Educated. Inspired. Connected.

Nobel Laureate Michael Rosbash was correct when stating during his 2017 Nobel Banquet that “scientific careers rely on inheritance, environment and random events like all biological phenomena.” Indeed, most laureates at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting attributed their Nobel recognition to hard-work, good decision making and a touch of luck. Such attributes may be applied to my participation at Lindau as I have taken an interdisciplinary path. As an undergraduate I looked at the potential use of erythropoietin to stimulate wound repair in certain types of human endothelial cells at University College Dublin. A PhD on skeletal muscle physiology and adaptation to hypoxia in animal models at University College Cork followed. Next, I spent two years working in an Irish bar in Cologne. Eventually, I found my way back into science with an occupational and environmental medicine and research institute at the University Hospital of Cologne. Needless to say, after 1.5 years as a post-doc and still learning the trade, I did not expect to receive the invitation to participate in such a prestigious event as the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting!


Philip Lewis (second from right) and other young scientists with Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn (fourth from right) in Lindau. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Philip Lewis

With excitement galore, preparation began almost immediately. After all, a scientist is what a scientist does, and the research must be done: websites, blogs, videos, tweets, profiles, even PubMed contains information on the Lindau Meetings! My research was geared toward answering the question: “What does one even say to a Nobel Prize winner?” Even after the meeting, I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer. However, a good place to start is to ask for opinions on scientific concerns beyond the lab bench. For instance, the laureates were happy to bare their experiences on navigating the academic industry including finding funding and publishing papers and to discuss each topic within the current academic climate.

I must admit that despite the excitement, it was difficult to keep the imposter syndrome at bay when reading about the work and achievements of the Nobel Laureates themselves. It quickly became clear, however, that the 600 invited young scientists from 84 countries were key to the meeting. Also, and more so than ‘traditional’ conferences, lab bench data receives equal footing alongside professional development, scientific history, collaboration, communication, global integration and scientific perspective. The imposter syndrome could, at least in part, be mitigated.

The most valuable research document is of course the programme published by the committee. Fittingly, the first words from the meeting’s Council in the welcome address of the programme take the form of a question: “Is post-factual the new normal?” The Council put forward a major challenge faced by the scientific community for the attendees to chew on: “The challenge may be to reconnect science to the public and to political decision makers.” Indeed, from my research of the meeting, it is clear that the science-society interface goes back a ways as an ingrained meeting thread. I count myself lucky that my first day in Lindau included some coaching and rehearsal in presenting my research to a non-scientific audience for a German television programme. Moreover, another of the attendees at this rehearsal, Arunima Roy, has written a blog post for the meeting on post-facts and communication issues. The meeting had not yet officially started, and I was already learning important lessons for scientists.

It gets better – the very first lectures were given by Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, joint recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the work on the genetic basis of the circadian system in the fruit fly and other organisms. In other words, two of the top-dogs of the field I work in are presenting first. I couldn’t help but note the irony in these laureates being invited to give speeches all around the world, thus, being increasingly challenged with jet-lag which stems from perturbment to the very system they worked on to win the Nobel Prize! The lectures were stimulating and offered research into circadian systems as a basis to understand and eventually shape health and disease in coming years. That evening I was fortunate to sit at Michael Young’s table for dinner. There were exacerbations of my imposter syndrome but that was quickly eased. A laureate’s approval of your current scientific investigation can do that (who said you should never meet your heroes?).


Nobel Laureate Michael Young during dinner with Philip Lewis and other young scientists at the International Get-Together of #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

As the meeting drew on, it got better still. The young scientists were the key. Almost no one knew each other beforehand and we were outside of the traditional lab group comfort zone clique that can occur at some conferences. Interaction was inevitable, and the first question of “so what do you research” put people into their comfort zones from the start. It quickly became clear that when two or more scientists sit down and start talking research, everything in the background that could be a distraction disappears. Over six hundred people in one room having conversations and only being able to hear the person sitting next to you talking about their research is quite the physiological adaptation – I wonder is it just scientists who have adapted in such a way?

The laureate lectures and discussion groups ranged from bench science to life experiences and from improving science dissemination to flying the flag for important causes. Edvard Moser spoke about the mapping of the surrounding environment in rodent brains with grid cells which was fascinating from a scientific curiosity perspective. Ada Yonath gave arguably the best lecture with her explanations of ribosome functioning and targets for drug interventions both understandable and entertaining for the lay audience members (like me). She highlighted the number of top female scientists in her working group who have several children which shows that all working systems are able to allow for female scientists with families. In other words, if a working system does not allow for this, it can and should be changed for the better. Her talk extended beyond her allotted time but there was nobody in the audience rushing out of the hall to attend another session. She could have held the stage for the day and she definitely and deservedly got the longest applause of the week. Referring to antibiotics preventing ribosomal function showed that you don’t have to be big to be strong. She could have used herself as proof for the validity of this statement. Michael Levitt provided an assessment of funding struggles facing young scientists and emphasised values needed to be the right kind of scientist. Sir Richard Roberts led an impassioned and highly motivating discussion on the use of GMO’s to save several millions of lives around the world, and his use of the Nobel Prize status to provide a recognisable scientific voice to such campaigns. He had almost every young scientist in the room asking where we can sign up to join the cause. Chatting with Peter C. Doherty about his experiences after lunch on Mainau Island was another highlight.

