Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Introduction

Failure is often seen as a negative part of scientific discovery. Failure is inherently bad. But failure is not completely bad. When it is not a completely indomitable failure, it provides an opportunity for growth, and quite often is a stepping stone towards success, or brings you one step closer from achieving your goal.

This anthology is a collection of 15 carefully curated pieces which reflect the importance and the nuances around failure and its role in the scientific world. As you will find, failure is not only an irremovable component of science and progress, but a driving force into scientific discovery and advancement.
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Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Introduction

As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.

 

“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).

The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.

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Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

California: Hotbed of Innovation

Introduction

 

Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.

California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.

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California: Hotbed of Innovation

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

In her book Genentech, Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of the rise of the biotech giant Genentech. Hughes is a historian of biomedicine and biotechnology at the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. She takes us through the tumultuous early years of Genentech’s history, showing how the company grew from a trio of founders to a massive organization that made a fortune through the stock market. From Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen’s development of recombinant DNA, to Tom Perkins and Bob Swanson offering Genentech as an IPO, Hughes makes a great effort to describe every major step that Genentech had to take and every hurdle they had to pass to find both commercial and scientific success. When a new person enters the company, Hughes describes them in detail, and her descriptions present these entrepreneurs and scientists as likeable characters who truly care about the work they do. She skillfully and simply describes both the complex science behind Genentech’s research and the caveats of the business world, which helped Genentech grow and succeed financially. To enhance the quality of the Genentech story, the book is filled with many photographs of the people discussed in the book as well as a few diagrams that add explanations of various scientific concepts such as DNA recombination. In this short but interesting book, Hughes provides insight into the origins of the biotechnology industry, as well as introduces readers to some of the problems early innovators in the industry had to face. Continue reading “The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech”

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

In the beginning of Genentech, the founders- Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen- are introduced to us. After a brief introduction to their childhoods and what motivated them to pursue biochemistry, genetics, and biotechnology. Hughes shifts her focus to their research years. Academic Institutions, such as UCSF, start by receiving a profit from researchers from small companies that use the universities’ labs and resources through a grant. However, the staff, faculty, and researchers at such institutions are not the most welcoming.

“Unbeknownst to Genentech, the pharmaceutical giant had previously sealed an agreement with the University of California. Lillly and UC concluded a $13 million =, five-year agreement on the complementary DNA cloning and expression of human insulin and human growth hormone. (Hughes 94)

Here is the purpose of Research Universities is explained. This can give us more understanding as to why Genentech was making this big move. To conclude, in the world of patents, the process of becoming official is tough. The focus on the Genentech’s partnered research universities is to discover the Human genome hormone and insulin. Typically, this is why there is an emphasis on the professors and less on the undergraduates.

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

Media Guidelines for Scientists

In Chapter 6 of Genentech, the media’s influence on new scientific discoveries is discussed. Hughes calls the media “uncritical” of the scientific discoveries and I believe that the media is uncritical because they don’t truly understand the science they’re reporting on (136). After reading this, I wondered what scientists could do, for their part, to help the public and the media reporting to the public better understand their work. According to Social Research Science Center, scientists should speak to journalists, but there is a list of guidelines they should follow. For example, the scientists should read the papers or watch tv to get an idea of how their field is often portrayed in the media. Does the media question the ethics of their field or do they raise any additional questions to be answered? This website also suggests hiring a press officer to bridge the gap between the science world and the media world. This officer can help state the risks and benefits more meaningfully to the public and can help shape the main ideas into a more understandable thesis. Lastly, scientists should take public interest to heart. They should try to explain the exciting feature of their research rather than the tedious, academic details.

