will not be shut down (just like in the past at BoingBoing), but for that commenters should be on-topic and moderate. I’ve just commented Wojcicki’s post, but I’d like to share it with you here too: Continue reading

Working without a personal assistant on the top of the big G…is fun!

brinpagenewyorker

I’m on my way to a Friday comprehensive exam from stem cell and mitochondrial biology which gives me no time to immerse into blogging this week. I mostly think of big holes in my knowledge like mitochondria and Ca2+ signalling. That’s why I can only offer soft things like the following quote from a fresh New Yorker article by Ken Auletta called The Search Party on Google:

Continue reading

2008 Edge Annual Question: What data have changed your mind? Why?

edgeannualquestion2008The science part is emphasized in the title of this post on the 2008edgeannualquestionlogo Edge Annual Question, which is again well formulated and thought provoking. The whole question embraces science, philosophy and religion (left).

Last year I had my own answer to the question: 2007 Edge Optimistic Question: systemic regenerative medicine, this year I am still thinking but my answer will probably be something technical and non globally relevant about PCR artefacts.

Based on the quality and quantity of the recent contributors the 2008 answers offer an exciting intellectual journey to the readers, let me highlight the following, not specially science restricted ones, many of them recurring references on Pimm: Beatrice Golomb, Chris DiBona, PZ Myers, Tim O’Reilly, Philip Campbell, Aubrey de Grey, Kevin Kelly.

My transatlantic air reading: Bubble City, a blog novel by Aaron Swartz

bubble city samplesAt least I know what I will read on the plane over at the Atlantic tomorrow back to old Europe: Bubble City by Aaron Swartz. What by who? Bubble city is a blog tech novel with chapters as posts. The story takes place in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley around a startup called Newsflip going deep into current web techniques, startup happenings, Google trends & types and tokens of people with the tools of fiction. It is well written, it is witty, I’ve just started but quickly became excited about it due to its experimental character and the insider angle of the writer behind. Bubble City is the brainchild of Aaron Swartz Reddit cofounder, who is an extremely talented 20 year old American programmer, hacker (think of George Hotz or young Saul Kripke tinkering with modal logics), although in his blog Raw Thought (long time blogroll guest of Pimm) he usually writes like an old central European, highbrow human intellectual with the necessary cultural references. And that makes him a very interesting phenomenon, one that is almost missing in the American tech-web scene: an intellectual with a broad spectrum of interests and arguments. I met Aaron at the last seconds of the SciFoo Camp at the Googleplex (he writes a lot about the Number One Plex) and really liked his celebrity focused gossip liveblogging account on the event with people like Tim O’ Reilly and Henry Gee explaining themselves in the comment section.

Hopefully Aaron will be able to finish Bubble City by excluding or neutralizing or properly incorporating outworld reflexion (like this and that of Blogoscoped) into it. Finishing a novel and completing a code are not the same though and epic talent has the bad habit not to let young writers reach perfection in their early trials.

Here are 2 sections from Bubble city and the links to the 11 chapters so far (it is not aggregated as far as I know and you always have to change the numbers at the end of the URL):

Chapter 1

He popped open the recording software, making sure he got his nose squarely in its frame, his face so close thataaron swartz spittle would land on the lens. In a world where every teenage kid could stream a live feed of himself having sex to millions, only the most aggressive vlogcasters survived. Wayne was no dummy. He didn’t get to be the number seven blog in the TechnoScene rankings by sitting back and offering his opinions. No. This was war and every show a battle.

Today’s enemy? Newsflip, one of the crummy little online news aggregator sites, which was threatening to write him out of the history books by dumping the technology he’d single-handedly invented, news notation analysis (NNA), and going with some upstart competitor that didn’t even bother to have an acronym for a name. Sure, Newsflip was a tiny site in the scheme of things, but if it switched it would set a dangerous precedent.