Now, this may sound like a conference of stroking egos, but there was a fair share of controversy and contrasting views amongst the laureates themselves, the young scientists themselves and between the laureates and the young scientists. This, of course, is to be expected with frontier research, a wide range of age differences and experiences and having over 80 different countries represented. However, contrasting viewpoints served only to improve the scientific discussion. Indeed, many laureate views were challenged as being outdated or naïve. The panel discussion on “publish or perish” got quite feisty from time to time regarding ethics and responsibility, impact on scientific lives and asking what can be done to improve the process. Young scientist Amy Shepherd, who had already written an excellent blog on pressures in academia, provided a powerful voice for young scientists. She was not daunted in the verbal boxing match between Nobel Laureates Randy W. Sheckman and Harold E. Varmus who are pioneering ways for the dissemination of information in the life sciences, CEO of Springer Nature Daniel Ropers and EMBO director Maria Leptin.


Panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’ at #LINO18 (from left): Alaina Levine, Daniel Ropers, Maria Leptin, Randy Shekman, Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Overall, it was a long week but a great one. This event was a unique experience that I wish every young scientist had the opportunity to benefit from because they undoubtedly would. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2018 has surpassed all expectations and then some. There is so much more I could potentially include in this blog, from lunch with Elizabeth Blackburn to the dancing on the boat from Mainau, but there would not be enough space in a novel for everything.

From this meeting, I can take away friendships from all over the world, new potential collaborators, an increased sense of responsibility to confront and discuss the most important issues facing our society, and confidence that we have young scientists all over the world with the capabilities to address these major issues both in the laboratory and in conveying the appropriate messages to society. The Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, stated at the outset, “If we want to save the world, we need researchers who stand up and speak up.” I have been motivated to do so, and I know the other young scientists have as well.

Lindau is a special place and the meeting is a special time. I have been educated, inspired, and connected and I now understand what is meant by the Lindau spirit! There is something at this meeting for everybody. To everyone involved in making the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting possible, thank you!

Bessere Wissenschaft zum Wohle der Menschheit

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Olof Amelin, Elizabeth Blackburn und Martin Chalfie während eines Agora Talk bei #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Mit einem Nobelpreis werden wissenschaftliche Entdeckungen gewürdigt, die in ihrem Bereich (und darüber hinaus) ein wissenschaftliches Vermächtnis hinterlassen. Bei der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung haben Elizabeth Blackburn und Martin Chalfie Wege vorgestellt, mit denen sich das Vermächtnis der Wissenschaften grundsätzlich verbessern lässt und die Forschungstätigkeiten dem Wohle der Menschheit zugutekommen. Sie berichteten von ihren Erfahrungen aus der eigenen Ausbildungszeit, von unabhängiger Forschung und von Forschungsgruppen, die neue Wege gehen, um Daten weithin untereinander auszutauschen, die Inklusivität unter Wissenschaftlern zu erhöhen und ihre Arbeit für neue Zielgruppen zugänglich zu machen.

Aufbauend auf seinen Vortrag bei der letztjährigen Tagung ermutigte Chalfie junge Wissenschaftler, ihre Arbeiten nicht nur herkömmlichen Fachzeitschriften anzubieten, sondern auch als Preprint zu veröffentlichen. Durch solche Preprints werden wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse jedermann zugänglich, auch Schülern an weiterführenden Schulen oder Wissenschaftlern in Einrichtungen, die sich keine Abonnements für teure Fachzeitschriften leisten können. Für die Autoren selbst bieten Preprints auch die Gelegenheit, an einer weiteren Verbesserung ihrer Manuskripte zu arbeiten. Denn die Kollegen, die ein Preprint lesen, können Kommentare und zusätzliche Peer-Reviews beisteuern, die sich ausschließlich auf den in dem jeweiligen Manuskript enthaltenen wissenschaftlichen Inhalt konzentrieren, ohne sich um dessen Wert für eine bestimmte Fachzeitschrift kümmern zu müssen.

