Week in Review: January 16–20

Preprint editors; why cancer studies are hard to replicate; predicting new protein structures; toward a virus-free polio vaccine; Obama’s science legacy; defending tenure

Jan 23, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

Scouring preprints

Convincing authors of preprints to submit their work to major journals is no different than approaching a scientist about unpublished work that he or she has presented at a conference, according to Christopher “Casey” Brown, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who is one of three “preprint editors” recently recruited by PLOS Genetics to solicit non-peer–reviewed manuscripts.

“Editors are paying very close attention—at a whole number of journals—to the preprint atmosphere,” Brown told The Scientist. “The role of editors is changing a bit, there is more interest in this sort of thing.”

Cancer biology reproducibility

Following on its investigation into the reproducibility of psychology experiments, the Center for Open Science has led an effort involving five papers published in eLife last week (January 19), which describe attempts to replicate certain cancer biology studies. Reproducing published results proved challenging, the team reported.

“This is an extremely important effort. Even though the published results pertain to only a small set of the larger project, the picture is convincing that reproducibility in cancer biology is very difficult to achieve,” said Stanford University School of Medicine’s John Ioannidis, who was not involved with the project. “I see the results not in a negative way . . . but as a reality check and as an opportunity to move in the right direction, which means more transparency, more openness, more detailed documentation of [methodology], and more honesty with ourselves.”

Lipids and metastasis

Two studies published in Nature this month highlight how lipids may play a key role in metastasis. The first, published January 5, reported that the human oral cancer cells that are most likely to migrate from primary tumors in mice are marked by the surface protein CD36, a receptor that binds lipids. The second, published January 12, found that when mice lacked a certain protein responsible for lipid transport, cancer cells formed far fewer metastatic tumors in the animals’ lungs.

“For many years, we were studying peptides and proteins,” said Mariusz Ratajczak, a cell biologist at the University of Louisville who was not involved in the studies. “Now we are coming to bioactive lipids.”

Polio vaccine 2.0

Both the oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine could theoretically cause polio outbreaks—so the safest vaccine would be one that does not involve a virus at all. So researchers are working on polio vaccines made from empty viral capsids. The team described its approach last week (January 19) in PLOS Pathogens.

“The facilities which handle by far the largest amounts of poliovirus are the vaccine producers,” Olen Kew, the national poliovirus containment coordinator at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Scientist, “so if you can produce a vaccine without handling any virus at all, then that risk is eliminated.” Kew was not involved in the present study.

Farewell, Obama

President Obama lauched three major biomedical research initiatives during his tenure—the BRAIN Initiative (2013), the Precision Medicine Initiative (2015), and the Cancer Moonshot (2016), solidifying his legacy as a champion of life science.

But some argue that Obama’s zeal for research and its possibilities didn’t fully translate into meaningful funding. “On the science funding front, there is a bit of divergence between rhetoric and reality,” Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science told Chemistry World. “The Obama administration does seem to support science, but they have never been able to achieve the yearly funding outcomes that we might have hoped for.”

Other news in life science

Unknown Protein Structures Predicted
Metagenomic sequence data boosts the power of protein modeling software to yield hundreds of new protein structure predictions.

Seal Whiskers Can Detect Weak Water Currents
The marine predators may use the mechanosensory hairs to detect fish that are hiding motionless on the seafloor.

How Traffic Noise Affects Tree Frogs
Constant exposure to the sounds of a busy road can impact a male European tree frog’s stress levels, immune system, and vocal sac coloration, scientists show.

Scientists Buck Opposition to Preprints in NIH Grant Applications
As ASAPbio and individual life scientists respond to FASEB’s statement against the inclusion of preprints in NIH grant applications, more than 600 researchers sign a petition in support of citing these non peer-reviewed works in such proposals.

HHS Nominee Tom Price Grilled in Confirmation Hearing
Price was asked about alleged conflicts of interest, whether he supports Medicare negotiating drug prices, and how he intends to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Trump Asks Collins to Stay On at NIH
The president-elect asks Collins to remain director of the NIH through the transition. Whether Donald Trump will formally appoint Francis Collins has yet to be seen.

Califf Vacates FDA’s Top Post
Robert Califf steps down as FDA Commissioner as Donald Trump takes office.

Tenure Under Attack in Two More States
Proposed legislation would eliminate academic tenure at public universities in Iowa and Missouri, echoing a move that has already gutted such permanent posts in Wisconsin.

Asgard Archaea Hint at Eukaryotic Origins
A newly discovered superphylum of archaea may be related to a microbe that engulfed a bacterium to give rise to complex eukaryotic life.

Bacterial Protein Acts as Prion in Yeast and E. coli
Clostridium botulinum produces a transcription factor that can aggregate and self-propagate a prion-like form, leading to genome-wide changes in gene expression in E. coli, according to a study.

A Drug-Resistant Superbug May Be Stealthily Spreading
Person-to-person transmission of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae in US hospitals may be occurring without symptoms, a new study suggests.