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!

Crowdsourcing im Kampf gegen Aflatoxin

Nobelpreisträger Michael Levitt  und andere #LINO18 Teilnehmer spielen Foldit während des Mars Partner Frühstücks. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

 

Junge Wissenschaftler spielten während der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung ein Online-Proteinfaltungsspiel und lieferten damit neue Proteinstrukturen, die zukünftig ein Pilzgift bekämpfen könnten, das Grundnahrungsmittel wie Mais, Erdnüssen und Maniok kontaminiert. Das Gift mit dem Namen Aflatoxin verdirbt Feldfrüchte auf dem Acker und kann bei unsachgemäßer Lagerung, insbesondere in heißer, feuchter Umgebung, auch zu Kontaminierung der Ernte führen.

Über 4,5 Milliarden Menschen sind weltweit Aflatoxinen in Lebensmitteln in unterschiedlichem Ausmaß ausgesetzt. Laut eines gemeinsamen Ausschusses der World Health Organization und der Food and Agriculture Organization zählen diese Toxine  zu den verheerendsten Substanzen, die Leberkrebs verursachen können. Aflatoxine lassen sich bisher nicht aus Lebensmitteln entfernen. Deshalb wird ihr Gehalt in Lebensmitteln und Tierfuttermitteln durch Vorschriften begrenzt. 

Mars, Incorporated, einer der weltweit größten Lebensmittelproduzenten und langjähriger Partner der Lindauer Tagungen, muss in Indien über 70% der Erdnusslieferungen wegen erhöhten Aflatoxingehalts zurückweisen, sagt Howard Yana-Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer bei Mars. Allerdings werden diese beanstandeten Produkte trotzdem als Lebens- und Futtermittel verwendet. Durch die Ablehnung von kontaminierten Lebensmitteln trägt das Unternehmen also nicht zur Verbesserung der Lebensmittelsicherheit für andere Gemeinschaften bei, sagt er.

Yana-Shapiro hat es sich persönlich zur Aufgabe gemacht, große Herausforderungen der Lebensmittel- und Nahrungsunsicherheit anzugehen. Seit er das Problem Aflatoxin kennt, hat er eine Partnerschaft mit Hochschulforschern, einem führenden Anbieter von biowissenschaftlicher Ausrüstung und einer Organisation, die an der Aflatoxinbekämpfung in Afrika arbeitet, initiiert. Dieses Team ist jetzt damit beschäftigt, ein Enzym zu entwickeln, das industriell genutzt werden kann, um Aflatoxin auf Feldfrüchten abzubauen.

Crowdsourcing für die Entgiftung

Forscher wissen bereits, dass bestimmte Enzyme Aflatoxin natürlich abbauen, indem diese Proteine eine Bindung im Toxin aufbrechen und es damit unschädlich machen. Diese Enzyme funktionieren jedoch alle nur mit Zusatzstoffen, deren Einsatz in großem Rahmen teuer wäre. Um die enzymatische Wirkung zu vereinfachen, wollen Forscher jetzt ein Enzym finden, das im Zusammenspiel mit Wasser denselben entgiftenden Bindungsaufbruch bewirkt.

Die Herausforderung besteht nun darin, das Enzym so umzubauen, dass es speziell Aflatoxin entgegenwirkt. Die Anzahl möglicher Strukturen für ein umgestaltetes Enzym ist allerdings im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes astronomisch hoch. „Diese Zahl übersteigt die Anzahl der Sterne am Himmel”, sagt Justin Siegel, ein synthetischer Biologe an der University of California, Davis.

Um die Suche nach einem aflatoxin-spezifischen Enzym zu beschleunigen, wurden Siegel und seine Kollegen zu Akteuren eines Online-Videospiels für Proteinfaltung. Das Spiel mit der Bezeichnung Foldit ist eines von mehreren web-basierten Plattformen, die sich der menschlichen Fähigkeiten der visuellen Mustererkennung bedienen, um die wissenschaftliche Forschung voranzubringen. In den zehn Jahren seit Herausgabe des Spiels haben Foldit-Mitspieler, bei denen es sich übrigens nicht unbedingt um Wissenschaftler handeln muss, die Aktivität eines Enzyms verbessert, das von Grund auf neu entwickelt wurde, um eine bestimmte Funktion zu erfüllen. Innerhalb von gerade einmal zehn Tagen ist ihnen auch die Aufklärung der Struktur eines viralen Proteins gelungen, das Forscher vorher schon 15 Jahre lang beschäftigt hatte.

 

Justin Siegel und Nachwuchswissenschaftler auf der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

Siegel und seine Studenten legen den Foldit-Spielern Puzzles vor, die einen Teil des ausgewählten Enzyms enthalten. Die Spieler passen die Hauptkette des Proteins oder die Seitenketten seiner Aminosäure-Bausteinen an verschiedene Formen an. Die Foldit-Software errechnet dann die Energie des veränderten Proteins und weist dem Spieler eine Punktzahl zu. Proteine mit geringer Energie und Merkmalen, die ihre physische Stabilität gewährleisten, erhalten höhere Punktwerte als Proteine mit hoher Energie und physisch unerwünschten Eigenschaften.

Nachdem Spieler mit etlichen Puzzles herausgefordert werden, erfassen Siegel und sein Team hundert der am höchsten eingestuften Proteinstrukturen. Wissenschaftler von Thermo Fisher Scientific synthetisieren dann die DNA, die jedes Protein entschlüsselt. Siegel und seine Kollegen bringen jedes dieser DNA-Stücke in Bakterien ein, isolieren anschließend das von den Bakterien auf Grundlage der DNA-Baupläne hergestellte Protein und testen es auf seine Fähigkeit, Aflatoxin abzubauen. Schließlich nutzen sie die bei der Proteinherstellung gewonnenen Informationen, um die nächsten Puzzles für die Foldit-Spieler entsprechend zu verfeinern.

Derzeit wertet das Team die Proteine aus, die während der zweiten Puzzle-Runde entstanden sind. Seit dem Start der Aflatoxin-Puzzles im vergangenen Oktober haben Foldit-Spieler Anstrengungen beigesteuert, die der Arbeit von 100 Vollzeitarbeitskräften für ein ganzes Jahr entsprechen, so Siegel. Im Gegensatz zu einem bezahlten Job profitieren Foldit-Spieler nicht finanziell von ihrem Einsatz. Doch sobald dieses Enzym soweit optimiert ist, dass es Aflatoxin abbauen kann, soll seine Struktur der allgemeinen Öffentlichkeit zugänglich gemacht werden und dann frei zur Vermarktung zur Verfügung stehen.