Chalfie hat inzwischen den zweiwöchentlich stattfindenden Journal Club seiner Gruppe so umgestellt, dass er sich speziell auf Preprints konzentriert. Diese Idee hat er von Francis Collings übernommen. Und so funktioniert’s: Ein Student wählt ein bestimmtes Preprint aus und gibt es an den Rest der Gruppe weiter. Oft sind die Manuskripte – im Gegensatz zu den publizierten Studien, die oft mindestens ein Jahr alt sind – gerade erst wenige Wochen alt. Und es mangelt nicht an Material. „Wir finden immer Paper, die für unsere Arbeit relevant sind”, stellt er fest.

Die Gruppe diskutiert den ausgewählten Artikel und anschließend fasst der Studierende, der die Diskussion leitet, die Kommentare der Gruppe zusammen und sendet sie an den Autor weiter. Unter den Hunderten jungen Nachwuchswissenschaftlern rund um die Bühne war zustimmendes Gemurmel zu vernehmen – die gleiche Reaktion, die sein Arbeitsgruppe, so Chalfie, von den Autoren erhält.

Preprint Journal Clubs fördern den Informationsaustausch und den Gemeinschaftssinn durch Kommunikation, sagt Chalfie. Er ermutigt die jungen Wissenschaftler denn auch direkt, das neueste Manuskript seiner Gruppe über bioRxiv zu begutachten, ihre Anmerkungen dazu mit ihm zu teilen und nach ihrer Rückkehr Preprint Journal Clubs in ihren Labs vor Ort zu initiieren.


Martin Chalfie mit Nachwuchswissenschaftlern bei #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Zum Nutzen der gesamten Menschheit

Während ihres Teils des gemeinsamen Gespräches wandte sich Elizabeth Blackburn dem Gendergap in der Wissenschaft zu. Dabei ging sie auch auf einen aktuellen Bericht über sexuelle Belästigung in akademischen Institutionen ein, den die National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine veröffentlicht hat. Eine Feststellung überraschte Blackburn am meisten: Die häufigste Form der Belästigung in wissenschaftlichen Institutionen sind erniedrigende Witze und Kommentare, durch die sich Frauen ausgegrenzt fühlen. Solche Belästigungen, so ein Fazit des Berichts, können die Karriere von Frauen und ihren Beitrag zur Wissenschaft beeinträchtigen. Der kumulative Effekt sexueller Belästigungen führe zudem dazu, dass Talenten für Wissenschaft, Mathematik und das Ingenieurswesen verloren gingen, ergänzt sie.

Es gibt verschiedene Möglichkeiten für Institutionen, ein Umfeld der Gleichstellung zu fördern. Während ihrer Ausbildung haben Blackburn und Chalfie beide am Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, Großbritannien, gearbeitet. In den 1950er und 1960er Jahren galt dieses Institut als Zentrum der modernen molekularbiologischen Forschung, das die Struktur und Sequenz von Proteinen und Nukleinsäuren erforschte. Seitdem hat sich der Forschungsschwerpunkt der Arbeitsgruppe auf die Immunologie, die Genetik und die neurologische Entwicklung ausgeweitet. 13 institutseigene Wissenschaftler wurden im Laufe ihrer Karriere mit dem Nobelpreis ausgezeichnet.

Blackburn wusste es sehr zu schätzen, dass am Institut keine Hierarchie herrschte. So kannte auch der Leiter des Materiallagers die Gruppenleiter mit Vornamen. Und sie selbst diskutierte während des Mittagessens wissenschaftliche Fragen mit führenden Molekularbiologen wie Francis Crick oder Sydney Brenner. „Im Fokus der Magie stand die Wissenschaft und keiner war der Big Boss”, erinnert sie sich. „Ich möchte Sie dazu ermutigen, in Ihren eigenen Labs zu einem solchen Arbeitsumfeld beizutragen.”

Für Chalfie spiegelte sich die offene Atmosphäre am LMB in dem Wunsch wider, Teil dieses Umfelds zu sein. Er beschreibt: „Weil ich die anregende Kreativität und die Begeisterung für die Wissenschaft dort so mochte, wollte ich daran mitwirken.”


Zum Wohle der Menschheit gute Wissenschaft betreiben

Während der Eröffnungsveranstaltung ermutigte Blackburn in ihrem Vortrag die 600 jungen Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler, die an der Tagung teilnehmen, sich in ihrer wissenschaftlichen Arbeit Problemen von zentraler Bedeutung zuzuwenden, um den größten Herausforderungen der Menschheit, wie dem Umgang mit der Umweltverschmutzung, Flüchtlingen, wirtschaftlichem Rückgang oder der Klimakatastrophe, begegnen zu können. Und wenn diese Probleme zuweilen unüberwindlich erscheinen, erinnert sie sich an eine Aussage von Marie Curie: „Was man zu verstehen gelernt hat, fürchtet man nicht mehr.”