Chapter 2

Downtown San Francisco is a world of carefully-gridded streets and looming skyscrapers, but hidden behind a gas station on Third is a place that almost looks like another world. The sun shines brightly upon a park with green grass and tall shady trees and vibrant swings with children. The park is an oval and the perimeter is lined with small, pastel-colored buildings. Here and there are a smattering of small cafes and restaurants. And the other buildings are filled with startups. Twitter here. Adaptive Path there. Even Yahoo, when it wanted to encourage its employees to be more startup-y, opened up an office in the neighborhood. Sit on the grass and chances are you’ll sit near a friend from another company or bump into them in line at a cafe. The place crawls with companies and back on the street, surveying the scene with a distant but watchful eye, lie the journalists, whose publications cover with awe the rumblings of those below. It was here that Newsflip made its home. Continue reading

We have only winners at the Laboratory Website Awards!

LabSiteWinnersI hope that scientists and IT and financial managers of scientists worldwide will be able to utilize the collective lab website culture and wisdom accumulated by the first ever Laboratory Web Site Awards by The Scientist!

And I personally would like to say thank you for the following editors of The Scientist (The Scientists) for so quickly and professionally getting this thing done: Ivan Oransky, Richard Gallagher, Andrea Gawrylewski and last, but not least Simon Frantz, who is now at the Nobel Foundation.

We have now the winners announced, but practically all the 60 nominated labs are winners and all those labs who can follow their way.

We know from Larry Page, (ex Stanford grad student) that “Science has a really serious marketing problem and nobody pays attention to that since none of the marketers work for science”.

The Lab Site Awards was a good science marketing opportunity for the labs involved and here are the announced winners, congratulations:

Reader’s Choice: Nyborg Lab

Editor’s Choice: Purves Lab

Judges’ Choices: Tagging of Pacific Predators (Elizabeth Kerr, Todd Miller, Steve Jackson), Leander Lab (Jean-Claude Bradley), Lamond Lab (Steven Wiley), Purves Lab (Matthew LaPointe), Redfield Lab (Attila Csordas)

Here is what I wrote on the Redfield Lab as a judge: “Researchers have blogs on the day-to-day experiments. Funds, grants are public and listed. The Redfield lab is the most web friendly and gives us clues on how the lab sites of the future should look like.” The confirmation of this opinion comes from BoingBoing itself (it is not a frequent event when one of the oldest and biggest blog posts on lab websites): Lab requires EVERYONE to keep a science blog

Redfield Lab

The received view in 3.5 paragraphs on Ending Aging in Nature (part 1)

In the 15 November Nature issue Judy Illes neurology professor turned neuroethics expert reviews Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People by John Harris and Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime by Aubrey de Grey & Michael Rae.

From the review:

“Ending Aging is a more “new wave” treatment of enhancement, longevity and immortality…. The authors rather unnecessarily brand ageing as repugnant and curse, and use their book to preach on fund-raising opportunities.
The freedom to pursue ways to enhance human mental and physical capacities and to eliminate negative aspects of the human condition, such as suffering and death, is a fundamental tenet of the trans-humanist movement. Although seemingly worthy, there are problems ahead for the futurists, including for Harris, de Grey and Rae….

…Let’s not throw away today for tomorrow. Ending Aging is likely to appeal to those already converted to the author’s views, and perhaps will find some traction among those who are more curious than interested in deeper scientific engagement.”

Unfortunately Illes completely mixes transhumanism with the belief that robust life extension is possible and desirable due to handling the 2 books together and I think this is not a fair angle on life extension. Consequently she can say on the whole that those beliefs are “going well beyond what might be imaginable, or ethical today.”
But most life extension supporters are simply not transhumanists at all and it is a simple logical fault to think that ‘if A then B’ is true (every transhumanist is a life extension supporter), than it follows that ‘if B then A’. For instance, most life extension supporters that I’ve met, say in the SENS3 conference, are not transhumanists, but simply young life scientists for whom life extension is just the technological frame (the highest aim) of their translational science. Think systems biology: human organismal aging is a complex dynamics of a complex system and if you want to modify it you should think on the systemic level. Continue reading

Let’s vote now for the 10 Finalist Lab Websites at The Scientist!