Media Guidelines for Scientists

Genentech Today

“As the founders of the biotechnology industry, our goal is to use the power of genetic engineering and advanced technologies to make medicines that address unmet medical needs, and help millions of people worldwide” – Genentech

After finishing Hughes book, I was very interested at looking at Genentech’s website to see what they are doing today and all that they have accomplished. This quote which was on their “our leadership” page really summed up their mission as a company and answered a lot of questions that I was asking myself throughout the book. I often wondered whether Genentech was too concerned with the money they were going to make when they initially started their company. Especially Swanson, the business end of the partnership, who really pushed the scientists to discover their products very quickly in order to profit as a company. I questioned whether over time they became too concerned with the competitive scientific world, and lost sight of benefiting humanity, but this quote disproves my feelings. Genentech’s website is set up similarly to a blog page. They have links to all their research and ongoing projects, which I thought really represented their mission as a company. It is a very easy site to navigate and it truly shows that Genentech is a company for the people. Another item that I really enjoyed on their website was the “Living 10 years in the Future” page. Here they showed a fantastic video of what it is like to be a Genentech scientist.

Genentech Today

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

On page 93, Hughes mentions that UCSF and Harvard faced some difficulties because their research used human genetic material. I wanted to know more about using human genetic material in research. I found an article that talked about human genetic research and all that it entails.

http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter13-chapitre13/

This article addresses how genetic research can violate some ethics. This is due to all the information that researches can get from a person’s genetic material. This includes ancestry and cultural background. The question is asked if this is too much to know? Does this violate a person’s privacy? The article brings up a lot of good points about this and really makes you one think about how much should be kept private.

The article also talks about the rights that the individual has when it comes to the researchers sharing the findings of the experiment and who can know the information. I was also surprised to read about genetic material banks where genetic material is collected and stored for future analysis.

This article really opened my eyes to how challenging the world of human genetic research is and how many different factors need to be considered when doing this type of research.

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

Success at a young age

“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” – Hughes page 51

Being successful at a young age is something that we all definitely would like. In this book, these young scientists are making discoveries and working hard to achieve their goals. However, being young and successful also came with many fights. Since they were young and this was new stuff being tried, a lot of stress was added to their plates. So how much of this success was a blessing for them? Is it better to have a rough start and be secure about your decision making in the future? It does help in the confidence area, but it seems that the scientists in the group are being taken away from the point of their research.

Success at a young age

Science and Industry

“The heart of [Boyer’s] problem, as they saw it, was that as a full-time, tenured professor he was simultaneously and inappropriately cofounder, vice president, board member, advisor, and major stockholder of a private company–Boyer’s company… As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to industry.'” -Hughes, pg 71

I thought it was interesting that so many people were adamantly against the idea of Boyer working with Genentech. The idea that he was “selling out to industry” makes me wonder if many researchers at the time wanted science and industry to remain separate; maybe they thought scientific research should be motivated by curiosity and a need to understand how things work rather than attempting to turn a discovery into a product.
If that is the case, then I would certainly disagree with those types of researchers. Commercializing the product of an experiment can bring in money for the laboratory or university, providing funds that would allow them to do even more research. I’m not sure I see the logic behind these criticisms of Herb Boyer–an ideological disagreement, that I can see. Maybe these critics aren’t fond of the idea of a scientist being so involved in business. But calling it in appropriate?
The only concern I might have had regarding Boyer’s work with Genentech is simply the question of whether or not he has enough time to devote to both, and if not, then which would be his first priority? Teaching or business?

Science and Industry

Academics in Industry

“Commercialization of biological discoveries was far from novel at the birth of Genentech: Big Pharma had been doing it for a long time. But for a member of the academic community to be so intimately involved, that was a sea change. No one had thought much about the rules for how this might be done. So there were repercussions, particularly among the faculty of UCSF- a hue and cry over potential conflicts of interest. It was a harrowing time for Herb Boyer”- (Hughes 72)

Firstly, even though Hughes here makes a distinction between using academic discoveries for profit and academics using academic resources for profit, I do not see a difference. If Big Pharma was using discoveries found in research labs for profit, that is essentially the same thing as using research labs to make profit. In the end, the work of the research labs is being used for money-making purposes.