Für Blackburn sind wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse durch eine von Neugier beseelte Grundlagenforschung der Schlüssel zu diesem Verstehen. Ihre Grundlagenforschung über die molekularen Mechanismen des Alterns der Schraubenalge führten sie zu Mechanismen in der Sozialpolitik, die die Zahl der Jahre, in denen wir gesund leben, reduzieren. Sie entdeckte ein Enzym, das Telomere repariert – die repetitiven DNA-Sequenzen am Ende eines jeden Chromosoms, die wertvolle genetische Informationen vor dem Verlust bei der Zellteilung bewahren. Die Telomere verkürzen sich natürlicherweise mit zunehmendem Alter. Untersuchungen haben gezeigt, dass eine schnellere Telomerverkürzung Herzkrankheiten, einige Krebsarten und Demenzkrankheiten begünstigen – Krankheiten, die unsere Lebensqualität im Alter häufig beeinträchtigen.

Genetik, Epidemiologie und sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung haben gezeigt, dass gesellschaftliche Situationen wie Missbrauch, Umweltverschmutzung, schlechte Ernährung, chronischer Stress und ein niedriger Bildungsstand die Telomerverkürzung ebenfalls beschleunigen. Anfang des Jahres hat Blackburn mit anderen Autoren gemeinsam ein populärwissenschaftliches Sachbuch mit dem Titel The Telomere Effect veröffentlicht. Darin werden wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse über die Telomerreparatur mit forschungsbasierten Empfehlungen für die Lebensweise und sozialpolitische Maßnahmen kombiniert, die zur Verlängerung der Gesundheitsspanne beitragen.

Ein Schlüssel dafür, wissenschaftliche Forschung im Sinne des globalen Allgemeinwohls zu betreiben, liegt laut Blackburn in einer umfassenden wissenschaftlichen Kommunikation. „Wissenschaftler sollten nicht bescheiden sein, wenn es um ihren Einfluss auf Bildung und die Bereitstellung von Informationen geht, die für Fragen mit globaler Auswirkung relevant sind”, ergänzt sie.

Sie räumt ein, dass die Lösung riesiger sozialer Probleme herausfordernd sein kann. Aber bestimmte Aktivitäten, so Blackburn, sind jedem möglich: „Widerstehen Sie der Versuchung, sich überwältigt zu fühlen. Hören Sie zu, lesen Sie, lernen Sie, wählen Sie – tun Sie etwas. Jede und jeder zählt.”


Der #LINO18 Agora Talk mit Elizabeth Blackburn und Martin Chalfie


Improving Science to Benefit All of Humanity

>>Zur deutschsprachigen Version


Olof Amelin, Elizabeth Blackburn and Martin Chalfie during an Agora Talk at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


A Nobel Prize recognises scientific discoveries that leave a legacy in their field and beyond. At the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, Elizabeth Blackburn and Martin Chalfie discussed ways to improve the legacy of science in general so that the field can benefit all of humanity. They shared experiences from their own training, independent research, and lab groups that demonstrate a new way to share data widely, increase inclusivity among scientists, and connect their work to new audiences.

Building on some of his talk from last year’s meeting, Chalfie encouraged young scientists to publish their work as preprints in addition to submitting it to traditional print journals. Preprints make scientific results accessible to everyone, including high school students and scientists working at institutions without subscriptions to expensive journals. They also offer an opportunity for authors to improve their manuscripts. Colleagues reading a preprint can send comments and additional reviews to an author that focus only on the science in the paper, without assessing its worthiness for a particular journal.

Chalfie has now switched his group’s biweekly journal club to focus specifically on preprints, an idea he borrowed from Francis Collins. Here’s how it works: A student selects a preprint and shares it with the rest of the group. Often, the work is only a couple of weeks old, compared to research reported in published papers that may be at least a year old. And there’s no shortage of material. “We always find papers relevant to our work,” he says.

The group discusses the paper; then the student leading the discussion collects the group’s comments and sends them to the author. Murmurs of approval and appreciation rumbled through the hundreds of young scientists gathered around the stage – the same response that Chalfie says his lab receives from authors.

Preprint journal clubs promote data sharing and a sense of community through communication, he says. Chalfie encouraged the young scientists to review his group’s latest paper on bioRxiv, share their comments with him, and then start preprint journal clubs in their labs when they return home.


Martin Chalfie speaking to young scientists at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Drawing on the whole of humanity

During her portion of the shared discussion, Blackburn explored the gender gap in science. She mentioned a recent report about sexual harassment in academia, published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. One finding most surprised Blackburn: the most common form of harassment in academia are degrading jokes and comments that made women feel excluded. The report also found that harassment can hurt women’s careers and dampen their contribution to science. The cumulative effects of sexual harassment also lead to a loss of talent in science, math and engineering, she adds.