LaWVas logoLadies and gentlemen of science! You can now rank the 10 finalist websites from 1 to 10 (1 being the best) at the Laboratory Website and Video Awards hosted by The Scientist. Please do not hesitate, judging is a lot of fun and this is a big issue: figuring out the parameters of the labsite of the future based on the plus and minus features of current laboratory web pages! Some comments of the judging panel were published, just scroll over the judges’ photos. Winners will be announced in December. As a member of the judging panel my comments were chosen and published by the editors too, according to the selection I was rather critical (screenshots). Quick reminder: The LaWVas awards is the one that grew out of my unofficial lab website competition idea. The winning sites as selected by the editorial team, judging panel and the readers will be announced in this December.

finalists3

And 2 more: Continue reading

It’s now judging time at The Laboratory Website Awards…

LaWVas logoand I really like it. The nominations for the best laboratory websites are now closed at the Laboratory Website and Video Awards hosted by The Scientist. Now it’s the job of the judging panel (and I am one of them) to make our scores and review the nominees and then turn the voting back to you. The winning sites as selected by the editorial team, judging panel and the readers will be announced in this December.

Why do I like it? Well, I learn many new things by scanning through the sites, exploring second order links, realizing new ways the same thing (intorducing lab members, research topics, cooperations…) can be done and I am more and more convinced that this Awards is about to delineate the proper, uptodate frames of the lab site culture and accumulate a lot of new clues on how to make cool and useful future laboratory web stations.

On the other hand I ran into out of time features. For instance, remember that in the 90s, early 2000s, lab sites included links (not in-built customized search boxes) on the so called web search engines for the readers, if for some reason they are not familiar with how to search on the Internet? Believe or not, that are still laboratory websites with a separate category for search engines and links to Google, Yahoo, AltaVista or whatever.

Feed reading trends: I am a Valleywag addict, help me!

FeedreadingtrendsShow me your feed reading habits and I’ll tell you who you are! I hope this statement is not true as according the item reading trends on Google Reader I have been a serious Valleywag addict in the last 30 days and more, I suspect. Although extensively reading a funny, well-informed but malicious tech gossip site like Valleywag of the Gawker Empire admits no excuse my explanation is this: after 10-12 hours of experimental lab work I do need something light and ridiculous for mental regeneration at home before switching to more serious content. I want to laugh and for some reason Valleywag is tuned to the frequency I need for entertainment (and also gives me the option to instantaneously present the posts to my wife disturbing her web time). If my click path is a body with different physiological functions, then Valleywag is my Continue reading

Craig Venter and Tim O’Reilly chat: when 2 worlds meet

Biotech is the next infotech (or at least the 2 worlds need to be merged) and it is good to detect the signs of the growing biotech interest on part of the general tech crowd. At the Web 2.0 summit (organised by and for the Silicon Valley tech-media establishment) Tim O’ Reilly asked Craig Just Sequenced Venter. I suggest everyone watching the video below. It was not a terrific dialogue though as we’ve seen 2 people with a very different background talking about Venter’s discipline. I loved to hear the words ‘SNPs’ or ‘mitochondria ‘coming from Venter’s mouth in front of the biotechnologically still illiterate IT and web technology elite (my assumption, not tested statistically).

The other remarkable thing was Venter’s doubts regarding the current commercialized genetics service that personalized medicine and bioweb startups like 23andMe Continue reading

Multitalent in science

mulliscosmoThere are scientists who became big players in a particular discipline but before that they made also more or less successful efforts in an unrelated branch of science. For instance, Kary Mullis, inventor of the Polymerase Chain Reacion (PCR) wrote an early and pretty bizarre cosmological letter entitled Cosmological Significance of Time Reversal published in no other science journal, than Nature. Or there is Robert Lanza, regenerative medicine expert, who had psychological papers in his Harvard youth. Whatever is the value of those early and usually B contributions, they say us something on the nature of specialization in science. I suspect that sometimes multitalent is just by coincidence, but there could be cases, when there is a deeper relation behind the multifaceted energy. In art, multitalent is a well-known phenomenon, think about the drawings and paintings of Goethe, or the violin of Ingres.