Die Zukunft von Crowdsourcing

Foldit’s Mehrwert besteht darin, die einzigartige Problemlösungsfähigkeit von Menschen und Computern zu kombinieren.  Foldit-Spieler können einen kurzen Blick auf eine Proteinstruktur werfen und riesige Veränderungen seines Backbones oder seiner Aminosäure-Seitenketten erkennen, die es zu einem stabileren Protein machen könnten. Die Foldit-Software wird von Programmen unterstützt, die von Nobelpreisträger Michael Levitt entwickelt wurden. Die Software zeichnet sich vor allem durch ihre Fähigkeit aus, Proteinstabilität zu ermitteln, die auf sehr kleinen strukturellen Veränderungen basiert.

Indem die Forscher hunderten oder tausenden unterschiedlichen Spielern Puzzles vorlegen können, sammeln sie Lösungen aus einer Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Perspektiven.  Mit der Lösung von Foldit-Puzzles entwickeln die Spieler eine hohe technische Fähigkeit, die strukturellen Veränderungen eines Proteins mit Veränderungen seiner Funktion in Verbindung zu bringen. Die Spieler, so Levitt, werden für ihre harte Arbeit also mit Bildung belohnt.

 

Von links: Moderatorin Meeri Kim, Michael Levitt, Martina Mustroph und Justin Siegel während des Mars Partner Breakfasts bei #LINO18. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

Für Levitt ermöglicht die Zukunft des Proteinstruktur-Crowdsourcings den Spielern, ihre Fähigkeiten wie ein Wissenschaftler für die unabhängige Untersuchung eines Problems zu nutzen und damit Dinge zu tun, die sich früher niemand hätte vorstellen können. Vor diesem Hintergrund könnte die Wissenschaft tatsächlich von der Weisheit der Masse profitieren. „Ich glaube, dass Wissenschaft dem Zufallsprinzip folgt”, sagt er. „Man erhöht seine Chancen [etwas herauszufinden], indem man möglichst viele Menschen unkonventionell denken lässt.” 

Strategies for Science Communication in a Post-Factual Era

A panel discussion about science in a post-factual era engaged young scientists who travelled to Mainau Island on the last day of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The large amount of information available on the internet, combined with opinions easily shared through social media, fuel doubt about the authority of scientists and their knowledge when it comes to topics such as evolution, renewable energy and climate change.

 

The closing panel discussion of #LINO18 on Mainau Island: moderator Adam Smith, Arunima Roy, Peter Doherty, Adam Whisnant, Stven Chu and Brian Malow (from left to right). Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The panellists, which included two Nobel Laureates, two young scientists and a science communicator, agreed that sharing the process and the human side of science to non-scientists was important to combat doubt. Strategies for successful communication that emerged from stories the panellists shared included speaking a common language and building trust.

Adam Whisnant, a young scientist studying virology at the University of Würzburg, grew up in a small town in North Carolina. Most of the town’s 400 inhabitants had one of four common surnames, and pastors were the community’s accepted authorities, he said. While teaching community college, a student visited Whisnant with questions about the theory of evolution. Knowing that the student had attended seminary school, Whisnant approached the discussion by speaking the student’s language first, using philosophy and biblical references to explore the root of the question. As the discussion progressed, Whisnant found the student became more receptive to talking about scientific aspects of evolution, such as DNA damage and replication. What Whisnant learned from that experience is that scientific facts aren’t always necessary to discuss questions about scientific topics.

 

Young scientist Arunima Roy. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Speaking the same language is a strategy that worked for Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, too. After his time as U.S. Secretary of Energy, Chu spoke at a gathering of rural electric providers. He expected the group to receive him with anti-government and anti-regulation views, so Chu started his talk by saying, “I hate regulations as much as you do.” Regulations occupied much of Chu’s time when he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The audience started to listen after that.”

Getting to know a community well enough to speak their language can be challenging for young scientists who move frequently during their training. But that mobility can be also useful, said Arunima Roy, young scientist from West Bengal studying molecular psychiatry at the University of Würzburg. Living in new cities or countries provides an opportunity to get to know other cultures. An important part of community building is getting to know people through activities outside of the lab and politics, Chu added.

A shared language also contributes to building trust, which was another strategy for successful science communication that emerged from the panellists’ experiences. When Chu worked in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, he found that building personal trust over time was important to convincing sceptical politicians to accept scientific information. Part of trust building included not talking down to someone or delivering facts authoritatively, he said.

Laureate Peter Doherty also wants to help non-scientists understand that science is not an “authoritarian priesthood.” An author of six books about science for lay audiences, he is now working on another book that shows how science is a way of thinking about evidence and reality.

 

Steven Chu. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Young scientists also share Doherty’s interest in communicating the process of science. When science communicator Brian Malow talks to young scientists during the Lindau Meetings, he asks what they wish people understood about science. Often, they want others to understand that there will be mistakes in science, but the process is inherently self-correcting.

“The great triumph of science is wisdom built up over time,” Chu said. Experiment and observation are the final arbiter of debates over conflicting hypotheses. And when sceptics question uncertainties inherent in science, “new ways of making measurements win the day.”

During a question and answer session, audience members challenged the panellists with direct questions:

Strategies for science communication mentioned during the panel included tweeting, putting good visuals on YouTube, and publishing articles online. How do we communicate science in the developing world, specifically rural Africa, where many people are illiterate and do not have internet access?

And instead of talking about challenges in science communication from an arrogant perspective that centres on what the public doesn’t understand, why don’t scientists try to approach the challenges from a different angle?

Both questions brought audience applause, and the young scientists continued the discussion during lunch. With their engagement and critical thinking about science communication, perhaps they could be the ones to answer these questions through experimenting with efforts to communicate science to the public and policy makers.

 

Watch the #LINO18 panel discussion:

 

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Friday, 29 June 2018

After a week filled with impassionate lectures, insightful discussions and an abundance of scientific exchange we have come to the end of our  68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – before we bid you farewell, take one more look at our highlights from Friday.

 

Picture of the day:

Farewell

Young scientist Nataly Naser Al Deen gave a heartfelt farewell speech to all #LINO18 participants.

Photo/Credit: Gero von der Stein/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day: 

Young scientists attending a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting frequently ask the laureates for career advice. In her latest blog post Tracing the Beginnings of a Scientific Career, Melissae Fellet describes  J. Michael Bishop’s and Harold Varmus’ experiences on career planning.  

Harold Varmus J. and Michael Bishop during the #LINO18 Agora Talk. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Video of the day:

A glimpse of the final day of #LINO18 filled with inspiring encounters, fruitful discussions and last but not least a great party.

 

Obviously, this is not the only video of #LINO18! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

This was our last Daily Recap. We hope you enjoyed this week as much as we did and felt the Lindau Spirit!

Goodbye Lindau Alumni! Let’s stay connected!

