When it comes to labs, is bigger always better? #science @NatureNews

Chris Woolston has written a nice feature in Nature this week titled, ‘Group dynamics: a lab of their own.’ The article describes many things a PI can consider when picking people for a lab, and how many people to pick. In his words:

Scientists around the world are working to solve the same basic formula: what number and mix of group members makes for the most efficient and productive lab?

As a member of a relatively large lab, where adding people to the group can come with many complaints from current members, I was intrigued by the actual data on productivity associated with adding members…

Bigger is better

Two studies published last year suggest that most labs could produce more papers and make a bigger splash by — perhaps unsurprisingly — bringing more people on board. One of these, a 2015 study of nearly 400 life-sciences PIs in the United Kingdom, found that the productivity of a lab — measured by the number of publications — increased steadily, albeit modestly, with lab size (I. Cook, S. Grange, & A. Eyre-WalkerPeerJhttp://doi.org/bcwf; 2015). In terms of sheer paper production, “it’s best for a lab to be as big as possible”, says co-author Adam Eyre-Walker, a geneticist at the University of Sussex, UK. Notably, the study found no sign that individual members become less productive or less efficient as labs grow. “Adding a team member to a large lab gives you the same return as adding one to a small lab,” Eyre-Walker says.

The second paper, a study of 119 biology laboratories from 1966 to 2000 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, found that productivity inched forward when an average-sized lab of ten members added people (A. Conti & C. C. Liu Res. Pol. 44, 16331644; 2015). But this study did detect limits: once lab size reached 25 people — an unusually high number achieved by very few labs — the addition of team members no longer conferred benefit. Further, a lab’s productivity tops out with 13 postdocs, the study found.

It looks as though my PI has created almost the perfect lab size. We are a bit over 25 with rotation students and technicians, but usually hover right around 13 postdocs… creepy. It turns out that their is some method, or at least data backing up, my PI’s madness.

Correspondence rips apart Nature’s coverage over Tim Hunt’s remarks – in Nature #distractinglysexy

Check out the somewhat scathing correspondence from Rebecca Williams Jackson in Nature over Nature’s publication of remarks not the sexist remarks of Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt.

Whether or not Hunt was joking and whether or not he apologized satisfactorily are beside the point. Neither is it likely that such outdated and seemingly entrenched attitudes can be dispelled by practical attempts to counter gender inequality in science (see Nature 5222552015 and D. HiltonNature 52372015).

Conspicuous by its absence in Nature so far is this: a woman commenting on the harm done by the flippant public denigration of women in science by a prominent scientist who is male.

#IfScientistsWereMusicians What if scientists acted like celebrities? Grammy edition of #IfScientistsWere

Just in time for the Grammy’s this weekend, we are trying out a new hashtag in our series of #IfScientistsWere. For the Grammy’s we are posting #IfScientistsWereMusicians! Feel free to post parodies of musical lyrics related to science or scientists. Or post something funny that characterize musicians, but from a science point of view! I recommend using Rhymezone.com if you are having trouble!! Below are a few we came up with… but I’m sure plenty of people are much more creative than us!

CauseScience Friday – Jan 30th – #Science #Selfie #Friday

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crestwind24- I am spending part of my day processing images (micrographs) that I took earlier on our labs confocal microscope. As I mentioned in a previous CauseScience Friday, the confocal allows me to take amazing pictures of neurons and their axons and dendrites. Today I am taking many images taken through the depth of a worm and making 3D animations. This allows you to see the morphology of the axons – or where they are in space. Below is a partial low-res GIF I made of one of my animations – it shows two neurons and their axons in C. elegans!!

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psgurel- Part of joining a new lab involves developing a new project.  Today, I’m doing some test runs as an initial step in developing a method for imaging different conformations of actin filaments for cryo Eelectron Microscopy.  First, I have to coat EM grids in a mechanism that will allow the actin to bind properly, so I’m surveying different ways of coating EM grids. Wish me luck!

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CauseScience Friday, Jan 9th #Selfie #Science #NewYear

After a short hiatus from the holidays, we are bringing back CauseScience Friday!

crestwind24- I have a busy day today, mostly scoring phenotypes of aging worms at my dissecting scope. I am also using an awesome fluorescent dissecting scope, which allows me to look at neurons in aging worms as they crawl around!!

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psgurel– New year means new beginnings… This week is my first week at a NEW job, a Postdoc position at the NIH.  Today, I’m continuing to get settled into the new lab, and I am planning/organizing/researching my future research project.  Fun times!

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CauseScience Friday #Science #Selfie

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crestwind24- This morning I am working on my lab’s new confocal microscope (middle). Using this fluorescence microscope, I can take high resolution images of neurons in C. elegans, including their amazing axons and dendrites!! To do this, I use worms that express fluorescent markers in distinct neurons. The fluorescent proteins then fill the neuron cell bodies, and can be excited with lasers to emit light!! I then use the confocals photo multiplier tubes to detect the light and create an image! The image on the right shows 2 neurons and their processes (one red and one green)!