Help me collect other recent examples of surprising multitalent in the natural sciences.

The Gonzo Scientist on IdeaCity in Science and on the web

If you compare the Nature and the Science front pages (which is not the topic of the current post) you can notice a big difference: there are a lot of “web 2.0″ish fresh features on the Nature site while significantly fewer on the Science counterpart. Now Science came up with a new, less academic and more popculture driven (the name is telling) column, The Gonzo Scientist written and edited by John Bohannon, regular Science contributor. Bohannon writes and even audioslides (illustrations by Katrien Kolenberg) about his experience in IdeaCity.
IdeaCity is Canada’s premier geek summer camp in Toronto, and was modeled after the TED conferences. Now my synonym for the geek camp is SciFoo, but there is a big difference here: IdeaCity is free only for the 50 invited celeb speakers, while it is $3000 for the 3 days for every other visiting Idealists.

gonzoscientist

Continue reading

Pecha Kucha for scientists? I’d love to participate

Pecha Kucha Night was invented four years ago by 2 architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, in Tokyo. During the event each presenter is allowed 20 slides each shown for 20 seconds each giving 6 minutes 40 seconds of fame before the next presenter is up. According to Wired journalist Daniel H. Pink: The result, in the hands of masters of the form, combines business meeting and poetry slam to transform corporate clich into surprisingly compelling beat-the-clock performance art.

Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chatter”) is practiced by architects and designers but it is easily and naturally transferable to science. It is a usual homework for scientists to make presentations for conferences, Journal Clubs, angel investors or for the public. But the design element is usually not well developed, the information component is overwhelming and scientists have poorly or never been trained in the art of public speaking. Just like laboratory websites, science slideshows are good targets of further education.

Imagine an online Pecha Kucha event/competition for scientists where participants can clap their hands by voting for the performance, information, design, entertainment, humor factor of each presenter/slideshow. Fortunately we already have the services who are able to host these Pecha Kucha events: Bioscreencast, JoVE or SciVee just to mention the ones that first came into my mind.

Of course the real Pecha Kucha event is originally offline, and eventually scientists should prove themselves in front of a flesh and blood audience.

Uncensored gmail chat between 2 science bloggers on adult issues

me: Hi Bora, can you send me the Nature piece on the Blogging Anthology?
I am not in the Institute and do not have subscription
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v447/n7146/full/447779b.html
Sent at 8:58 PM on Wednesday
me: cheers :)
Bora: No problem. Thanks.
me: wait that is some old stuff.
Published online: 22 January 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070122-I’ve read that

I have in mind the current one: Bloggers unite p779
Paul Stevenson reviews The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006
doi:10.1038/447779b
Full Text | PDF (207K)
See also: Editor’s summary
Bora: Wow! That is news to me!
me: ok, who posts first? :)
do you have access to it right now?

Bora: No. I should have it in minutes/hour as soon as one of the sciblings check the forums and sees my query.
me: ok
I am curious how positive, or critical it is
Sent at 9:04 PM on Wednesday
Bora: http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/open-laboratory-reviewed-in-nature/
me: good
Sent at 9:07 PM on Wednesday
me: I think, the science blogosphere now reached its adult stage

Continue reading

Cell’s Superhero Cover: the role of comics in science popularization

I’ve just realized how cool is Cell magazine May 4 issue’s cover (the one with the Scientist Enter the Blogosphere report by Laura Bonetta) with the S-nitrosothiol superhero T-shirt. This substance may have some therapeutic utility in diseases such as heart failure and asthma.

superhero S-nitrosothiol

Illustration: Cell and me this morning.