Women in Research at #LINO18: Rushita Bagchi from India

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter).

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

#LINO18 young scientist Rushita Bagchi, 35, from India, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Colorado Denver, USA.

Her research involves elucidating epigenetic mechanisms that govern the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes contributing to cardiometabolic syndrome. This work has great translational impact for development of therapeutics for treatment of obesity and diabetes (T2D).

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of nature and how scientific research helps unfold those in different ways. Curiosity has been my primary motivation for the pursuit of science in school and as a career choice. I always had an aptitude for biology, which formed the foundation of my continued interest in understanding physiological processes. Fortunately, I have had great mentors throughout my life who have inspired me to garner knowledge in various ways, and therefore helped me prepare to embark on this journey towards a career in biomedical research. The elements of challenge and surprise and my intrinsic curiosity continue to fuel my passion for science and research.

Who are your role models?

My parents have been my first and foremost role models. And I cannot express my gratitude in words for their unconditional love and encouragement.

When it comes to being influenced by ideals in science, I have been extremely fortunate to have had excellent mentors at every stage of my academic pursuit. Beginning with my teachers in grade school and professors in India, to my PhD and postdoctoral supervisors- each of them has had unique traits or skills that I have fancied of embodying someday. On a broader scale, I have been always in awe of the late Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies for his simplicity and humble approach towards such an illustrious career in science. I had the opportunity of meeting him in person, and listen to him about his journey to the Nobel Prize. Being a woman in science myself, I have always found positive reinforcement looking up to women like the late Barbara McClintock who received the Nobel prize in 1983 for her pioneering work in the field of cytogenetics.  She was born in a family with lesser privileges, but overcame all obstacles to pursue her dream and devoted her entire life to research. Two other female scientists that I admire for their relentlessness are Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Elizabeth Blackburn. I continue to be inspired by these women even today.

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

While pursuing my undergraduate degree in zoology in India, I realised that my longing to learn was growing by leaps and bounds. To satisfy my curiosity and eagerness to learn more about physiology and allied sciences, I went on to do a master’s degree as well. Throughout both these degree programmes, I was blessed to have some extremely supportive mentors who always pushed me to set and achieve higher goals. My academic pursuit was put on hold for a short time due to personal reasons. But soon enough, thanks to my ever supportive husband, I was able to successfully enroll in the PhD program at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Dr. Michael Czubryt as my Ph.D. supervisor taught me valuable life skills, and most importantly to believe in myself. I began to understand and appreciate the intricacies of scientific research under his tutelage, and that continues even today in my postdoctoral training program at the University of Colorado Denver. My doctoral degree training taught me to be diligent, organized, critical and think independently. After successful completion of my PhD program, I moved to Colorado, USA to pursue my postdoctoral training under the supervision of Dr. Timothy McKinsey. My training in his lab so far has taught me to be fearless in doing the groundwork and pursuing novel research ideas. I am hoping that what I have learned from my mentors will help propel my career in biomedical research.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Every project that I have worked on till date had its own defining moments. Being able to elucidate the novel role of a transcription factor in regulation of fibroblast function in the heart was an exciting and “cool” project during my PhD program. Successful completion of complex experiments in this project gave tremendous satisfaction. One of my postdoctoral research projects investigates the previously unknown role of a chromatin modifying enzyme in metabolic disease. This is a very exciting and yet another “cool” project to work on as this has great translational potential.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself  or your work?

It is difficult to define a particular time when I have felt immense pride in myself and my work. The best rewards and proudest moments for me have been the recognition that I have received for my work in the form of opportunities to present my work at international meetings and grant support received from national funding agencies. Although, I must say that it is a matter of immense pride in being the first ever successful nominee from the University of Manitoba to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I was selected through a national research competition for graduate students in Canada, and secured the top spot to earn the nomination.

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

What is a “day in the life” of  like?

My usual day starts early at 6 am when I wake up and take time to go through my emails and newly published articles or perspectives in my field of research. Sometimes before heading to work, I try to spend some time catching up with the rest of the world on social media or doing data analysis. It is pretty much time to hit the ground running as soon as I reach the lab. Around noon would be time for lunch with colleagues from my and other labs in the division. Early afternoon, I take a little time to catch up on emails before returning to the bench again to wrap up experiments for the day by the evening. Most evenings are long, but I attempt to plan out next day’s work in advance to save time the following day. I am usually back home by 8pm, when I prepare and have supper. Before bedtime, which is conventionally around midnight, I read articles or reviews to keep myself updated about research topics of interest.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

As a young scientist in training now, I aspire to transition to the next step in my career as an independent investigator in recent future. Leading a research laboratory focused on studying mechanism of pathogenesis of cardiometabolic disease, I hope to contribute to the biomedical community through development of novel therapeutic strategies to treat patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as diabetes and heart failure. I am also committed towards training the next generation of biomedical researchers when I embark on my journey as an independent scientist.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Music is food for my soul, and culinary adventures teach me the art of experimentation. When I am not in the lab, I listen to relaxing classical music and am deeply investing my energy in creating my culinary “masterpieces” in the kitchen. Being able to create a unique dish in the kitchen somehow brings me the same joy and satisfaction that I would get from the successful completion of a complex experiment at the bench.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Patience and perseverance is what will propel women in the sciences. One needs to find mentors who support women in science- it does get very lonely out there. It is important to create your own network which comprises colleagues, peers, and role models who are committed to helping one succeed even in the face of obstacles. Nothing is impossible to attain once you set your mind to it.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

With the current trend in use of gene editing technologies, especially the CRISPR-Cas system, we are not far from seeing the use of this tool in its current or improvised form in the clinic to treat patients harboring rare life-threatening genome mutations. Our knowledge of drug discovery tools and platforms has grown tremendously in the past few years, and this will pave the foundation for the emergence of novel and highly efficacious therapeutics for treatment of difficult to treat pathologies.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

Opportunities and incentives to be retained in research should be increased for women. More women go to school and complete their degree programs successfully now than ever before. But not all of them find themselves in careers in science long-term. Individuals in higher seats of administration and policy makers are the ones who can truly effect a change in the system and help retain women as scientists and professors in the workforce. It is high time that gender equity, whether it comes to opportunities or pay scale, becomes a priority in our societies beyond political and social boundaries. Women need to support and mentor women, but so do men.

Wie sieht die Zukunft des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens aus?

