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30 June, 2008

More severe bone infections, health complications in children linked to MRSA, researchers find

DALLAS – June 30, 2008 – The emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as a major pathogen has led to more complications and longer hospital stays for children with acute bone infections, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers report.

Acute osteomyelitis, a bone infection that predominantly occurs in children, is usually caused by the staph bacteria. Treatment has traditionally been straightforward because most S. aureus bacteria can be killed with existing antibiotics.

Recently, however, more children with osteomyelitis have been developing the more severe, antibiotic-resistant, community-associated MRSA, resulting in more complications and prolonged antibiotic therapy and hospital stays.

"This study shows the transition from the normal S. aureus to the methicillin-resistant one that everybody calls the superbug," said Dr. Octavio Ramilo, professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and senior author of a study available online and in the July/August issue of the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. "What's important about this is not only that MRSA infections are harder to treat because they are more resistant to the traditional antibiotics, but they are also more aggressive and cause more severe disease manifestations. This is reflected very clearly in this study."

Dr. Asunción Mejías, assistant professor of pediatrics and co-lead author, said MRSA isn't a new problem among children.

"But the MRSA that we used to see was acquired in the hospital," she said. "This is a different strain that patients acquire in the community. Now, we see kids with osteomyelitis who have bone abscesses in the legs and who get blood clots that lead to pulmonary embolisms.

"We don't want to alarm parents, but kids who limp or have backaches and fever after an otherwise minor trauma need to be evaluated by a physician," Dr. Mejías said.

Dr. Ramilo said osteomyelitis might be more common in children because kids tend to be more accident-prone. Most commonly, the bones get infected when bacteria reach the bone through the blood supply. It is thought that minor trauma to the bone facilitates the start of the infection.

For the study, researchers culled the medical records of 290 children admitted to Children's Medical Center Dallas between January 1999 and December 2003 with acute osteomyelitis. The median age of those surveyed was 6 years and most children were white or Hispanic. Sixty percent were male. Symptoms such as localized pain, fever, tenderness, swelling and limping were observed in more than half the patients.

The researchers divided the patient population into two groups (January 1999 to June 2001 and July 2001 to December 2003) to verify whether MRSA infections were becoming more common and more severe.

They then compared patients with MRSA osteomyelitis to children with non-MRSA osteomyelitis, which included those with methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) infections. They also reviewed outcomes, including duration of fever, the type and length of antibiotic therapy, and the frequency of complications, such as muscle inflammation, bone abscesses, disseminated disease and the need to drain the bone surgically.

Though the clinical characteristics of the participants didn't change significantly between the first and second study periods, children who were treated in the latter period for osteomyelitis fared far worse, possibly because MRSA infections were more common, Dr. Ramilo said.

For example, in the second study period, bone abscesses were observed in 69 percent of the patients with MRSA osteomyelitis versus 26 percent among those with MSSA infections. Children admitted with MRSA osteomyelitis during the second study period also spent an average of 42 days on antibiotics, almost two weeks longer than those diagnosed with MSSA.

Dr. Ramilo said the number of children who needed surgery was also striking. Seventy-eight percent of the patients with MRSA required surgery, compared with 49 percent of those with MSSA.

He said the findings underscore the need for multicenter studies to identify the best antibiotic regimens as well as the best surgical approaches for complications.

"For now, the key is to treat the infection as early as possible with appropriate antibiotics and if needed, surgical drainage of the bone," Dr. Ramilo said.

27 June, 2008

Higher temperatures helped new strain of West Nile virus spread

Findings help explain spread of virus strain responsible for largest US epidemics

SANTA CRUZ, CA--Higher temperatures helped a new strain of West Nile virus invade and spread across North America, according to a study published in the June 27 issue of the journal PLoS Pathogens.

"The study shows that the warmer the temperature, the greater the advantage of the new strain. It also indicates that increases in temperatures due to global climate change would have major effects on transmission of the virus," said A. Marm Kilpatrick, first author of the paper and a senior research scientist for the Consortium for Conservation Medicine.