Cartoons are terrific education tools, let’s consider howtoons for instance. Howtoons are cartoons showing kids of all ages “How To” build things. What about cartoons for scientists? Continue reading

Google as your daily lab organizer or The Google Scientist Gamma

pagecoatFrom the Financial Times: Google’s ambition to maximise the personal information it holds on users is so great that the search engine envisages a day when it can tell people what jobs to take and how they might spend their days off. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

To test the plausibility of this idea it is worth translating it into special type of professions. Instead of focusing the current bunch of revitalized Google products and features (iGoogle, personalized search, universal search) backing a distant aim as described in the FT article I’d like to ask myself what type of platform and information would be proper for me as an experimental stem cell researcher to have the ability to tell me what I can measure next, which cells and concentration to use and what hypothesis to test? What various Google products are good for in the present situation for the experimental scholar is quite general and profession neutral: hunting the literature partially, finding contact info for cooperation, visiting conferences.

What I perceive here is a kind of reality distortion field concerning Google’s aims and its present usefulness for the whole scientific community. I mean Googlers can do a whole lot more for organizing the world’s scholarly information and making the life of a scientist easier and no doubt they’ll do it. They are just not there yet.

The Google Scientist Beta, intended to be the default scientist type of the web age, is painfully in Gamma mode. The time, when scientists can lean more heavily (ad absurdum: only) on Google products seems far far away (hope I am wrong). Continue reading

Second Annual Maker Faire this weekend and expecting the First BioMaker Faire…

partmakerposterBuilders, Hackers, Do-It-Yourselfers are gathering around this weekend at the most visible embodiment of the Maker spirit, the Maker Faire 2007 at San Mateo Fairgrounds, California. I remember the inquisitive and incredulous eyes of the traditional tech makers, coders, engineers while presenting my placental stem cell project at Euro Maker Faire last year. Now imagine a similar Faire for Biotech DIYers with open lab spaces… If you can imagine it, you can make it! Links: Make Blog, Phillip Torrone‘s Flickr Stream, Maker Social Network, Wired.


Opinionated Stem Cells for Dummies, Right to Recover

Right to Recover is a new book written by Yvonne Perry freelance journalist with the subtitle: Winning the Political and Religious Wars over Stem Cell Research in America.

Anyone read it yet? Blog of the book: Right to Recover

Content of the book: Book Contents for Right to Recover

FOREWORD (in this case I guess it is a form of gaining some scientific legitimation) by Dr. Evan Snyder of Burnham Institute Continue reading

Looking for user friendly, attractive peer review article titles….

These two titles are freshly out of my feed readers: B-type natriuretic peptide inhibited angiotensin II-stimulated cholesterol biosynthesis, cholesterol transfer and steroidogenesis in primary human adrenocortical cells. and

In vivo expression of human ATP:cob(I)alamin adenosyltransferase (ATR) using recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) serotypes 2 and 8.

How user friendly these titles are? Let’s examine me: Theoretically I have some (limited) background knowledge on these topics as they are covered by my Google Reader with some properly chosen search terms. For the first trial I see only familiar characters in a weird arrangement without any intelligence flash in my mind, for the second some mental forms are beginning to take shape, for the third a little more context enter, but instead of a fourth title trial I skip to the abstract in case I’m interested in what follows based on the previous title impressions. But I’d truly appreciate if I could capture at least half of the title at first. And the titles above are not the worst at all. After reading the steroidogenesis-one many times, it became my friend. But people would like to put less energy into conceiving a simple title and more to understand and apply the new results. A good title is about the proper filtering of the proper reader and vice versa.