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Publish or perish – jeder, der in der Forschung oder im akademischen Bereich tätig ist, kennt diesen Ausspruch nur allzu gut und hat schon einmal den damit verbundenen Druck und die Angst gespürt. Ursprünglich bestand der Sinn der Veröffentlichung neuer Erkenntnisse darin, Wissen zu verbreiten und zu erhalten. Schon immer war der Wissensaustausch ein wesentlicher Bestandteil von Forschung und Lehre. Aber die derzeitige Art der Wissenschaftler, sich dabei gegenseitig zu überbieten oder, noch schlimmer, ihre Ergebnisse so zu gestalten, dass sich daraus ein erfolgversprechendes Narrativ für eine Publikation in einer der angesagten Fachzeitschriften ergibt, ist untragbar. Dabei sind die Gründe hinter dem Wunsch nach einer „großen” Veröffentlichung nur allzu verständlich: Die Publikation eines Manuskripts in einem Fachjournal mit hohem Glamour-Faktor (eng mit dem Impact-Faktor der Fachzeitschrift verbunden) wie beispielsweise Nature, Science oder Cell verspricht eine große Öffentlichkeitswirkung für die Hauptautoren des Artikels und steigert vermutlich ihren Wert und ihre Aussichten bei der Bewerbung um ein neues Forschungsstipendium oder Fördermittel für Projekte.

Der Impact-Faktor wird jedoch für alle Artikel, die eine Fachzeitschrift in einem bestimmten Jahr veröffentlicht hat, gemittelt. Also bedarf es nur einiger weniger, sehr guter Artikel, die von der Community oft zitiert werden, um den Impact-Faktor der gesamten Fachzeitschrift und damit den wahrgenommenen Wert der anderen im selben Journal veröffentlichten Beiträge, die möglicherweise von einem vergleichsweise geringen Wert für den Fortschritt der Forschung sind, zu erhöhen.

In letzter Zeit gab es allerdings zunehmend Versuche, dieses System zu verändern und einen anderen Bewertungsansatz für wissenschaftliche Leistungen als über den Impact-Faktor zu finden. Aber was genau muss eigentlich passieren, um den Status quo zu verändern? Und wie lässt sich dieses Ziel erreichen? Das sind nur einige der vielen Fragestellungen, die bei der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung während der Podiumsdiskussion am Mittwochnachmittag erörtert wurden.

Das Podiumsgespräch selbst war nichts weniger als ein verbaler Schlagabtausch, bei dem die Moderatorin Alaina Levine ihr Bestes gab, um jede/r zum Zuge kommen zu lassen. Die Sparringpartner im Einzelnen:

  • Daniel Ropers, CEO of Springer Nature, Deutschland
  • Maria Leptin, Direktorin der EMBO, Deutschland
  • Randy W. Schekman, erhielt 2013 den Nobelpreis für Physiologie oder Medizin für die Entdeckung von Transportprozessen in Zellen; früherer Chefredakteur von PNAS und seit 2011 Herausgeber von eLife 
  • Amy Shepherd, Masterstudentin an der University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Harold E. Varmus, erhielt 1989 den Nobelpreis für Physiologie oder Medizin für Untersuchungen der genetischen Grundlage der Krebsentstehung

Die erste Podiumsrunde begann harmlos: Ropers wies darauf hin, dass er relativ neu in der Welt der naturwissenschaftlichen Publikation ist, betonte aber, wie sehr er diese Welt und insbesondere die harte Arbeit der Forscher schätzt. Die anderen Podiumsteilnehmer fassten kurz die Geschichte des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens zusammen und Schekman hob dabei hervor, wie viel sich verändert hat: „Während meiner Studienzeit lagen alle Artikel als gebundene Exemplare vor und ich konnte sie in der Bibliothek nachschlagen. Heute ist alles online!”

 

Moderator Alaina Levine und Daniel Ropers. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Aber es dauerte gar nicht solange, bis die Podiumsteilnehmer schon beim heftig umstrittenen Thema der Impact-Faktoren angelangt waren. Schekman warf ein: „Der Impact-Faktor stellt eine Simplifizierung dar und ist häufig eine Fehlmessung der Wissenschaft!” Hierzu ergänzte Varmus:

„Wir dürfen nicht zulassen, dass der Publikationsprozess zu einem Surrogat für die Feststellung wissenschaftlicher Relevanz wird!” Man könnte einwenden, dass dies ja bereits der Fall ist, insbesondere aus der Perspektive von Nachwuchswissenschaftlern, die gerade erst am Anfang stehen. „Unsere Mentoren und Kollegen erzählen uns ständig, dass wir ein impact-starkes Papier brauchen, um unsere Karriere voranzubringen”, meinte Shepherd.

Wie könnte denn überhaupt eine alternative Messung von wissenschaftlicher Kompetenz aussehen? Obwohl das Thema schon seit vielen Jahren diskutiert und kritisiert wird, wurden bisher keine oder nur wenige Lösungen vorgeschlagen, wie John Tregoning, Immunologe und Senior Lecturer am Imperial College London, in einem kürzlich in Nature erschienene Kommentar schrieb.

Im Laufe der weiteren Diskussion schlug Varmus vor, den Impact-Faktor und die Zitierhäufigkeit für einzelne Artikel statt für die gesamte Fachzeitschrift zu ermitteln. Viele Verlage machen das auch bereits, aber die Anwendung dieser Metrik hat sich bei Bewerbungen um Stellen oder Stipendien noch nicht als gängige Praxis durchgesetzt.

Eine andere von Varmus und Schekman angesprochene Möglichkeit wäre es, Wissenschaftler um eine narrative Zusammenfassung der Relevanz ihrer neuesten Ergebnisse für ihr jeweiliges Forschungsgebiet in einem einzigen Absatz zu bitten. „Jede/r hat doch wohl die Zeit, einen einzigen Absatz zu schreiben oder zu lesen”, meint Schekman.

Leptin brachte eine weitere Initiative ins Gespräch, die empfiehlt, sich weniger auf den Impact-Faktor zu stützen und stattdessen bei der Beurteilung von künftigen Bewerbern durch Geldgeber und Institutionen andere Aspekte ihrer Arbeitsergebnisse, bspw. ihre Lehrtätigkeiten oder ihre wissenschaftliche Reichweite, stärker zu berücksichtigen: die San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), die von einer Gruppe von Herausgebern und Verlegern für wissenschaftliche Fachzeitschriften während des Annual Meeting der American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) im Dezember 2012 in San Francisco initiiert wurde.

Alle Podiumsteilnehmer waren sich einig, dass sich etwas in der Art und Weise ändern muss, in der die Forschungsqualität gemessen wird. Leptin ergänzte: „Wir (d. h. der Fördermittelgeber EMBO) wissen natürlich, dass nicht jede/r am Ende seines Promotionsstudiums mit einem hohen Impact-Faktor aufwarten kann. Bei der Beurteilung potenzieller Kandidaten spielen für uns die persönlichen Aussagen und die Motivationsbeschreibungen der Wissenschaftler eine wesentlich größere Rolle als ihre Publikationsgeschichte.” Auch andere Förderer wie der Wellcome Trust Fund und Howard Hughes stützen ihre Entscheidungen immer weniger auf den Impact-Faktor.