Kilpatrick, now an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, joined with Laura Kramer and others at the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center to conduct the study, which examined the effects of different temperatures on the transmission of two strains of West Nile virus.

The first occurrence of West Nile virus in North America was in New York City in 1999, when it caused a die-off of crows and other birds and 62 reported cases of human infections, including 7 deaths. In the two years after the introduction of the virus, the rate of transmission was relatively low. As it spread along the Atlantic seaboard, there were only 21 reported human cases in 2000 and 66 in 2001.

In 2002, however, a new strain of the virus emerged and rapidly spread throughout North America, completely displacing the old strain by 2005. Coincident with the spread of this new strain were two of the largest epidemics of West Nile virus recorded to date in North America, with 4,582 cases reported in 2002, 11,356 cases in 2003, and more than 270 deaths in both years. Since then, the number of reported cases per year has ranged from 2,500 to nearly 6,000, with more than 100 deaths each year.

Kilpatrick and Kramer set out to determine how the new strain of West Nile virus had displaced the first strain, and what effect temperature had on transmission by mosquitoes. They used laboratory tests to determine how soon mosquitoes are capable of transmitting the virus after feeding on infected blood. The results showed that the new strain is more efficiently transmitted than the older strain, and the advantage of the new strain increases with higher temperatures.

For both strains, increases in temperature greatly accelerated transmission by increasing the efficiency of viral replication in the mosquitoes. As a result, temperature increases of just a few degrees due to global warming could sharply accelerate transmission of the virus and possibly lead to more severe epidemics of West Nile virus in some cooler regions, Kilpatrick said. The researchers used the results to develop a model to predict the impact of increasing temperatures on West Nile virus transmission by mosquitoes.

"A previous study in our lab demonstrated that the new strain of the virus was more efficient at replicating in mosquitoes, which may have increased the intensity of epidemics in the field," Kramer said. "We wanted to examine whether temperature might have played a role in the invasion of the new strain, and whether its success may have been related to increasing temperatures."

Kramer's lab performed a series of studies that involved infecting one group of mosquitoes with the introduced 1999 strain of West Nile virus and siblings with the recently evolved strain. After holding the mosquitoes at different temperatures and for different lengths of time, researchers determined what fraction could transmit the virus. They found that the new strain was more efficient than the introduced strain at nearly all temperatures and time points after infection.

Kilpatrick, who analyzed the data and developed models to predict the impact of temperature on transmission, said the results provide a striking example of how climate and evolution can interact to increase the transmission of this virus. "These results also suggest that relatively small increases in temperature can have large impacts, due to the nonlinear acceleration of transmission with temperature," he said.

"This study shows how direct the impacts of climate change could be for us all," said Peter Daszak, executive director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, based at Wildlife Trust in New York. "It isn't just about a rise in sea level or the melting of a glacier in Alaska--it's about our health and our welfare."

24 June, 2008

BIO 2008: Comparing stem cells Joint NSW/Victorian project to compare three types of stem cells

Scientists from Sydney IVF and the Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC) in Melbourne have launched a project to characterise and compare induced pluripotent stem cells, human embryonic stem cells and stem cells derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer.

The aim of the project is to develop a routine, repeatable way of making patient-specific stem cells within current legislative guidelines.

The NSW Minister for Science and Medical Research, Verity Firth, and the Victorian Minister for Innovation, Gavin Jennings, made the announcement today at the BIO 2008 convention in San Diego.

Each government has pledged $550,000 to the project. NSW will fund Sydney IVF to undertake the SCNT work, while Victoria has funded the ASCC to perform the characterisation and comparison of the stem cells.

The ASCC recently announced it was the first international group to import iPS cells, licensing them from Professor James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin. Thomson described the development of iPS cells in one of two ground-breaking papers in November last year.

"The combination of the international quality talent and significant resources of these two collaborative partners gives this project the potential to provide world-first advancements in these new biological frontiers," Firth said.

Firth, on her first trip to BIO since becoming a minister 18 months ago, said the project was a collaboration not only between scientists but between governments.