Yes, there must be some good policies on titles of peer review articles. In case of the steroid paper, the Instructions to Authors for Endocrinology says on title requirements: Full title (a concise statement of the article’s major contents)

PNAS has a longer title guide for instance, this paragraph is from an older version of PNAS Information for Authors: Title: Titles should be simple, informative, and comprehensible for a broad scientific audience. Authors should avoid nonstandard abbreviations and colonic phrases. Titles may not be phrased as questions. Titles are limited to three lines or 135 characters including spaces. Continue reading

Life extension: body hack and/or life hack?

memento life hackIn recent culture, technological life extension is considered to be a form of hacking, as 2Dolphins says a “hacker is someone who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations — someone who makes things work beyond perceived limits through unconventional means or skills.” In hacking there is also a DIY element too.
There are now 2 broader hacking terms applied for physical life extension technologies: body hacking and life hacking. For first, see my previous post about Bodies in the Making book which handles a diverse range of practices that aren’t usually linked: tattooing, cosmetic surgery, body-building, life extension technologies, self-cutting as exemplars of the body hacking concept. Body hack in that context is something extreme, something very experimental. How extreme form it will take, that depends on the chosen technology. In the old school permalink-free blog Notes from Classy’s Kitchen it is said for instance in the November 26, 2005 post: “What Aubrey de Grey was proposing was the ultimate bodyhack, engineered immortality (or 1000 year life span at least).” Body hack also includes a form a DIY, for instance Nikolaj Nyholm of O’Reilly Radar blogged on the “protocol for “isolat[ing] stem cells from your baby’s placenta in a rent lab or at home” for the upcoming EuroOSCON Make Fest, which also plays well with one emerging theme at this year’s FOO Camp, body hacking — engineers and copper wire paired with doctors, psychologists and neurologists.”

On the other hand there is the emerging life hack movement popularized by blogs as Lifehacker or 43 Folders or Lifehack.org. According to Wikipedia “the term life hack refers to productivity tricks that programmers devise and employ to cut through information overload and organize their data.” And it is also Nikolaj Nyholm, who calls Aubrey de Grey an extraordinary life-hacker concerning his SENS-esque plan to defeat aging. Why life extension counts as a life hack? Long story short: it’s all about hacking time. The narrowest bottleneck of productivity is time, and indefinite life extension’s main ambition is to abandon this final limiting factor, to make time pressure out of time. But can indefinite or maximum life extension (and especially the here supported continuous regeneration treatment through systemic regenerative medicine called Pimm) really be interpreted as a life hack? I think yes. Indefinite life extension is the biggest scale life hack as it amplifies human capacities indefinitely, because it is the only possibility for a human and mortal individual to fully explore his/her own individuality, to develop his/her own abilities let it be mental, physical, or moral.

There is also the term biohacking, which refers mostly to synthetic biology or creating public awareness of human genetic information and in this context biohacker is a synonym for biopunk, and the term is not applied recently to life extension, although in the future it could considering the broad semantic field of the bio prefix.

To sum up: life extension is a form of extreme body hack which is the most extended life hack, although a body hack is rarely a life hack and vice versa. (In the movie Memento Guy Pearce (picture), who lacks short-term memory, uses tattoos on his body as fact memos, which is also a body and life hack, although most tattoos are just ornamental.)

Accidental influentials meet life extension: a breakthrough idea for 2007

socialMost of us believe that the massive spreading of an idea through the channels of society, say, ‘big-scale life extension technology is possible and worth realizing’, depends on highly influential people’s production and characteristics. So hardcore life extension supporters tend to think if Aubrey de Grey or Ray Kurzweil will hold another 120-120 presentations in front of highly influential people this year and the next and so on and so forth… then this fact will guarantee that one day we wake up, and see that the majority of people support our former niche topic, eager to do something for it. Make no mistake, these guys are doing their best for life extension, but according to Duncan J. Watts and Peter Dodds network researchers, it is not enough for this idea to become mainstream. What we need is a critical mass of easily influenced people to make some real great progression in life extension support. And in that respect, the Web is a par excellence medium for all of us, when everyone with a bandwidth and a computer can do their best. In the light of the above I hope soon there will be a critical mass of easily influenced life extension bloggers, wikipedians, other content generators, and so “global cascades”(see below) for LE. The responsibility is ours.