 

Alaina Levine, Maria Leptin, Randy Schekman und Amy Shepherd. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Kurz darauf wurden die Themen Open Science und Open Access in die Diskussion eingebracht. Das löste eine lebhafte Debatte darüber aus, dass sich eine Handvoll Verlage als Hochburg der gesamten wissenschaftlichen Veröffentlichungen geriert. Hier wurde Ropers, bildlich gesprochen, in den tiefen Teil des Beckens geworfen und bekam die geballte Frustration eines Raumes voller junger Wissenschaftler, die um ihre akademische Zukunft bangen, und von erfahrenen Wissenschaftlern ab, die immer wieder zur Kasse gebeten und mit obskuren Veröffentlichungsmethoden konfrontiert werden.

So einfach es auch ist, ihn und sein Unternehmen zu verunglimpfen: Man sollte sich daran erinnern, dass Nature Springer mit Sicherheit nicht der einzige Verlag ist, der versucht, satte Gewinne zu erzielen – auch Wiley oder Elsevier, um nur einige zu nennen, sind keine Non-Profit-Organisationen. 

Das wissenschaftliche Verlagswesen insgesamt ist eine Milliarden-Dollar-Industrie. Geld zu verdienen ist nicht an sich schlecht, aber es ist schwer, der Forschungsgemeinschaft zu erklären, warum sie sowohl riesige Beträge für die Veröffentlichung als auch für das Lesen eines Artikels zahlen soll. Natürlich muss jedes Unternehmen Geld verdienen, denn schließlich arbeiten dort Menschen und muss eine gewisse Infrastruktur für den Betrieb vorgehalten werden. Aber die Frage ist doch: Warum soll das aus der Tasche der Wissenschaftler finanziert werden – und dann gleich zweimal?

Gewinnmargen und Open Science schließen sich aber nicht gegenseitig aus. Sie sind noch nicht einmal unbedingt zwei Seiten derselben Medaille, sondern zwei Aspekte eines gigantischen Wissenschaftsbetriebs. Während einige sagen “Open Science ist einfach Wissenschaft, die richtig gemacht wird”, meinte Ropers, dass die wissenschaftliche Gemeinschaft wahrscheinlich akzeptieren muss, dass der Umstieg auf ein komplett offenes Publizierungssystem nicht so einfach sein wird. Darauf gab Leptin eine emotionale und leidenschaftliche Antwort: “Nein, die Stunde ist jetzt gekommen! Die Politiker haben bereits entschieden und die großen Verlage müssen sich so schnell wie möglich anpassen, um zu überleben!” Sie bezog sich dabei auf eine kürzlich verabschiedete EU-Richtlinie, nach der alle Ergebnisse, die aus öffentlich geförderten Projekten stammen, in einem Open-Access-Journal veröffentlicht werden müssen.

Dies ist zwar ein großer Anreiz und ein begrüßenswertes Beispiel, aber auch hier spielt Geld eine Rolle. Denn viele Open-Access-Journale verlangen ebenfalls viel Geld für die Einreichung eines Artikels, das ein unabhängiger Postdoc-Wissenschaftler nicht immer aufbringen kann. Die Lösung: Wenn finanzierende Agenturen solche Veröffentlichungen zur Auflage machen, müssen sie das auch in ihrer Finanzierung berücksichtigen.

 

Amy Shepherd  und Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Ein weiterer Aspekt von Open Science ist der Bewertungsprozess, der lange Zeit hinter verschlossenen Türen erfolgt ist – die Autoren erfahren kaum jemals, wer sie begutachtet. Um diesem Problem zu begegnen, hat Schekman vor kurzem ein Experiment mit dem Journal eLife gestartet, bei dem die Peer-Reviews – einschließlich der Namen der Reviewer – mit dem Forschungsartikel zusammen veröffentlicht werden.

Kurz vor Ende der Debatte wurden weitere Probleme aufgeworfen: Die letztendlich in einem Artikel veröffentlichten Ergebnisse repräsentieren normalerweise nur einen Bruchteil der erfassten Daten. Üblicherweise gehen den „veröffentlichungsfähigen” Resultaten mehrere „negative“ Ergebnisse voraus. In diesem Fall bedeutet „negativ” nicht notwendigerweise ein gegenteiliges oder unerwartetes Ergebnis, sondern dass bestimmte Ansätze oder Modelle schlicht und einfach nicht funktioniert haben. Derzeit besteht die Tendenz, solche Daten unter Verschluss zu halten. Das Problem ist allerdings, dass dann jemand anderes versuchen könnte, exakt den gleichen Ansatz erneut auszuprobieren, und wieder damit scheitert, was zu unnötiger Zeit- und Geldverschwendung führt. Deshalb drängt Shepherd: „Wir sollten einen Weg finden, auch negative Ergebnisse zu veröffentlichen, um uns immense Summen an Geld- und Zeitaufwand zu ersparen!”

Schekman und Varmus votierten erneut dafür, Forschungsarbeiten direkt nach ihrer Fertigstellung in Preprint-Archiven zur Verfügung zu stellen. Solche Archive sind nicht unbedingt als Speicherort für negative Ergebnisse zu verstehen, aber die Bewertungen und Kommentare sind von unschätzbarem Wert.

Hier schloss sich schließlich der Kreis. Als erneut die Tatsache zur Sprache kam, dass viele Mentoren der Nachwuchswissenschaftler im Publikum ihren Studenten nach wie vor Artikel mit hohem Impact-Faktor empfehlen und diese als das oberste Ziel beschreiben, bringt Varmus das Hauptproblem auf den Punkt: „Veränderungen im Publikationsprozess müssen von der wissenschaftlichen Gemeinschaft selbst angestoßen werden. Wir können von unserem Nachwuchs erst erwarten, das Richtige zu tun, wenn wir selbst das Richtige tun!”

 

Sehen Sie sich die #LINO18 Podiumsdiskussion ‘Publish or Perish’ an.

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Thursday, 28 June 2018

Thursday was the last day at the Inselhalle in Lindau but not the last day of the meeting. Friday is going to take our participants to Mainau Island, so while they are enjoying their last day on this picturesque island, let’s take a look at what happened yesterday. Here are our highlights from Thursday:

Picture of the day:

Lecture by Ada Yonath

Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath giving a fascinating lecture on ‘Next Generation Species Specific Eco Friendly Antibiotics and Thoughts about Origin of Life’.

 

Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

What will the future of scientific publishing look like? In her latest post, blogger Judith Reichel reflects on the heated debate during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’.

