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Week in Review: October 14–18

Ancient mosquito fossilized with blood meal; waste in academic research; the ethics of guest authorship; US government shutdown ends

By | October 18, 2013

Fossil illuminates mosquito blood-feeding behavior

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, DALE GREENWALTA 46-million-year-old mosquito—and the first-ever fossilized blood meal discovered—show that blood-feeding insects may have originated much earlier than previously thought. Upon extensively testing the ancient specimen, researchers from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and their colleagues found, among other things, traces of heme, suggesting that the blood-based molecule can persist longer than once expected.

NMNH paleobiologist Dale Greenwalt obtained the rare specimen while vacationing with his wife in Montana, near the insect fossil-rich Kishenehn Formation. “[The paper] shows that details of a blood sucking mosquito can be nicely preserved in a medium other than amber,” paleontologist George Poinar of Oregon State University, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

Running in circles

FLICKR, JAMESZLinda Feighery, a medical writer who spent a decade in biomedical labs in Ireland and the U.S., is fed up with what she considers the wasteful nature of academic research. “In particular, I have serious concerns regarding the publication process, which is intricately linked to the acquisition of funding,” Feighery wrote in an opinion piece this week.

That most scientists do not publish negative results has led many to chase down dead-end leads, she said. And because publishing in top-tier journals is often tied to career status, researchers are investing plenty of time and money in doing so, rather than sharing smaller, less Science- or Nature-worthy sets of results. Feighery cites an astonishing—albeit anecdotal—figure: publishing in a high-profile journal can cost up to $1 million per paper, she wrote.

“Maybe it’s time we became a little more curious about how we have evolved from science-for-the-benefit-of-humanity to science-for-the-benefit-of-relatively-few,” Feighery concluded.

An honor, yes, but potentially harmful

FLICKR, VIDALIA_11While there are several personal and professional reasons a researcher might credit “honorary” authors on a manuscript, doing so can hurt other scientists and science as a whole, argued Midhat Abdulreda this week in an opinion at www.the-scientist.com. Listing a contributor who has not met all the authorship criteria is misleading, Abdulreda said, and can cause additional problems for all involved parties down the line.

“Increasing the number of authors through guest authorship seems to dilute each person’s contributions to the work, including that of the primary author,” he wrote. “This can be particularly apparent in biomedical research, wherein the order in the author list has significance.”

Federal scientists back at work

Yesterday (October 17) the US Congress finally struck a deal to support government operations, and federal scientists returned to work. But while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation got back to processing grants and researchers elsewhere resumed collecting data, the lasting effects of the 16-day shutdown on science remain to be seen.

Reacting to the government’s reopening, NIH Director Francis Collins took to Twitter. “After 16 days of lost opportunities from the government shutdown, NIH is back!” he wrote.

Other news in life science:

Ketamine Alternative Shows Promise
Researchers show that lanicemine is an effective antidepressant without the adverse effects of the related hallucinogenic drug.

A New Antibiotic?
Scientists show that peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers can effectively silence essential bacterial genes.

Get Off the Pot
Researchers demonstrate the successful treatment of marijuana abuse in rats and monkeys.

Useless Peer Review?
A study shows that the methods by which scientists evaluate each other’s work are error-prone and poor at measuring merit.

Testicular-Skin Cancer Tradeoff
A genetic mutation tied to risk of developing testicular cancer may be more prevalent in white men because it also confers a reduced risk of developing skin cancer.

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