Watts and Peter Dodds are publishing their work on Influentials, Networks and Public Opinion Formation in Journal of Consumer Research, but it will be in press only in December, 2007. Nevertheless you can read the text in html or download in pdf now. Their theory on the role of the so called Accidential influentials was listed as the No. 1 in the Harvard Business Review list of Breakthrough Ideas for 2007 and here are some enlightening excerpts out of it to make the above application clear /warning: the theory was originally applied and invented in a marketing context/: Continue reading

Smart comments on the home placenta stem cell project

I collected some critical comments worth considering on the home placenta stem cell project from Make readers. Thanks for all.

“Um hello..how many people have a whole lab set up in their home?”20+ years ago — that sentiment would be — “How many people can afford a whole computing set up in their home? (and have space)” If there’s a demand — there will be a whole lot of companies explaining why their equipment is not only cost effective, but better than their competitors :P

Posted by: trebuchet03 on January 23, 2007 at 03:21 PM

Continue reading

What is bioDIY?

I republish here my “manifesto” like article on biotech DIY, which I wrote in April, 2006 on Newsvine in order to see the thoughts behind the placenta stem cell project.

Would you like to sequence your genome in your garage? To grow your stem cells in the kitchen-lab? To hunt for point mutations just for your own sake? Welcome to the coming world of personal biotech.
All you need is a short course in biotech basics, a few thousands of bucks, some tinkering capability, and enough spare time. The beautiful retro idea of tinkering with digital devices in a garage, conveyed by the Make magazine, can be extended to biotech too.
The know-how of hacking seemingly complicated electronic devices has been made accessible to non-pros. The needs were fuelled by the idea of personal fabrication. However, needs are constantly changing, and biotech is gaining more and more ground in everyday life.

Continue reading

Valley Brats in Rolling Stone’s Tech Issue: trends in journalism (weekend off)

rollingwiredrossAnd now for something completely different! Sometimes life is just simply life for me without any extension. This is Life.exe. So at the weekends during the largely dead webtimes, I’ll blog about other things than stem cells, regenerative medicine, maximum life extension and biotech. This week offstory is a report, which shows the transformation of the now mainstream, once countercultural Rolling Stone magazine into a Wired-type Zeitgeist patterned techweb conglomerate. I bought the 16th November issue because it seemed like a Wired magazine by cover and content too: (inversely, look at the december Wired cover: it is Rolling Stone-like):

- coverboys and story are not the usual nice bodymaniac popceleb men&women but Colbert&Stewart

- blogs of musicians,

- long report on a radical idea by a planetary engineer to stop global warming,

- a big article with the title: The Baby Billionaires of Silicon Valley.

That is about the Valley Brats, the hidden power clique of under 30 übergeeks in the Bay Area, like Firefox main creator Blake Ross, Continue reading

Life extension interviews: Nick Bostrom and the philosopher’s point of view

Nick Bostrom is an nickbostrom analytic philosopher by profession in Oxford, but he has a strong background in science too. He is also the co-founder and current chair of the World Transhumanist Association.

1. What is the story of your life extension commitment?

I did not think much about the topic until I learned about various possible enabling technologies, and concluded that life extension is feasible. I suppose I was “committed” from that point on.

2. Is it a commitment for moderate or maximum life extension?

For whatever is attainable. Ideally, death should be voluntary. I am assuming we’re talking about extension of health span. I am not committed to indefinite extension of life in a very poor state.

3. What is your favourite argument supporting human life extension?

I’m in favor of research into anti-aging medicine for precisely the same reasons that I’m in favor of cancer research, heart disease research, and diabetes research: because it might prevent or cure disease and save lives. Continue reading

What can/will You do for life extension? Answer these questions first.