Secondly, Boyer himself was not motivated by profit, saying he “thought I was doing something that was valuable to society” (Hughes 73). Just the fact that he went through depression after experiencing all the criticism from academia shows that his motives were sincere. He was still performing his duties as professor, so why was his using university labs a problem? I guess it is the equivalent to someone doing their own project at work, and not their company’s assignments, and so losing their company money, but I feel like the point of research universities is not to make money off research, but to contribute to the knowledge pool of that field. Furthermore, if the point of research universities is to better society, was’t Boyer doing that? Finally, I feel as though the fact that the criticism came mainly from other UCSF professors says a lot.

Academics in Industry

What Can We Use PCR For?

Chapter 11 of Pointing From the Grave discusses the development of PCR, and how it was extremely helpful in coming up with new ways to use DNA. In this chapter Weinberg quotes Kary Mullis and says,

“I can’t keep up with the things people are doing with PCR” and “PCR is the word processor of biochemistry” (Weinberg quoting Kary Mullis pg. 175).

These quotes made me begin questioning the different uses for PCR. I found an article that discusses how PCR can be used to diagnose genetic disease, conduct genetic fingerprinting, detect infections in the environment, develop personalized medicine, and take part in several other forms of research. Check it out it’s pretty interesting.

What Can We Use PCR For (CLICK HERE)

What Can We Use PCR For?

PCR: Pretty Convenient Research

“‘Suddenly I knew how to do it,’ he recounts. ‘If i could locate a thousand sequences out of billions with one short piece of DNA, I could use another short piece to narrow the search. This one would be designed to bind to a sequence just down the chain from the first sequence I had found. It would scan over the thousand possibilities out of the first search to find just the one I wanted.'” -Weinberg 151

Mullis’ explanation of how the PCR could work seemed very complex to me at first. Not exactly a great chemistry student, I was rather confused about how the DNA was being tracked and replicated. However, I started thinking about this particular explanation as a research problem and it became much clearer to me.

Mullis mentioned that his goal was to “narrow the search” of a certain DNA sequence. He is able to do so by adding more of the DNA sequences to the original probe to make it even more specific what he was looking for; essentially, he refined his search. I performed a similar experiment here with research on Google:

First I searched the word “puppies”. The were over 89 million search results.

Puppies

So I narrowed down my search by adding more specificity as to what I was looking for. I typed “pitbull” in front of “puppies”, and my search was narrowed by about 76 million.

pitbull puppies

Finally, I cut the search results from the millions to the thousands by adding a third adjectival phrase to my search: “blue nose”

blue nose pitbull puppies

Just as Mullis reasoned that adding more sequences to his search would help him find exactly the DNA match he was looking for, I added adjectives to my Google search that lead me to exactly what I was looking for: a picture of this little sweetheart.

blue nose pitbull puppy

Photo courtesy of “Me and My Pet” 

PCR: Pretty Convenient Research

Fingerprinting

After reading Chapter 4 of Pointing from the Grave, it really shed light on the complexity and developments in the field of forensic science. Of course, I was familiar with the use of lifting finger prints and matching them from shows like CSI. However, realistically, I never knew how complex the process of collecting and matching fingerprints was. Attached I have posted a link that goes into detail about the of how fingerprints are lifted and examined. While there are many ways to do so, I thought it was very interested how they used immunofluorescent dye stain with orange alternate light source in order to make out a clear picture of the fingerprint. I also found this very related to my independent breast cancer research. In order to test the effects of hypoxia on the aggression of breast cancer cells I carried out an experiment in which I treated the cancer cells with different doses of Cobalt Chloride (which mimics hypoxic conditions) and then died the cells and viewed them under a confocal lens with Texas Red light. This is similar to the way in which the finger prints were stained and viewed under orange light. Overall, I thought it was interesting to see one of the ways in which fingerprints are made out and how it also overlapped with types of experiments I am running as a part of my research.

http://www.forensicsciencesimplified.org/prints/how.html

Fingerprinting

How Buildings Learn

“Not assigned to any one school, department, or center, it seems to always have had space for beginning project, the graduate student’s experiment, the interdisciplinary research center.” (MIT 63)

I think the concept of a research center is really good way to come up with original ideas.  Students and professors from different departments can collaborate and think about concepts in a much broader spectrum than just focusing on an idea from their own perspective.

How Buildings Learn