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psgurel– I have been spending this morning packing and getting ready for the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia!  This is a 5 day long international conference where thousands of scientists, exhibitors, and students gather to discuss science, network, learn about career opportunities, and more.  I’m pretty excited because this year I will be giving a small talk on my research, and I will be participating in a panel on science advocacy.  It’s my 5th time attending this Annual Meeting, and I’ll be posting and tweeting throughout the conference.

CauseScience Friday Oct 10th. #Science #Selfie

psgurel: Today I am looking at actin filaments using Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy.  You may have heard about total internal reflection when learning about optic fibers… basically, if you shine light at a particular angle, instead of going through a sample, it’ll bend back, or get “internally reflected.”  The TIRF microscope relies on this principle and as a result, images acquired with TIRF have really good signal to noise ratio, meaning there is good contrast and low background.  Our department recently got a grant accepted to buy this scope, and so today is my first day using this system.  Before then, I had to travel to places like Chicago, Montreal, and Woods Hole to use a proper ‘scope.  Anyway, check out our new rig, and check out what actin looks like after it’s been polymerized for an hour (looks like hair!).

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crestwind24: Today I am doing some computer work, specifically I am looking through data from the modENCODE project! The modENCODE project, which stands for Model Organism ENCyclopedia of DNA Elements, is designed ‘to identify all of the sequence-based functional elements in the Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster genomes.’ The project is working to identify all of the DNA locations where regulatory proteins or transcription factors bind DNA. Using the data from the project, I can analyze where in the C. elegans genome the protein I study is working. It is an awesome tool to complement the work I do in lab! For more info, check out the wikipedia page on the related ENCODE project, which is mapping the functional DNA elements in the human genome!

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CauseScience Friday – October 3rd #science #scienceselfie

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crestwind24 – This morning I am screening through many, many plates of worms. Usually this is very tedious, but today it is very exciting because I am looking for worms that have had their genomes edited using the CRISPR/Cas9 system!!! The CRISPR system allows scientists to make specific genetic changes in the actual genes of bacteria, cells, and animals. In the case of C. elegans, the CRISPR system allows scientists to target genes within the genome to mutate them, change them, delete them, or add things to them. It is extremely powerful, and hopefully I will find some worms that have the genetic edit that I designed!! Cross your fingers for me!

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psgurel– Speaking of tedious, I am in the final steps of expressing and purifying protein.  Purified protein is a requirement for a variety of biochemical experiments (like the kinetic assay or analytical ultracentrifugation I mentioned earlier). This whole process takes 5 days for the protein I’m expressing, where I’ve had to: grow and express my protein in E. Coli (E. Coli is typically used for protein expression because they grow very fast and yield a lot of protein), lyse the bacterial cells, harvest the protein through various methods of chromatography, concentrate my protein, then store it appropriately.  Here I am posing with the FPLC, in the final step of purifying my protein.  Looks like I got a good yield, yippee!

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Happy National Postdoc Appreciation Week! Friday = home baked cookies for my fellow postdocs!

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That’s right, it’s Friday of National Postdoc Appreciation Week and I baked some delicious cookies for my fellow postdocs! Obviously the cookies are also for the entire lab, as proof to the undergrads, graduate students, technicians etc of how great postdocs are! Haha!

September 12th CauseScience Friday! #science #scienceselfie

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crestwind24: Today I am doing PCR to amplify a gene I am interested in from the DNA of a worm (C. elegans). PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, can be used to make DNA, check for the presence of DNA, and/or sequence DNA. PCR is commonly used to detect the presence of viruses, like Ebola, by looking for the DNA of the virus in the patient’s blood or bodily fluids. Setting up a PCR involves pipetting small volumes of liquid, containing DNA, enzymes, salts, etc into tiny tubes (see images). Then the tubes are placed into a cycling machine (ours is named Cycle Jackson… get it?) that changes temperature over and over in a cycle to activate the enzyme that makes the DNA. At the end I hopefully will have a bunch of the DNA I want!

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psgurel: Today I am staining grids for Negative Stain Electron Microscopy. I will be using the TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope) which essentially uses a high voltage electron beam to visualize samples.  My samples are placed on tiny grids (the arrow in my picture) and then stained with uranyl acetate, which is slightly radioactive (hence why I have to wear a lab coat) and scatters the electron beam.  As a result, my samples stained with uranyl acetate will not absorb electrons and thus I can visualize them in contrast to the grid surface which will absorb electrons.  Why use TEM instead of other types of microscopy?  A typical fluorescence microscope yields about 200nm resolution. However, I’m trying to visualize protein clusters of less than 100nm in length…about 10,000x smaller than a grain of sand!  The TEM will be able to resolve these structures!

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