Dear Reader, if You are stem cell researcher, life scientist, medical doctor, scholar, activist, bloggers, IT professional, venture capitalist, philosopher, economist, politician, decision maker, businessman, biotech- or big pharma manager, plastic surgeon, hairdresser… who support life extension, please answer the questions below and send me to [attilacsordas][at][gmail.com] to get blogterviewed. Continue reading

Stem Cells get viral and part of the pop culture: The Stem Cells – live

The term ‘Stem Cells’ eventually stepped out its scientific home and became the viral name of a music-performance group. Hear their Human Stem Cell Audio Therapy blabla from their website transmitted to audio by me via Odeo:

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/2234526/view]

Anyway, I offer the next music names for future generations: Tissue Engineers, DJ RegMed, MC Growth Factor, Mesenchymal RapStar, stem n bass….

Now back to my poster and the real human amniotic stem cells…

Bodies in the Making book, essays by UC Santa Cruz professors

A new book coedited by UC Santa Cruz Literature and Anthropology professors Helene Moglen and Nancy Chen, bodiesBodies in the Making: Transgressions and Transformations, explores a range of practices that aren’t usually linked: tattooing, cosmetic surgery, body-building, life extension technologies, self-cutting. The common denominator is intended to be body hacking, modification and our fascination with altering our bodies. “Is there anyone not at some time obsessed with aging?” asked Moglen. “Is there anyone over 40 who is not at least thinking about what it might be like to get some kind of cosmetic surgery? Is there anyone over 60 not interested in hearing about life extension technologies? Link

Sounds like real Californian to me and real human. :) Agree fully with that: thinking about eliminating the effects of aging is as natural (I know it is a controversial and philosophically overloaded concept) and universal for every human being as thinking about love.

 

Factors to consider before saying YES to the extension of life

A study at the University of Queensland, Australia examined community attitudes to the extension of life headed by underwoodproject Research Manager Dr Mair Underwood (left): Dr Underwood said the most important consideration was quality of life as participants did not want to spend their extra years in a nursing home. But study participants also mentioned other considerations such as:
• Would their loved ones be extending their lives too?
• What financial support would they have, and would they be extending their working lives rather than their retired lives?
• How would we decide who could extend their life? Would it just be those that could afford to do so?
Link

Here are my answers concerning the most probable possibility of introducing life extension into real life at the first cost stage, when the costs of the treatment are very high:

quality of life: It is hard to imagine, that anyone wants to live long with a continuously ageing condition, losing gradually vital functions (of course we do not want it, this is not a Swift story), instead we want first to fix the ageing process, so that the biological age of the individual can remain constant, and his metabolism and energy household normal. Really different parameters.
loved ones: well, the decision to participate in a life extension treatment could be a family decision and it will depend on the family budget at the outset.
financial support, working life: Any serious concept of maximum life extension is about fixing your physiological age in a working and healthy state, so you can support yourself and you must when the costs are extremely high, because the state obviously cannot guarantee it.
who would decide, who could extend their life? It is my first question considering how to protect the right for pimm when the costs are extremely high. Well, in a liberal democracy the principle of equal dignity require us to make the treatment possible for those, who can afford it, because immortalized persons are rational moral persons too, and forbidding their participation in the treatment would degrade them as morally inferior ones. The continuous regeneration treatment called pimm will be permissible to those who can buy it from the same reason. If the treatment would not be permitted to them, this would violate their right to self-determination, and their right to self-determination cannot be legitimately interfered with.

We really have to modify our intuitions, we have to learn thought experimentation if we want to catch the idea of maximum life extension.

Future Hollywood movie called “The Immortalist”

From Yahoo News: LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Bennett Miller, the Oscar-nominated director of “Capote,” is working on a futuristic movie called “The Immortalist.” The project, which has yet to be written, is a “character-driven drama set in the emerging world of life extension,” he said. Details of the plot are still under wraps, but Miller described it as “not a science fiction film … (but) a drama set in the very real world of those pursuing biological immortality.” He added: “It’s a pursuit that attracts some extremely brilliant, wealthy and influential people. It also attracts tragic figures. This story follows one such person on his disturbing foray into it.” Link

Well, what can I say? I am hungry for the technological details. I just wonder how these guys imagine the ins and outs of life extension.

Thanks Anna.

Update: those links are not working anymore, here is a stable one: Bennett Miller Helming The Immortalist