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Video of the day:

Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie talks about his experiences in Lindau and shares that the best part of the meetings are the interactions with young scientists.

 

Obviously, this is not the only video from yesterday and today! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

Tomorrow you will receive our last daily recap of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Then it will be over with the  highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.

What Will the Future of Scientific Publishing Look Like?

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Publish or perish – anyone working in research or academia knows that phrase all too well and has felt the pressure and dread caused by it. The original idea behind publishing new results was of course to disseminate and archive knowledge. However, while the exchange of knowledge has always been an integral part of research and academia, the current way of researchers climbing over one another or, worse yet, molding their results to fit a promising narrative to get a publication in one of the glamour journals, is unsustainable. The rationale behind wanting a “big” publication is simple: A paper in a journal with a high glamour factor (which is closely correlated to the impact factor of the journal) such as Nature, Science or Cell promises high visibility for the leading authors of the paper and presumably heightens their value and prospects when applying for a new fellowship or grant.

The journal impact factor, however, is averaged over all papers that a certain journal has published in a given year. Meaning: it only takes a few, very good articles that are highly cited by the community to increase the impact factor of the entire journal and thereby the perceived value of the other papers that are published by the same journal, which might be of comparatively little value to the progress of the research community.

Recently though, there have been more and more attempts to change that system and find a new way of measuring scholarly achievements other than via the impact factor. But to change the status quo, what exactly needs to change and how can this be achieved? These are just three of the many issues that were discussed during a Panel Discussion on Wednesday afternoon of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

The panel discussion itself was nothing short of a verbal boxing match with host Alaina Levine doing her best to ensure everyone gets a fair shot. The sparring partners:

  • Daniel Ropers, CEO of Springer Nature, Germany
  • Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO, Germany
  • Randy W. Schekman, received the Nobel Prize in 2013 in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of machinery regulating vesicle traffic; former editor-in-chief of PNAS and editor of eLife since 2011
  • Amy Shepherd, graduate student at the University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Harold E. Varmus, received the Nobel Prize in 1989 in Physiology or Medicine for the studies of the genetic basis of cancer

The first round of the discussion started innocently enough: Ropers pointed out that he was fairly new to the world of life science publishing but stressed how much he values this world and especially the hard work of the researchers. The other panellists briefly summarised the history of scientific publishing and Schekman highlighted just how much it has changed: “When I was a student, all the articles were in hardcover copies, and I could look at them in the library; now, everything is online!”

 

Moderator Alaina Levine and Daniel Ropers. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

However, it wasn’t long until the panellists hit on the heavily debated topic of impact factors. Schekman proclaimed: “The impact factor is a simplification and often times a mismeasurement of scholarship!” To which Varmus added: “We can’t allow the publishing process to become a surrogate for measuring scholarly value!” Some might argue that this is already the case, especially from the perspective of a young scientist who is only just starting out. “We are constantly told by our supervisors and our peers that we need a high-impact paper to advance our career,” Shepherd argued.

So, what could be an alternative measurement of scholarly prowess? Although it has been debated and criticized for many years, few, if any solutions, have emerged, as immunologist and senior lecturer at Imperial College London John Tregoning points out in a recent comment in Nature.

During the discussion, Varmus suggested assessing the impact factor and the citations of a single paper, rather than for the whole journal. Many publishers are already doing this, but it is not yet common practice to use this metric for job or fellowship applications.

Another option mentioned by Varmus and Schekman would be to ask the researchers to write a single-paragraph narrative summarising the importance of their newest results to their respective fields. “Everyone has time to write or read a single paragraph,” argues Schekman.

Leptin introduced yet another initiative recommending to rely less on the impact factor and more on other aspects of a researcher’s work output, such as teaching or science outreach, when funding agencies and institutions are assessing future candidates: the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which was developed by a group of editors and publishers of scholarly journals during the Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco in December 2012.

The panellists all agreed that something has to change in the way research quality is assessed, and Leptin added: “We (i.e., EMBO funding agency) know that not everyone can have a high-impact-factor paper at the end of their PhD. When we assess prospective candidates, we value the personal or motivational statement of the researcher far more than their publication history.” Other funding opportunities like the Wellcome Trust Fund and Howard Hughes also rely less and less on the impact factor for their decision-making process.

 

Alaina Levine, Maria Leptin, Randy Schekman and Amy Shepherd. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Soon after, however, the topics of Open Science and Open Access were brought up, sparking a very lively debate about the fact that a handful of publishers have a stronghold on all of scientific publishing. Here, Ropers was very much thrown into the deep end of the pool and experienced the full brunt of frustration of a room full of young scientists worried about their academic future as well as experienced scientists who have come up against paywalls and obscure publishing policies time and again.

Yet, as easy as it is to vilify him and his company, one must remember that Nature Springer is certainly not the only publishing endeavour making a sizeable profit – Wiley and Elsevier for instance are no non-profit organisations either, just to name a few. 

Academic publishing in general is a billion-dollar industry, and although making or earning money is not inherently bad, it is difficult to explain to the research community, why they should have to pay huge sums of money for submitting an article as well as to read it. Obviously, a business needs to make money – after all, there are people working for it and a certain infrastructure needs to be maintained. But again, why does this have to come out of the researcher’s pocket – twice?

However, profit margins and open science are not mutually exclusive, they might not even be two sides of the same coin but rather two aspects of a gigantic scientific enterprise. While some might argue “open science is just science done right,” Ropers brought up the point that the scientific community probably has to accept that it is not going to be that easy to move to a completely open publishing system. To this, Leptin gave an emotional and impassioned response: “No, the time is now! Politicians have already decided, and the big publishing houses will have to adjust as fast as possible in order to survive!” She was referring, of course, to a recent EU guideline which demands that any results coming out of a publicly EU-funded research grant have to be published in an open access journal.

While this is a great incentive and an applaudable example, again, there is the issue of money. Because many open access journals also charge a lot of money for the submission of a paper that an independent postdoctoral researcher might not be able to afford. The solution: if grant agencies demand these kinds of publications, they have to account for it in their funding.

 

Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Another aspect of open science is the review process, which, for a long time took place behind closed doors – authors rarely get to know who reviews them. To counter this, Schekman has recently started an experiment with the journal eLife, in which the peer-reviews – including the names of the reviewers – are published alongside the research paper.

Towards the end of the debate, a couple of additional issues were raised: The results that end up being published in a paper are usually only a fraction of the data that has been collected. Usually there are several “negative” results that precede the “publishable” results. And in this case, negative doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite or unexpected result, but that certain approaches or models simply don’t work. The current tendency is to hide these data away, the problem however is that then someone else might try the exact same approach, which again, won’t work – wasting time and money in the process. Therefore, Shepherd urges: “We need to find a way to publish negative results in order to save immense amounts of money and time!”