"We have real excellence in stem cell research both in NSW and Victoria," she said. "One thing you learn at BIO is that we are Australia here - it's a bit silly for the states to compete."

22 June, 2008

DNA study unlocks mystery to diverse traits in dogs

ROCKVILLE, MD, June 22, 2008 � What makes a pointer point, a sheep dog herd, and a retriever retrieve? Why do Yorkshire terriers live longer than Great Danes? And how can a tiny Chihuahua possibly be related to a Great Dane?

Dogs vary in size, shape, color, coat length and behavior more than any other animal and until now, this variance has largely been unexplained. Now, scientists have developed a method to identify the genetic basis for this diversity that may have far-reaching benefits for dogs and their owners.

In the cover story of tomorrow's edition of the science journal Genetics, research reveals locations in a dog's DNA that contain genes that scientists believe contribute to differences in body and skull shape, weight, fur color and length � and possibly even behavior, trainability and longevity.

"This exciting breakthrough, made possible by working with leaders in canine genetics, is helping us piece together the canine genome puzzle which will ultimately translate into potential benefit for dogs and their owners," said study co-author Paul G. Jones, PhD, a Mars Veterinary� genetics researcher at the Waltham� Centre for Pet Nutrition � part of Mars� Incorporated, a world leader in pet care that has been studying canine genetic science for the past eight years. "By applying this research approach, we may be able to decipher how genes contribute to physical or behavioral traits that affect many breeds."

Dogs originally derived from the wolf more than 15,000 years ago � a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms. Selective breeding produced dogs with physical and behavioral traits that were well suited to the needs or desires of their human owners, such as herding or hunting ability, coat color and body and skull shape and size. This resulted in the massive variance seen among the more than 350 distinct breeds that make up today's dog population. Until now, the genetic drivers of this diversity have intrigued scientists who have been trying to explain how and why the difference in physical and behavioral traits in dogs changed so rapidly from its wolf origins.

An international team of researchers, which included scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute, the University of Utah, Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy, California and Mars' Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in the United Kingdom, studied simple genetic markers known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs, to find places in the dog genome that correlate with breed traits. Because many traits are "stereotyped" � or fixed within breeds � researchers can zero in on these "hot spots" to see what specific genes are in the area that might contribute to differences in traits.

The research used 13,000 dog DNA samples provided by Mars Veterinary, which holds one of the most comprehensive canine DNA banks in the world. This collection has been built up with the help of pet owners who have consented to their pets providing cheek swabs and blood samples for the database. Mars' DNA bank allowed the study to cover most of the American Kennel Club recognized breeds that span a wide variety of physical and behavioral traits and differences in longevity.

"With further refinement and additional data, this method could be used to tailor products that may benefit the health of pets," Jones said. "Pet owners and veterinarians may be able to develop better care regimes based on this knowledge. In addition, genetic information about behavioral traits, such as trainability and temperament, could also help veterinarians identify the most lifestyle-appropriate pet for an owner."

This research may also have implications for human health, as dogs suffer from many of the same diseases that we do.

20 June, 2008

Self-assembled Viruses Efficiently Carry Genes And Drug Molecules Into Tumor Cells

ScienceDaily (June 20, 2008) — Viruses are true experts at importing genetic material into the cells of an infected organism. This trait is now being exploited for gene therapy, in which genes are brought into the cells of a patient to treat genetic diseases or genetic defects. Korean researchers have now made an artificial virus. As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they have been able to use it to transport both genes and drugs into the interior of cancer cells.

Natural viruses are extremely effective at transporting genes into cells for gene therapy; their disadvantage is that they can initiate an immune response or cause cancer. Artificial viruses do not have these side effects, but are not especially effective because their size and shape are very difficult to control—but crucial to their effectiveness. A research team headed by Myongsoo Lee has now developed a new strategy that allows the artificial viruses to maintain a defined form and size.