There are ways that institutions can foster an environment of equality. During their training, Blackburn and Chalfie each worked at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), in Cambridge, United Kingdom. This institute was the centre of modern molecular biology research in the 1950s and 1960s that revealed the structure and sequence of proteins and nucleic acids, and the focus of research there has since expanded to include immunology, genetics and neurological development. Thirteen in-house scientists became Nobel Laureates during their careers.

Blackburn appreciated that the institute had no hierarchy. The stockroom manager knew group leaders by their first names, and she argued science with top molecular biologists, such as Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner, during lunch. “The magic there was all about science, and no one was a big boss,” she says. “I encourage you to try to recreate this environment in your own labs.”

For Chalfie, the open environment at LMB fed back into a desire to be included in that environment. He says: “Because I enjoyed the excitement and enthusiasm about science there, I also wanted to contribute to it.”


Doing good science for the good of humanity

In a breathless talk during the opening ceremony, Blackburn encouraged the 600 young scientists attending the meeting to work on problems of global importance that address humanity’s greatest challenges, such as pollution, refugees and economic decline, the climate crisis. While these issues may seem daunting, she looks to a quote from Marie Curie for inspiration: Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.

For Blackburn, scientific knowledge through curiosity-drive basic research is the key to understanding. Her basic research into the molecular mechanisms of aging in pond scum carried her into the ways social policies can decrease the number of years we live healthy lives. She discovered an enzyme that repairs telomeres, the repetitive sequences of DNA at the end of each chromosome that protect precious genetic information from being lost when cells divide. Telomeres naturally shorten as we age, and research has shown that faster telomere shortening contributes to heart disease, some cancers, and dementias – diseases that frequently reduce our quality of life as we age.

Genetics, epidemiology and social science research has also shown that social situations such as abuse, pollution, poor diet, chronic stress and low education also speed telomere shortening. Blackburn co-authored a popular science book published at the beginning of this year, called The Telomere Effect. It combines the science of telomere repair with research-based recommendations for lifestyle and social changes to improve health span.

One key to doing science for the global good, Blackburn says, is communicating research widely. “Scientists should not be modest regarding their power to educate and provide information relevant to issues with global impact,” she adds.

She also acknowledges that tackling large social issues can be challenging, but there are specific actions that everyone can take: “Resist the temptation to feel overwhelmed. Listen, read, learn, vote – do something. Everyone counts.”


The #LINO18 Agora Talk with Elizabeth Blackburn and Martin Chalfie


New Topic Cluster: Model Organisms

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster was one of the first model organisms introduced into laboratories. Picture/Credit: Antagain/

From yeast to fruit flies – our new Topic Cluster provides an overview of the most important model organisms and how they have enabled Nobel Laureates to make ground-breaking discoveries, including clippings of lectures from laureates Günter Blobel, Elizabeth Blackburn, Craig Mello, Harald zur Hausen, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi.


>> Read Topic Cluster

#LiNo18: Rekordzahl von 42 Nobelpreisträgern


Elizabeth Blackburn wird als eine von 42 Nobelpreisträgern an der 68. Lindauer Tagung teilnehmen. Photo/Credit: Rolf Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Bereits 42 Nobelpreisträger sowie ein Preisträger des ACM A.M. Turing Awards haben ihre Teilnahme an der 68. Lindauer Tagung (Physiologie/Medizin) bestätigt – so viele wie noch nie zuvor bei einer Medizintagung.

Unter den teilnehmenden Laureaten sind auch drei frischgebackene Nobelpreisträger: die beiden Biologen Michael Rosbash und Michael Young, die für ihre Forschung an der inneren Uhr ausgezeichnet wurden, haben ihre Teilnahme ebenso zugesagt wie der deutsch-amerikanische Chemiker Joachim Frank


>> Liste aller teilnehmenden Nobelpreisträger

Record 42 Nobel Laureates to Participate in #LiNo18


Elizabeth Blackburn will be one of 42 Nobel Laureates participating in the 68th Lindau Meeting. Photo/Credit: Rolf Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Thus far, 42 Nobel Laureates as well as a recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award have confirmed their participation in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting dedicated to physiology and medicine – more than ever before at a medicine meeting.

