Score 2 for Science

Just popping back in to tell you about a really cool scientific discovery. Some paleontologists discovered a new genus and species in Germany that is described as the “missing link” between humans and early mammals. The skeleton, dubbed Ida (or Darwinius masillae if you prefer), is an early mammal similar to a lemur that has opposable thumbs and forward-facing eyes. Score 1 for science and Darwin! Even better, their work was published in PLoS ONE, an open-access journal. Therefore, despite the fact that this revolutionary article was just published two days ago, anyone in the world can view the full text and high resolution images for free. Plus, you can print, reuse, redistribute, or even modify the images and text as long as you give the original authors credit. Score 2 for science! (hat tip: Jamey)

Summer Research

science-xkcdI’ve started a new research project this summer in Marcello Del Carlo‘s lab. Dr. Del Carlo is a new faculty member at Rush in the Department of Biochemistry. Our lab is affiliated with a clinical urologist faculty and we’re researching a urological disease called Peyronie’s Disease (PD) [Warning: male nudity]. From a biochemical perspective, we’re studying the process of growth and formation of a fibrous plaque underneath the skin of the male penis in a layer of connective tissue called the tunica albuginea. Currently, we’re analyzing both diseased and non-diseased tissue samples that have been surgically removed from patients with PD. In the future, we’ll also be working with a cultured fibroblast cell line doing similar work. So far we’re using Western Blots to identify and characterize proteins that are up- or down-regulated in diseased tissue compared to that of non-diseased. Our hope is that the studies will lead to a better understanding of PD and how the plaques form to aid in treatment.

In addition to research, Dr. Del Carlo is very interested in using FOSS as it relates to scientific research. By the time I met with him, he had already set up a database using PASSIM in order to keep track of tissue samples from patients. He also had the idea of using a WordPress blog as a sort of “online laboratory notebook”. I thought this seemed very in line with the Science Commons project, a derivative of Creative Commons. Science Commons is attempting to lower the barriers of scientific research, which is currently not nearly as “open” as it should be, considering almost all of it is funded by the U.S. Government. Most people believe that the fruits of governmentally funded projects should be available to the general public. In many cases, however, scientific research is locked down (for varying periods of time) due to copyright after being published in scientific journals. Since a scientist’s credibility is often judged by previous publications in journals, Science Commons is working to reduce the hold of copyright on this process, so that labs can publish data immediately to the web, allowing it to be indexed, freely searchable, and available immediately to anyone wanting to read it. This will continue to be an uphill battle since journals make a large amount of their money by licensing access to large academic institutions for their faculty. The idea that labs can make their data freely available on their own personal websites is being met with resistance. Still, I feel as a society we must push forward, despite the corporate interests, in order to do what’s best for the public. Plus, my thought is that journals will not suffer any major economic hardship. Their “seal of approval” by publishing the content will continue to be the scale by which research is judged. They would also continue to act as a collecting ground so that researchers looking for the latest data don’t need to worry about sorting through Google search results to find the latest findings in a field. Instead, some publishing groups have the gall to say that in order to publish in their journal you must leave the rights to your work on their doorstep, no matter who did the experiments. This will continue to be a very important issue in the scientific community in the future, and I’m hoping to gain a keener understanding of it over the next few weeks and months.

At least for now, I am the only one updating the Peyronie’s Disease Information Repository and it contains all of our experiments and results to date. Feel free to check it out, but unless it’s scientifically relevant, keep personal comments to my site.