John Fleischman

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

ASCB member, former ASCB President, and 2013 ASCB Annual Meeting keynote speaker, Elaine Fuchs has been named the winner of the American Association for Cancer Research's 2014 Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Cancer Research. Fuchs, who is a professor at the Rockefeller University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is known for her pioneering work on epidermal stem cells and the relationship between "stemness" and cancer progression.

One of the pleasures of the AAAS Annual Meeting is walking through walls. Science can be a windowless warren if you stick with what you know so sometimes it pays to step out. At AAAS, you can seek out a symposium on some outlandish topic just to view unknown terrain. Sometimes you glimpse far horizons. Sometimes you are fogged in.

CHICAGO—The "Triple A-S" meeting is like no other scientific gathering in that it is not really for scientists but for journalists who follow science. Scientists do come to present talks or to serve on AAAS governing sections, but to understand the meeting's central purpose, think of AAAS as the world's largest annual science press conference.

John Pringle has been going to different sorts of meetings this last decade. He is still a regular at the ASCB Annual Meeting and at smaller yeast biology gatherings. Indeed he was in New Orleans for the ASCB Annual Meeting in December to receive the E.B. Wilson Medal, the ASCB's highest scientific honor, for his pioneering work on cell polarization and cytokinesis. But Pringle also goes, when he can, to the International Coral Reef Symposium, the Society for Microbial Ecology, and the International Symbiosis Society. He still has a small yeast group in his lab although his other interests have represented the majority since 2007. He is becoming known at these marine biology and ecology meetings, but Pringle says that he wishes there were more cell biologists there. John Pringle aims to correct that.

It was either serendipity or the anxiety of an entire generation of graduate students coming to a boil, but last fall something triggered an explosion of science advocacy on the Emory University campus in Atlanta. A grad student "advocacy journal club" has sprung to life with 50 members, ambitious plans for organizing more, and a working alliance with the dean and with Emory's Office of Governmental Affairs.

NIH Director Francis Collins yesterday unveiled an unusual open access alliance of 10 "biopharmaceutical" companies and eight nonprofits to wade through the growing flood of bio data on four diseases—Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes, and the autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus—to identify therapeutic targets and characterize biomarkers. All data and analyses will be publicly shared. The pharma and nonprofit allies will put up $230 million over five years in hopes of making translational sense of the mass of new imaging, "omic" sequencing, and other data on these four diseases with massive impacts on public health. The new alliance is called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP).

Amoebae, start your engines. Dictyostelium discoideum a.k.a. Dicty, the slime mold with a vast reputation (and literature) as an experimental model system, will go head to head (or leading edge to leading edge) next May against a neutrophil challenger, a human neutrophil-like cell line called HL-60, in a desperate race through a microfluidic maze. The winning cells will get a drink of chemical attractant and their human managers cash (amount undetermined but likely small) and fame (fleeting).

In nominating John Pringle for the E.B. Wilson Medal, the ASCB's highest scientific honor, Daniel Lew, who is now at the Duke University Medical Center, described his friend and collaborator as the "father" of yeast cell biology. David Drubin, who introduced Pringle's Wilson lecture at the ASCB Annual Meeting last month in New Orleans, took it further. "Today it's hard to appreciate that back in the '70s and '80s, a lot of cell biologists didn't accept yeast as a eukaryotic cell," explained Drubin, a leading yeast cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Consider it a triumphant return appearance. Their roles and most of all their science had changed in the dozen years since Elaine Fuchs, then president of the ASCB, introduced her keynote speaker at the 2001 ASCB Annual Meeting, Craig Venter. That had been during Venter's first big moment in the world media spotlight as head of Celera, his private "shotgun" gene sequencing company that had just completed the first draft of the human genome in an uneasy alliance with the public consortium led by the National Institutes of Health. Already a leading investigator of stem cells, a term that was just coming into the public consciousness in 2001, Fuchs was about to move to the Rockefeller University in New York City.

In the pantheon of Great Biologists, there are major discoveries and powerful insights but great humor is more or less limited to GBS Haldane's wisecrack about evolution revealing the Creator's "inordinate fondness for beetles." But if you're looking for funny in cell biology, try the pantheon's very small humour annex in Chicago where Stan Cohn teaches at DePaul University and studies diatoms, the vast group of unicellular algae that anchors the oceanic food, acts as water pollution markers, and continues to intrigue cell biologists because of their silica cell walls and exquisite photo sensitivity.

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