Among the participating laureates are also three newly minted Nobel Laureates: the two biologists Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, who were honoured for their research on the inner clock, have confirmed their participation as well as the German-American chemist Joachim Frank


>> List of Participating Nobel Laureates

Nature Outlook 2015: Science Master Class

The tradition continues! Once again our media partner Nature has released a supplement for their publications that covers the research discussed at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.
The annual meeting between Nobel laureates and young researchers in Lindau, Germany, provides a unique opportunity to glean gems of advice for a successful career in science. The 2015 meeting cast a spotlight on super-resolution microscopy, as discussed in depth in this Nature Outlook, as well as fields as diverse as memory formation and the Higgs boson.
The supplement is available for free in ist entirety. To access it simply click on the cover below. cover_large

Women in Science: Some Global Perspectives

Do women scientists still encounter issues in their careers that men don’t face? What do young scientists think? Does it depend on where the scientist is from? What better place to find out than the Lindau Meeting? This year’s meeting has 650 young researchers from 88 countries, and about 42% of them are women.  
Image: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Image: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

While the majority agrees that there are issues specific to women that need to be addressed, whether through systemic policies, support or education, it is immediately apparent that more men disagree. 9 out of 25 men surveyed said that they think there is no issue. Some of them don’t see breaks in careers as detrimental; others think the problems are similar for men and women. A few of them, all physicists, honestly admitted that they simply didn’t know enough women scientists to know what the issues are, which makes a case for promoting more awareness. On the other hand there were only 2 women (out of 25) who said they didn’t believe women had it harder than men. “They say that it’s such a big problem. Where I live it’s not hard,” said one young woman from Germany. The majority, however, believed there were differences, the extent and flavor of which were different in different countries and cultures. “It is an issue, not just in Mauritius, but across Africa,” said Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun, a member of the Global Young Academy, which has a ‘women in science’ group actively involved in mentoring young women. “Science is still sexist especially in terms of the opportunities we get,” she added. The situation in India is similar in many ways. Seema Mittal, a young scientist at the India Innovation Research Center said, “I see fewer women around me wanting a career in academia given its challenges—bureaucracy, power structures, balancing family.” Networks and mentors go a long way in working around bureaucracy, and she feels men have much stronger networks that they can tap into. Some cultures pressure women into starting families early. The burden of caregiving also falls largely on the woman in these cultures. Researchers, both men and women, from Pakistan, Cameroon and Iran observed that this was responsible for large numbers of women dropping out of science in their countries. Notably, men from these countries, and from India too, were quick to offer introductions women participants from their countries to talk about these issues—they didn’t perceive themselves as part of this dialogue. To make any progress towards equality, a big part of the efforts in these countries need to focus on raising awareness, both amongst men and women.  
Image: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Image: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

There were, however, many women who acknowledged that they had personally never encountered significant bumps in their careers so far on account of their gender. Most of these women were from Europe and the US. But they do foresee problems along the way. “What I notice in my own life and in others is that having a family is when problems come. Universities are supportive; they do want to hire women. But it is hard to make it work especially with the nomadic life of a postdoc. I see a lot of people leave the field if they feel they can’t combine that. It’s not a matter of flat out discrimination. It’s simply that more often, women choose family over career. It’s the way the system is developing,” said Else Starkenburg from the Leibnitz Institute for Astrophysics, Germany. Starkenburg even spoke at one of the Meeting’s master classes about what she called the “leakiest part of the pipeline” for women, the postdoc years. She proposed several solutions that could help: paid maternity leave, paternal leave options, support for travel with caregivers and child and return/part-time fellowships. She urged people to counter biases with information and also think about their own biases. In the ensuing audience interaction, one young scientist from Caltech insisted that men need to be invited to participate in this dialogue. “Mandating maternity leave is not a good idea unless you also mandate paternity leave. We keep reinforcing the bias when we talk about it only as women’s issues,” she said. Following up on her idea, young male scientists were asked whether they would take paternity leave if offered. Only five (out of twenty-five) said yes, they would. Out of these, one of them, a German, had indeed availed of paternity leave, and was happy to report that he hadn’t suffered any adverse consequences as a result. Two others were from Greece. “In Greece, we have mandatory nine months of military service. We take a career break for that anyway. So we don’t think a paternity break will be that different. In fact, we’d much prefer the latter,” they said. Six out of twenty-five men said they weren’t sure about taking time off and may consider it if the situation allowed it at the time—if their wives worked in a stable, well-paying job or they weren’t in a crucial transition period in their careers. The rest said no, even though some of them had previously acknowledged that women’s issues in science need to be recognized and better support provided. Fifty percent of the men believed it would affect their careers. While the idea of fathers taking time off is still very new, it is being increasingly considered in some countries and may prove to be a good equalizer. South Africa is among the nations that has done well in promoting women in science. “There is support all the way through our careers. These efforts have been around for about 20 years now, and there is a visible change,” said Deveshnie Mudaly. This is also true of Israel, which offers many schemes and fellowships to support women. Rules that require faculty applicants to do postdocs abroad complicate matters, since it is hard to relocate with family, but efforts are on to change these stipulations. While the so-called baby penalty monopolizes much of the dialogue about women in science, there are other facets to consider as well. “Women don’t self-nominate themselves for opportunities,” said Laurel Yohe, a young researcher from the US. She added that it is also important for women to be aware of things that are not natural to them, like negotiation skills. “Just being clued in to these things early on would help,” she said. Another problem that repeatedly surfaced was the lack of role models and mentors for young women to look up to and learn from. Even in countries where there are increasing numbers of women students and postdocs, there are significantly lower numbers of women professors. Paige Cooper, also from the US, said, “Having women to talk to would be most useful—women who are older, who are mentors, as well as peers who share my experiences.” Qianyuan Tang from China pointed out that stereotypes are a big problem. “There is a mistaken notion that women are not good at mathematics. Even though it is not true, hearing it often and from an early age makes some women less confident of their own skills,” he said. Another policy-level solution that has been tried in Europe is reservation. New laws in many countries require companies to increase the number of women in their boardrooms. This has provoked many mixed reactions. One young female scientist hailing from Italy was against this practice. “Quotas are not good. In many ways, they are counter productive,” she posited. “It is not uncommon to hear people—both men and women—say, that you got the job because you are a woman.”  
Image: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Image: R. Schultes/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn has successfully juggled family and career. She believes that good childcare, a supportive spouse and a network of peers can help women sustain their careers in science through the demanding baby years. She maintains, however, that there are significant conscious and unconscious biases that women still have to battle in the workplace. “People will say they are not sexist. But there are a lot of unconscious biases that they are unaware of,” she said. She hopes that things will change, that younger people may have views that are more informed by open discussions of these issues. She is among those who believe that gender quotas would help to counteract unconscious biases. Many things still need to change to improve the gender balance in science. Some countries have a much longer way to go before they become truly inclusive, while others are farther along that road. It is heartening to note that the women, on the whole, are hopeful and optimistic about the years to come. “Of course, I wish it weren’t an issue any more, but things are definitely much better today,” said Moran Shalev Ben-Ami from Israel. Several scientists pointed out that the Lindau Meeting itself is a case in point—while only 3 out of 65 Nobel Laureates were female, the number of young women scientists attending the Lindau Meeting was almost equal to the number of men. Many young scientists expressed the hope that things will only get better as people age out of preconceived notions that may have existed in the past. The fastest way forward is to be vocal, raise awareness about particular issues, ensure that men are a part of the dialogue and the proposed solutions, and to learn and incorporate successful practices from other countries.