Again, Schekman and Varmus both argued for putting research papers also on preprint archives as soon as the papers are ready. These archives are not necessarily meant as a storage for negative results, but the reviews and comments by fellow researchers are invaluable.

Coming full circle, when confronted again with the fact that many of the supervisors of the young scientists in the audience still push high-impact-factor papers on their students and praise them as the ultimate goal, Varmus sums up the main issue: “The change of the publication process has to come out of the scientific community. But we can’t expect our trainees to do the right thing, unless we do the right thing!”

 

Watch the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’

Crowdsourcing a Protein to Detoxify Aflatoxin

Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt and other #LINO18 participants playing Foldit at the Mars Partner Breakfast. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

 

Young scientists playing an online protein folding game at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting contributed altered protein structures that could help detoxify a fungal toxin common on staple foods such as corn, peanuts and cassava. The toxin, called aflatoxin, contaminates crops growing in fields or stored improperly, particularly in hot, humid environments.

More than 4.5 billion people around the world are chronically exposed to varying levels of aflatoxins in food. These toxins are among the most potent substances to cause liver cancer, according to a joint committee of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization. Aflatoxins are also currently impossible to eliminate from food, and regulations limit their levels in food and animal feed.

In India, factories producing for Mars, Incorporated, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers and a long-time partner of the Lindau Meetings, reject more than 70% of the peanuts they receive for elevated aflatoxin levels, says Howard Yana-Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer at Mars. However, that rejected product may be used as human and animal food by others with less stringent testing processes. So rejecting the contaminated foods wouldn’t stop it ending up elsewhere in the supply chain, causing food safety issues for local communities.

Yana-Shapiro has a personal mission to solve grand challenges in food and nutrition insecurity. After learning about the problem of aflatoxin, he partnered with academic researchers, a leading life sciences equipment supplier and an organisation working to control aflatoxin in Africa. The team is now working to develop an enzyme that can be used industrially to degrade aflatoxin on crops.

Crowdsourcing detoxification

Researchers already know that certain enzymes naturally degrade aflatoxin. These proteins snip one bond in the toxin and render it harmeless. However, they all function with additives that would be too expensive to use on a large scale. To simplify the enzymatic operation, the researchers wanted to find one that performed the same detoxifying bond breakage in the presence of water.

The challenge then becomes redesigning the enzyme to specifically react with aflatoxin. However, the number of possible structures for a redesigned enzyme is literally astronomical. “It’s larger than number of stars in the sky,” says Justin Siegel, a synthetic biologist at the University of California, Davis.

To speed the search for an aflatoxin-specific enzyme, Siegel and his colleagues turned to players of an online protein folding video game. The game, called Foldit, is one of several web-based platforms that crowdsource human strengths in visual pattern recognition to advance scientific research. In the decade since its release, Foldit players, who do not need to be trained scientists, have improved the activity of an enzyme designed from scratch to perform a specific reaction. They have also solved the structure of a viral protein that had stumped researchers for 15 years in only ten days.

 

Justin Siegel and young scientists at the 68th Lindau Meeting. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

Siegel and his students present Foldit players with puzzles involving a portion of the chosen enzyme. The players adjust the protein’s backbone or the side chains of its amino acid building blocks any way they wish. The Foldit software then calculates the energy of the altered protein and presents the player with a score. Proteins with low energy and characteristics that make them physically stable score higher than proteins with high energy and physically unlikely features.

After challenging players with several puzzles, Siegel and his team collect about one hundred of the highest ranked protein structures. Scientists at Thermo Fisher Scientific synthesise DNA that encodes each protein. Then, Siegel and his colleagues insert each piece of DNA into bacteria, harvest the protein they produce, and test it for an ability to degrade aflatoxin. Finally, they use information gained during protein production to refine the next set of puzzles presented to Foldit players.

The team is currently screening the proteins produced from the second round of puzzles. Since the aflatoxin puzzles launched last October, Foldit players have contributed effort equivalent to 100 full time employees working full time for one year, Siegel says. Unlike a job that compensates employees for their effort, Foldit players do not profit financially from their contributions. Once this enzyme is optimised to degrade aflatoxin, its structure will be placed in the public domain and available for anyone to commercialise.

Future of crowdsourcing

Foldit’s value comes from combining the problem-solving strengths unique to humans and computers. Foldit players can quickly look at a protein structure and identify large changes to its backbone or amino acid side chains that could make a more stable protein. The Foldit software, aided by programmes first developed by 2013 Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt, excels at determining protein stability resulting from very small structural changes.

By presenting puzzles to hundreds or thousands of different players, researchers gather solutions from a variety of different perspectives.  As players solve Foldit puzzles, they develop a highly technical ability to relate a protein’s structural changes to changes in its function. The players get rewarded for their hard work with education, Levitt says.

 

From left: moderator Meeri Kim, Michael Levitt, Martina Mustroph and Justin Siegel during the Mars Partner Breakfast at #LINO18. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

For Levitt, the future of protein structure crowdsourcing enables players to use their skills to freely explore a problem like scientists, to do things no one has imagined before. From there, science could really benefit from the wisdom of the crowds. “I believe science is random,” he says. “You increase your odds [of finding something] by having as many diverse people as possible thinking outside of the box.” 

Women in Research at #LINO18: Kayoko Shioda from Japan

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter).

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Kayoko Shioda

#LINO18 young scientist, Kayoko Shioda, 30, from Japan, ia a 2nd year Ph.D. student at Yale University.

Her research is about epidemiology of infectious diseases with a focus on vaccine preventable diseases. She is studying the population-level impact of vaccines against pneumococcus both in developing and developed countries. Her goal is to generate evidence to help control infectious diseases more effectively, in collaboration with hospitals, government, and international organisations. Enjoy the interview with Kayoko and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My goal was formulated in my childhood when my family moved from Japan, our home country, to the Republic of South Africa. Living there for three years, I noticed a number of things that were different there. I learned that the burden of HIV/AIDS was extremely high in South Africa. I saw many families in rural area suffering from zoonosis, which you do not often see in Japan. I observed and also experienced racial discrimination a number of times. I was deeply shocked by differences in poverty levels, life expectancy, education, safety, infrastructure, and so on. These days in South Africa taught me numerous life lessons and changed my perspectives. As I grew up, I realised that these issues are intricately connected to each other, requiring a multidisciplinary approach to address them from multiple fronts. Because I was especially interested in infectious diseases and zoonosis, I decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and public health. I am truly grateful for my parents who gave me an opportunity to live in South Africa and to find my lifework.

Who are your role models?