The researchers started with a ribbonlike protein structure (β-sheet) as their template. The protein ribbons organized themselves into a defined threadlike double layer that sets the shape and size. Coupled to the outside are “protein arms” that bind short RNA helices and embed them. If this RNA is made complementary to a specific gene sequence, it can very specifically block the reading of this gene. Known as small interfering RNAs (siRNA), these sequences represent a promising approach to gene therapy.

Glucose building blocks on the surfaes of the artificial viruses should improve binding of the artificial virus to the glucose transporters on the surfaces of the target cells. These transporters are present in nearly all mammalian cells. Tumor cells have an especially large number of these transporters.

Trials with a line of human cancer cells demonstrated that the artificial viruses very effectively transport an siRNA and block the target gene.

In addition, the researchers were able to attach hydrophobic (water repellant) molecules—for demonstration purposes a dye—to the artificial viruses. The dye was transported into the nuclei of tumor cells. This result is particularly interesting because the nucleus is the target for many important antitumor agents.

Zebra's Stripes, Butterfly's Wings: How Do Biological Patterns Emerge?

ScienceDaily (June 20, 2008) — A zebra’s stripes, a seashell’s spirals, a butterfly’s wings: these are all examples of patterns in nature. The formation of patterns is a puzzle for mathematicians and biologists alike. How does the delicate design of a butterfly’s wings come from a single fertilized egg? How does pattern emerge out of no pattern?

Using computer models and live cells, researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered a specific pattern that can direct cell movement and may help us understand how metastatic cancer cells move.

“Pattern formation is a classic problem in embryology,” says Denise Montell, Ph.D., a professor of biological chemistry at Hopkins. “At some point, cells in an embryo must separate into those that will become heart cells, liver cells, blood cells and so on. Although this has been studied for years, there is still a lot we don’t understand.”

As an example of pattern formation, the researchers studied the process of how about six cells in the fruit fly distinguish themselves from neighboring cells and move from one location in the ovary to another during egg development. “In order for this cell migration to happen, you have to have cells that go and cells that stay,” says Montell. “There must be a clear distinction — a separation between different types of cells, which on the surface look the same.”

Previous work identified a specific signal necessary for getting these fly egg cells to move; the problem is that this signal is “graded.” Like drops of ink spreading out on wet paper, this signal travels in between surrounding cells, gradually fading away as it moves outwards. But clear lines are required for pattern formation — there is no grey area between a zebra’s black and white stripes, between heart and liver cells and, in this case, between migrating cells and those that stay put.

How are graded signals converted to a clear move or stay signal? By examining flies containing mutations in different genes, the researchers discovered that one gene in particular, called apontic, is important for converting a graded signal. “When apontic is mutated, the distinction between migrating and nonmigrating cells is fuzzy,” says Michelle Starz-Gaiano, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in biological chemistry. “In these mutants, we see a lot of cases where migrating cells do not properly detach from their neighbors but instead drag them along as they move away.” This showed that the graded signal alone was not sufficient to kick-start the proper number of cells, but instead needed help from apontic.

Once the team discovered that apontic is important for getting these cells to move, they set out to figure out how apontic works. Collaborating with mathematician Hans Meinhardt, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, they designed a computer model that could simulate how graded signals are converted to commands that tell cells to move or to stay.

By making certain assumptions about each gene and assigning functions to each protein, the team built a simple circuit that can predict a cell’s behavior using the graded signal, apontic, and another previously discovered protein called slbo (pronounced “slow-bo”). The computer model shows that in a cell, the graded signal turns on both apontic and slbo. But apontic and slbo work against and battle each other: when one gains a slight advantage, the other weakens, which in turn causes the first to gain an even bigger advantage. This continues until one dominates in each cell. If slbo wins, the cell moves but if apontic wins, the cell stays put; thus a clear separation between move or stay is achieved.

“Not only is this a new solution to the problem of how to create a pattern out of no pattern, but we have also discovered that apontic is a new regulator of cell migration,” says Montell.