Gene Editing: Zwischen Faszination und Erschrecken über ungeahnte Möglichkeiten. Wohin soll der Weg gehen?

Noch während über ein Moratorium debattiert wird, schlagen die Meldungen aus China ein: Dort ist man einen Schritt weiter. Ist es der entscheidende Schritt? Nicht nur das interessierte Publikum dürfte vom Tempo überrannt sein – kaum jemand weiß so richtig, was Gene-Editing ist, da hört man schon, dass chinesische Wissenschaftler bereits erste Experimente an menschlichen Embryonen durchgeführt haben. Zwar wurden dafür nicht lebensfähige Embryonen benutzt, die im Rahmen künstlicher Befruchtungen entstanden – eine Grenze ist damit dennoch überschritten. Der federführende Wissenschaftler Junjiu Huang gibt eine nüchterne Erklärung ab: „Wir wollten der Welt unsere Daten zeigen, damit jeder weiß, was wirklich passiert bei diesem Modell, statt nur darüber zu reden, was wohl passieren würde, ohne dass jemand Daten hat.“ Doch zunächst einen Schritt zurück – was ist Gene-Editing? Und was sagt eine der führenden Wissenschaftlerinnen auf diesem Gebiet dazu? Jennifer Doudna, die die sogenannte CRISPR/Cas 9 Methode entscheidend mitentwickelt hat, ist eine derer, die dringend eine Diskussion anraten: Welcher Missbrauch ist möglich und wofür wollen Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft sie nutzen. Doudna erlebt dabei das klassische Dilemma einer Verantwortlichkeit für einen Durchbruch, dessen rein wissenschaftlicher Fortschritt eine auch gesellschaftliche Herausforderung bedeutet. Zwar konnten Biologen schon länger das Genom manipulieren – eine Revolution ist CRISPR, weil es, zumindest theoretisch, eine so einfache und kostengünstige Möglichkeit darstellt. „Die Grundlage ist ein Enzym namens Cas9, das mit Hilfe eines kurzen RNA-Schnipsels, der so genannten guide RNA, an seine Ziel-DNA geleitet wird. Dort schneidet es die DNA, wobei Gene zerstört oder gewünschte Sequenzen eingefügt werden können“. Eine Hoffnung die Entwicklung zu verlangsamen, um eine breit angelegte Diskussion führen zu können, gibt es: Das chinesische Team erzielte keine zufriedenstellenden Ergebnisse. Stoppen aber lassen dürfte sich die weltweite Forschung kaum mehr. Das US National Health Institute hat zwar die Förderung für solche Projekte eingefroren, aber die Verlockungen dürften zu groß sein. Denn krankmachende Gene schlicht zu entfernen und in der Zukunft beispielsweise erblich bedingte Krankheiten komplett aus der Vererbungskette zu löschen, ist zweifelsfrei eine große Vision. Was das aber zu Ende gedacht bedeuten könnte, kennen wir aus Science Fiction. Die Schicksalsfrage lautet dann: Krankheiten heilen versus Menschen bereits als Embryos zu optimieren. Entsprechend gespannt erwarteten die Zuhörer heute die Diskussion zum Thema „Human genetic alteration: does the pause have a purpose?“ mit Elisabeth Blackburn, Michael Bishop, Richard J. Roberts und dem Young Scientist Simon Elsässer.  
Press Talk mit Simon Elsässer, J. Michael Bishop, Elizabeth Blackburn und Richard J. Roberts (von links nach rechts), Foto: LNLM