Although I have many role models – both males and females – here I will introduce one of my female role models, Dr. Tomoko Ishibashi. Dr. Ishibashi, who is also a veterinarian, has led a number of programs to improve animal welfare, food safety, and veterinary education at World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. She is also a bright, strong mother of two children. I met her when I was an intern at OIE during the veterinary medicine program. She taught me ways to make contributions towards solving global health issues as a veterinarian and showed me how to balance work and personal life, which is important to many of us. I am truly delighted that I had the chance to get to know her, because it was challenging to imagine how to develop a career as a female veterinarian, especially because the veterinary medicine program at the University of Tokyo did not have any female professors when I was a student.

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Kayoko Shioda

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

My dream to become a veterinarian persisted after coming back from South Africa, so I matriculated in a 6-year veterinary program at the University of Tokyo. Among a broad range of topics taught in the program, I was drawn to infectious diseases and decided to conduct research on the canine distemper virus for my dissertation. I studied genetic mutations of a new strain of this virus isolated from a canine case and how these mutations affect their phenotypes using cell lines and animal models. I was also strongly inspired by the concept of epidemiology and public health when I took these classes in my fourth year. I learned that veterinarians play important roles in the field of global health. Stories about veterinarians working in African countries to respond to outbreaks of various infectious diseases were particularly interesting to me, as I always wanted to go back to and work in African countries where my dream was formulated. The courses made me realise that I would like to be involved in global health initiatives as a veterinarian, although I was not sure about concrete steps to achieve this goal.
During the last two years of the veterinary program, I learned through internships and talking to faculties and alumni, that one way to achieve my goal is to obtain a master’s degree and learn more about public health and epidemiology. Thus, I decided to go to a Master of Public health (MPH) program at Emory University. I chose to study abroad to expand my network and improve my English skills to work globally. Emory provided great opportunities to be involved in international collaborative projects.
My days at Emory changed my life. As many international students’ experience, it was not easy for me to study everything in English and live in Atlanta without a car and with a limited amount of student loans. However, it gave me an opportunity to make the first step towards my dream, which is to work as an intern at WHO Country Office for Thailand for several months. One of the projects I worked on in Thailand was to control leptospirosis infections in the Northeast Thailand, which became a topic of my MPH thesis. It was my first real experience in conducting a global health project, and I realised that this is my lifework.
Towards the end of the master’s program at Emory, I was applying for more than 50 jobs. Getting a job in the field of global health as an immediate graduate was challenging, because most of the positions require at least a few years of full-time work experience. Thanks to recommendation from my supervisor, Dr. Justin Remais, I was hired by the Division of Viral Diseases at CDC, which had been my dream place. I worked on infectious disease surveillance, outbreak response, and epidemiological research on the gastroenteritis team with Drs. Aron Hall and Ben Lopman and other wonderful colleagues for two years.
Through projects at CDC, I learned how to establish a nation-wide disease surveillance program and strategies for reducing limitations and collecting meaningful data. I also realised that, while surveillance systems collect a substantial amount of data, the use of them is often limited to simple descriptive analyses. Therefore, I decided to pursue a doctorate at Yale to learn methodology of mathematical modeling and explore additional utilities of such data. I would like to contribute to the characterisation of infectious disease dynamics and guide future interventions that can impact public health.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

One of the unforgettable projects was a response to an outbreak of limb weakness in the U.S. in 2014. State health departments noticed that there were an unusual number of children who suddenly could not move their arms or legs. The etiology and progression of this syndrome was unknown. To address this issue, CDC started a national surveillance within a couple of weeks of the first notification of the cluster in collaboration with clinicians and local health departments. As a research fellow at CDC, I helped collect clinical and epidemiological information and specimens from patients in order to gain a better understanding of the disease and to identify an etiology. Although it was the most challenging project that I have ever worked on, it taught me a number of important lessons, including how to develop a case definition, design a case report form, and formulate a laboratory-testing algorithm.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself  or your work?

I feel honoured and proud when I work with multidisciplinary teams to solve global health issues. Team work is essential, as public health cannot be improved by a single person. One of the most memorable is an international response against the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2015. My work at CDC was a miniscule part of the whole movement, but I felt that my work was an essential part of the response. I am so grateful that I am granted the opportunity to continue my lifework, because it is an incredible honour to make a difference in people’s lives through populational health.

What is a “day in the life” of Kayoko like?

During semesters, I take classes and help with courses as a teaching assistant. For example, in one of the courses at Yale School of Public Health, I lead a 2-hour computer lab every week to teach how to apply epidemiological knowledge and statistical skills that students learn through lectures to real world data or simulated data. Outside classes, I work on research projects at my desk in the lab, at magnificent university libraries, or cozy cafes around Yale. In between course work and working on my thesis, I spend time on a collaborative project with WHO and countries in Latin America and Africa to evaluate the impact of vaccines against pneumococcus in these countries. In the summer of my first year of the Ph.D. program, I went to Malawi for a few months to conduct research on infectious diseases in collaboration with Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust Research Center. I also work part-time for a start-up company in Japan to develop a small, mobile blood testing kit that can run PCR and ELISA for multiple specimens simultaneously using a very small amount of blood in a short time without any preprocessing of the whole blood.

Picture/Credit: Kayoko Shioda

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

When I was younger, I was not sure if I wanted to work in academia, government, international organisations, or private firms. Thus, I tried to experience each of them for various durations to learn how it is to work in these sectors. After doing so, I am hoping to pursue my career in academia, becoming a faculty member who can generate evidence to help control infectious diseases more effectively, in collaboration with hospitals, government, and international organisations. I hope to be a professor who can inspire and support students through courses and research projects.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I have been playing percussion in wind bands and orchestras since my childhood. I am currently a member of Berkeley College Orchestra at Yale University. I also love playing with my dog, Winston.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

There are a number of ways to work in science / physiology and medicine. You can be a medical doctor, nurse, pharmacist, veterinarian, public health practitioner, researcher, epidemiologist, and so on. If you are not sure, I would recommend that you explore your options by talking to people who are doing these jobs or doing internships or job shadowing. You may be surprised by how willing people are to help you with your career.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

Personalised medicine would be one of them. I have also been intrigued by the surge of machine learning, deep learning, and AI in medicine and public health, which will likely trigger impactful change and innovation. I am looking forward to learning more about next breakthroughs during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting!

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I believe there is a need to discuss gender diversity based on data. There are many anecdotes of personal experiences, with some arguing that that there has been enough support for female researchers, and others saying the opposite. We need more quantitative and qualitative data to guide our discussion. An initiative to collect data has just started in Japan, led by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. I have been participating in their symposiums and workshops to learn more about the current situation in Japan and would like to help disseminate the information so that we can have more constructive discussions on this topic.