The status of Academic research this week

From my colleagues over at the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars (CAPS).

Too Few University Jobs For America’s Young Scientists

Funding is most definitely a problem, and that problem is certainly getting worse. It’s not just the US.

The bigger problem will be when the prestigious reputation associated with pursuing a career as a scientist evaporates. Then it wont just be a funding problem – it’ll be a problem with funding AND attracting the top talent to the industry. How do we expect to perform the necessary research when the most intelligent and qualified people choose non-research career fields?

One needs only to look at the crash in Teachers College applicants to see what happens when the reality of an impossible-job-search diffuses to those entering their education streams.


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Bring Reading Rainbow Back

It has been a while since I posted anything.  I have been caught up in research, preparing for the MCAT – which I wrote at the end of March and scored well, performing some reflection on what I want out of life and how I can make that happen closer to family/friends in Ontario, and fitting in extracurriculars to I stay sane.

I came across a Kickstarter from LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow.   I had no idea that the show had been canceled in 2009.  LeVar, and Reading Rainbow are looking to restart the program but on an internet browser media format.  I know I enjoyed the show as a child, and in the same way that I value Khan Academy, I think this Reading Rainbow format would serve children well in to the future.  

When you have a moment, take a second and head over to the Kickstarter page, watch the video and check out the program proposal.


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3D Printing – it’s about more than just lawn gnomes




It may surprise you to hear that 3D printing has been since 1984, with Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation.  Most of us, however, probably hadn’t heard of 3D printing until the last few years.  I know I hadn’t really paid attention to this technology, and why would I?  I have no interest in printing trinkets, coat hangers, and lawn gnomes. The typical fare you’ll find at Thingiverse.  

That all changed when Cody Wilson started printing lower receivers, and high capacity magazines for the AR-15, and received some of the spotlight after the Sandy Hook massacre.  At that point I realized the awesome potential in this technology – but for entirely different purposes.  

Imagine printing prosthetic hands, at a fraction of the cost of typical prosthetics, and giving a child with  amniotic band syndrome the ability to grasp objects for the first time. That’s precisely what the Robohand does – an invention of Richard Van As.  


It wouldn’t be hard to believe a near future where 3D printers are a fixture in private medical practices. I know if I had one I would be looking to set up the infrastructure to support it.  

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Elon Musk on innovating

Elon Musk is an incredibly interesting person.  I love his approach to innovation and appreciate his definition of ‘success.’  I think that’s probably one of the biggest take-always from this video, for me;  I’m not completely crazy, although I feel that way sometimes.

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Rising seas …. due to fish farms?



I think we are all familiar with the implied causal relationship between Climate Change and rising sea levels.  President Obama famously said in 2008 “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” injecting the topic in to his first presidential campaign.

A recent report in Geophysical Research Letters seems to have caught even the climate and geophysical community off guard.  It reports that pumping ground water, for aquaculture or other purposes, contributes to perceived rising sea levels more than actual sea levels rising due to changing climates.

The take home message; systems as complex as global climates can’t be reduced to simply carbon emissions and expect that predictions based on these assumptions will be even remotely accurate.


Higgins, S., et al. 2013, Geophysical Research Letters

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GM rice out-competes wild rice in the absence of Roundup



I came across an interesting article today at Nature News.  It discusses a report on transgenic rice, engineered to over-express 5-enolpyruvoylshikimate-3-phosphate (EPSP) synthase which confers resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup).  This transgenic rice line was then out-crossed with a weedy rice relative and the F2 generations were evaluated for fitness, in the absence of glyphosate.  The F2s demonstrated clear competitive advantages over wild-type rice (eg. 48-128% increased seed production per plant).

These results are disconcerting if you consider that this report would suggest if transgenic crops were to outcross with weedy relatives it could result in escape of the trans-gene in to wild populations. Compounding this problem of trans-gene escape, is the fact that the transgene confers a competitive advantage even in the absence of herbicide application.  However, the problem with this inference is that rice does not normally out-cross, and only appears to do so under forced, laboratory conditions, as were performed in this report.

This is a very interesting article and anyone involved in plant biotech should read it.  Just keep in mind the caveats that this model system does not normally out-cross.  Nevertheless it is important to keep these considerations in mind when discussing GMOs in the environment.


Wang, W. et al. 2013, New Phytologist

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Alzheimer’s disease: New pre-onset biomarker diagnostic



New research out of Spain suggests that it is possible to determine if someone will develop Alzheimers, as early as 10 years in advance, by measuring the amount of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Aside from the spinal tap, the method is straight forward Quantitative PCR (qPCR).

This is a remarkable development!  Anyone who has family or friends suffering from Alzheimers knows that current methods for diagnosis depend on the patient being symptomatic and undergoing memory and cognitive tests.  Furthermore, people who have already experienced decreased mental functions, due to Alzheimer’s, can only be maintained at present cognitive functions or have their degeneration slowed by therapy.  You can’t recover mental function with current treatments.  However, if we can diagnose people as early as 10 years in advance of onset, this will seriously improve the prognosis of those who will develop Alzheimer’s.


Podlesniy, P., et al. 2013, Annals of Neurology

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