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Week in Review: August 19–23

The importance of smORFs; America Invents Act and innovation in biotech; birds adjust their behavior to avoid cars; in defense of fundamental science

By | August 23, 2013

Spotlight on small open reading frames

MAGNY ET AL, 2013Though the human genome contains thousands of them, small open reading frames (smORFs), sequences that encode proteins with no more than 30 amino acids, have largely gone unnoticed. Juan Pablo Couso and his colleagues made a compelling case for the importance of these tiny sequences this week, showing in Science that homologous smORFs control the flow of calcium in human and fly hearts. These sequences, the researchers showed, have retained such function for more than 550 million years.

“The new work suggests that these elements are not only unknown, but also biologically interesting,” physiologist Alan Saghatelian, who was not involved in the study, told The Scientist.

A step in the right direction

WIKIMEDIA, AUDEMade in America organization co-founder G. Nagesh Rao voiced his support for the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), batting down assertions that the legislation has led to a “first to file” system, in an opinion article this week. Rao noted that new AIA-related US Patent & Trademark Office policy offers benefits for biotech, including three types of examination procedures—accelerated, regular, or decelerated. Opting for the decelerated procedure, he said, could help biotechs maximize their patent protections following regulatory approval.

“No legislation emanating from a democracy is going to be perfect given the various stakeholders in play, but the passing of AIA was a step in the right direction for keeping the United States’ competitive edge in a globalized economy,” Rao wrote.

Birds learn speed limits

FLICKR, MIKE LAWRENCEAvian foragers who roam roadways adjust their takeoff timing according to local speed limits—to avoid being struck by cars, a study highlighted this week in The Scientist’s behavior research round-up found. Pierre Legagneux from the University of Quebec at Rimouski and his colleagues recorded when road-roaming birds took flight when approached by vehicles traveling at, above, and below a roadway’s speed limit. What they found suggests that birds adjust their takeoff times in order to maximize foraging time without being hit according to the average speed of all cars traveling on a given roadway, rather than the speed of any one.

Science for science’s sake

WIKIMEDIAVictoria Doronina expressed disappointment with the growing push to commercialize scientific research, highlighting her personal experiences as a PhD student in the former Soviet Union and a postdoc in the UK, in an opinion article this week. Science, she argued, should not be commoditized.

“If everything is for sale, and if the people who are doing science are not valued, then research loses something that is hard to define, but that is vital to the progress of science—as the situation in the former Soviet Union has so clearly demonstrated,” Doronina wrote.

Other news in life science:

Medical 3-D Printing’s Frontiers

Layer-by-layer manufacturing techniques could help re-make human body parts, or produce entirely new biocompatible machines.

Prominent Pharmacologist Dies

Bill Bowman, champion of modern anesthetics and the founding professor of pharmacology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, has passed away at age 83.

Row Threatens EU-Israel Research

The European Union’s declaration that it will not support research in Israel’s occupied territories may prompt the country to forgo participation in the Horizon 2020 program.

Science in the Cities

California, Texas, and New York are home to more than a quarter of all US scientists and engineers, according to an NSF report.

Biomarkers Can Predict Suicidal Behaviors

Researchers identify six biomarkers related to stress and cell death that can increase the accuracy of predictions about future suicidal behaviors.

Brain-Based Labels Bunk?

An fMRI study shows speculations that people are “left-brained” versus “right-brained” are not backed by evidence.

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