Week in Review: October 3–7

Nobels for autophagy research and molecular machines; PubPeer in court; neuronal migration in newborn brains; childhood stress and telomere length later in life; Theranos restructuring 

Oct 7, 2016
Tracy Vence

Nobel Prizes

Yoshinori Ohsumi, an honorary professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, this week (October 3) won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of his discoveries on the mechanisms of autophagy. On October 5, Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg, France, J. Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Bernard Feringa of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, were named the three co-laureates for this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The trio was honored for its collective achievements in the design and synthesis of molecular machines.

Fazlul Sarkar vs. John Doe

Attorneys representing former Wayne State University researcher Fazlul Sarkar and users of the post-publication peer review website PubPeer addressed Michigan State Court of Appeals judges’ questions this week (October 4) in Detroit. The Scientist spoke with both attorneys, plus pseudonymous whistleblower Clare Francis, about what might happen next in this years-long litigation, first reported by The Scientist in August 2014.

Meantime, PubPeer cofounder Brandon Stell said that the site’s administrators believe they have stopped collecting the IP addresses of unregistered users in an effort to avoid further subpoenas for commenters’ identifying information—as the attorney representing Sarkar has requested in this case. “Now that we have funding and we are making changes to the website, we are going to hire an expert at some point to take a look at that,” said Stell.

Neuronal migration

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and their colleagues traced the migration of fully formed inhibitory neurons into the frontal lobes of infant brains. The team published its findings this week (October 6) in Science.

“It was thought previously that addition of new neurons to the human cortex happens [mostly] during fetal development. This new study shows that young neurons continue to migrate on a large scale into the cerebral cortex of infants,” Benedikt Berninger of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email. “This implies that experience during the first few months could affect this migration and thereby contribute to brain plasticity.”

Shrinking telomeres

Analyzing data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study along with the telomeres of more than 4,500 adult participants, a team led by scientists at the University of British Columbia found that multiple stressors early in life are associated with shorter telomeres in adulthood. The group published its research in PNAS this week (October 3).

“The findings are consistent with other reports suggesting that early life is a particularly vulnerable time when the body is rapidly growing and adapting to its surroundings,” noted Judith Carroll of the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the research.

More news in life science

Influential Alzheimer’s Researcher Dies
Allen Roses, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine, has passed away at age 73.

Plant Biologist Killed in Ethiopian Protest
Stone throwers hit the car Sharon Gray was riding in while visiting the country for a meeting.

Theranos Restructuring with Research Focus
The blood-testing company is shutting down clinical labs, laying off more than 300 employees across three states.

When Nobel Laureates Earn Their Awards
Winners in the Physiology or Medicine category are trending older, even though they’re completing their award-winning research when they are about the same age, according to an analysis.