Press Talk mit Simon Elsässer, J. Michael Bishop, Elizabeth Blackburn und Richard J. Roberts (von links nach rechts), Foto: LNLM

  Kurz zum Forschungshintergrund der Diskussionsteilnehmer: Blackburn erhielt zusammen mit Carol Greider und Jack Szostak 2009 den Nobelpreis in Medizin unter großer medialer Anteilnahme, da ihre Entdeckung der Telomerase mit der Entdeckung des biologischen „Jungbrunnen“ assoziiert wurde, denn die Länge der Telomere steht in Verbindung zum Alterungsprozess. J. Michael Bishop ist einer der Entdecker des zellulären Ursprungs der retroviralen Krebsgene und dieses Jahr zusammen mit Harold Varmus in Lindau, mit dem er 1989 den Nobelpreis in Medizin erhielt. Weiter auf dem Podium: Richard J. Roberts, Medizin-Nobelpreisträger von 1993, der einen Vortrag zum Thema Golden Rice und dem Verhängnis einer seiner Meinung nach falschen politischen Diskussion zum Thema Gentechnik bei Lebensmitteln halten wird (A Crime against Humanity). Und last but not least Simon Elsässer, der auf dem Gebiet der Epigenetik forscht und sein Lab am Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Schweden, betreibt. Eines wurde durch die Statements der Wissenschaftlerin und der Wissenschaftler schnell klar – sie selbst sehen keine der bereits diskutierten Zukunftsvisionen auch nur in Reichweite. Die Technik sei viel zu schlecht, die Fehlerraten und Probleme zu hoch. Doch dann scheiden sich die Geister. Während Simon Elsässer meint, der Versuch an den Embryonen hätte nicht stattfinden sollen – denn es war klar, dass nichts Vernünftiges dabei herauskommen konnte – sieht Bishop darin keinen Grund, einen solchen Versuch nicht zu unternehmen. Blackburn hält die Technik nicht für so einen großen Durchbruch, wie es dargestellt wird und beantwortet die Frage, ob die Methode nicht Tür und Tor für den Missbrauch bietet, damit, dass einem vor Menschen mit verbrecherischen Absichten auch keine gesetzlichen Regelungen schützen. Roberts hält diese Technik nur für medizinische Zwecke für legitim und vermutet, dass es neue Methoden geben wird, die Wissenschaft sich also auf diesem Gebiet im Übergang befände. Bei der Diskussion über den Sinn eines Moratoriums gibt Roberts zu bedenken, dass die Entwicklung so rasch voranschreitet, die Institutionen zu langsam reagieren und die wissenschaftliche Community deshalb dringend den Dialog mit den chinesischen Wissenschaftlern suchen sollte – es wäre gefährlich die Entwicklung dort einfach zu ignorieren. Internationaler Austausch zum Thema wird also dringend benötigt. Bishop könnte sich auch ein Internationales Abkommen vergleichbar dem, das aus der Stammzellen-Diskussion hervorging, vorstellen.
65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Adrian Schröder/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, 29 June 2015 Elizabeth Blackburn, Michael Bishop, Richard Roberts, Presstalk at Forum am See No Model Release. No Property Release. Fre

Diskussion im “Forum am See” mit gespanntem Publikum; Foto: LNLM

Alle Beteiligten der Podiumsdiskussion denken, dass der Hype um CRISPR aus der Tatsache resultiert, dass diese Methode so einfach und kostengünstig ist. Dafür aber eben auch zu ungenau – und die daraus entstehenden „off-target-Effekte“ sind noch nicht verstanden. Elsässer plädiert dafür, so lange es so viele Unwägbarkeiten gibt, beim Maus-Modell zu bleiben. Die Wissenschaftscommunity sollte für Transparenz sorgen und die Presse sachlich über die neue Technik und ihre Begrenzungen berichten, um Ängste abzubauen. In diesem Sinne werden wir weiter zum Thema berichten.