Cell migration likely underlies the spreading of cancer cells beyond an original tumor to other areas of the body. Understanding and therefore being able to manipulate the cell migration pathway could potentially prevent the development of these new tumors. At this stage, Montell says, “it’s more about just understanding what the positive and negative regulators of cell migration are.”

The research was funded by the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health.

This study was published in the May 13 issue of Developmental Cell. Authors on the paper are Starz-Gaiano, Mariana Melani, Xiaobo Wang, and Montell, all of Hopkins; and Hans Meinhardt of the Max-Planck-Institut, Tübingen, Germany.

19 June, 2008

Biotech crops seen helping to feed hungry world

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Biotechnology in agricultural will be key to feeding a growing world population and overcoming climate challenges like crop-killing droughts, according to a group of leading industry players.

"It is critical we keep moving forward," said Thomas West, a director of biotechnology affairs at DuPont, interviewed on the sidelines of a biotechnology conference in San Diego. "We have to yield and produce our way out of this."

DuPont believes it can increase corn and soybean yields by 40 percent over the next decade. Corn seeds that now average about 150 bushels per acre could be at well over 200 bushels an acre, for example, DuPont officials said.

Crop shortages this year have sparked riots in some countries and steep price hikes in markets around the globe, and questions about how to address those issues were the subject of several meetings at the BIO International Convention being held this week.

Despite persistent reluctance in many nations and from some consumer and environmental groups, genetically modified crops, -- and the fortunes of the companies that make them -- have been on the rise. Growing food and biofuel demands have been helping push growth.

By using conventional and biotech genetic modification, crops can be made to yield more in optimum as well as harsh weather conditions, can be made healthier, and can be developed in ways that create more energy for use in ethanol production, according to the biotech proponents.

"You can bring a number to tools to bear with biotechnology to solve problems," said Syngenta seeds executive industry relations head director Jack Bernens. "As food prices increase ... it certainly brings a more practical perspective to the debate."

Syngenta is focusing on drought-resistant corn that it hopes to bring to market as early as 2014, as well as other traits to increase yields and protect plants from insect damage. Disease-resistant biotech wheat is also being developed.

Syngenta and other industry players are also developing biotech crops that need less fertilizer, and corn that more efficiently can be turned into ethanol.

Bayer CropScience, a unit of Germany's Bayer AG, has ongoing field trials with biotech canola that performs well even in drought conditions, said Bayer crop productivity group leader Michael Metzlaff.

Water scarcity is a problem seen doubling in severity over the next three decades even as the world population explodes, and will only be exacerbated by global warming climate change, he said.

With some 9 billion people expected to populate the planet by 2040 and 85 percent of the population seen in lesser developed countries, decreased land for agriculture and multiple demands on water use will come hand in hand with an expected doubling in food demand, said David Dennis CEO of Kingston, Ontario-based Performance Plants.

Performance Plants is working with the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International to develop and field test drought-tolerant white maize.

"The biggest problem we have in crops is environmental stresses and the biggest stress is drought," said Dennis.

Biotech crop opponents rebuke the idea that biotechnology is the answer, and say industry leaders continue to focus much of their efforts on plants that tolerate more chemicals even as they push up seed prices and make more farmers reliant on patented seed products that must be repurchased year after year.

"I know they love to talk about drought tolerance but that is not what they are really focusing on," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Washington-based Center for Food Safety.

Freese said conventional breeding had the ability to address climate change and food needs, but funding cuts to public-sector crop breeders had reduced the ability of non-biotech groups to advance crop improvements.

"The facts on the ground clearly show that biotech companies have developed mainly chemical-dependent GM crops that have increased pesticide use, reduced yields and have nothing to do with feeding the world," Freese said. "The world cannot wait for GM crops when so many existing solutions are being neglected."

18 June, 2008

Infant play drives chimpanzee respiratory disease cycles

The signature boom-bust cycling of childhood respiratory diseases was long attributed to environmental cycling. However, the effect of school holidays on rates of social contact amongst children is increasingly seen as another major driver. New research on chimpanzees suggests that this effect of social connectivity on disease cycling may long predate attendance of children at schools, with chimpanzee infant mortality rates cycling in phase with rates of social play amongst infants.

Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the new study examined more than two decades of infant mortality data from two chimpanzee communities in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire. Previous work by the authors, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany, had shown that chimpanzees at the site were killed by respiratory viruses repeatedly introduced from humans. The new study found evidence for mortality cycling at two distinct intervals. On an annual scale, outbreak deaths peaked during the period of high food availability, when chimpanzees are most gregarious. However, infant mortality also cycled on a roughly three year period.

"What is fascinating about this three year cycle is that it appeared to be self-organized," said Hjalmar Kuehl, the lead author on the paper. "That is, the cycles were not forced by some extrinsic environmental cycle but emerged naturally from the demography, developmental ontogeny, and social behavior of chimpanzees." Climate cycles such as those caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation were not good predictors of infant mortality patterns.

The key to the three year cycle was the ontogeny of playfulness in chimpanzee infants. Chimpanzee newborns are not very social but infants become increasingly playful with age, reaching a peak in social play at about two years old. Thus, each cycle started when an outbreak killed a group of infants, thereby synchronizing the reproductive cycles of their mothers. One year later, a large cohort of infants was born which, another two years further on, matured to peak play age. These highly playful infants produced a social bridge between community members who might otherwise engage in little direct interaction: ideal conditions for community-wide propagation of a new outbreak. The study provides a nice link between population dynamics and the behavioral issues traditionally studied by primatologists", said Yasmin Moebius, who did the analysis of play ontogeny.

It also has important implications for the conservation of chimpanzees, which are classed as Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), as well as Critically Endangered gorillas. Ape tourism has been heralded as a means of providing monetary value to governments and local communities. However, close approach to habituated gorillas and chimpanzees by tourists poses a serious disease transmission threat. "Our analyses not only tell us that disease transmission from tourists and researchers is a major problem", said Peter Walsh, another coauthor. "They tell us when the risk is greatest and, consequently, when measures such as vaccination would be most effective."

"We need to be more proactive about taking steps to minimize the disease transmission risk posed by both tourism and research," added Christophe Boesch, a coauthor who initiated the Tai Chimpanzee project in 1979. "We also need to expand our vision to include disease management measures such as vaccination as important parts of the ape conservation puzzle."

San Diego Teacher Wins Top Honor for Excellence in Biotechnology Education

San Diego, CA (June 17, 2008) –The Biotechnology Institute announced that Jay Vavra, a teacher at High Tech High in San Diego, CA, as the recipient of the Genzyme-Invitrogen Biotech Educator Award, the nation’s top award for biotechnology education.

Sponsored by Genzyme Corporation and The Invitrogen Foundation, the award was presented June 16 during the Biotechnology Education Banquet at the Biotechnology Institute’s Conference on Biotechnology Education in San Diego, CA.

Established by the Biotechnology Institute, the national biotechnology education organization, the award recognizes premier high school level educators who provide an array of expertise to help improve the teaching and learning of biotechnology in their classrooms.

“These educators are nominated from among more than one thousand outstanding teachers in our National Biotechnology Teacher-Leader Program,” says Paul A. Hanle, president of the Biotechnology Institute. “The nominees are at the forefront of the Institute’s mission to educate teachers and students about the promise and achievements of biotechnology.”

“Teachers provide the spark of learning that ignites the promise of biotechnology for their students,” stated Michael Wyzga, chief financial officer and executive vice president of finance for Genzyme Corporation. “Through this award, Genzyme is pleased to honor these educators for their important role in translating biotechnology into life-long investigative learning.”

“The Invitrogen Foundation was established to do exactly what these educators do each and every day…inspire students to embrace science. It is an honor to continue our support of the Biotechnology Institute’s Biotech Educator Award for the fourth consecutive year,” said Pete Leddy, senior vice president, human resources for Invitrogen and Institute board member. “These educators have a profound impact on the next generation of scientists. We applaud their innovative approach to teaching and passion for making a difference.”

Ten finalists were identified from a nationwide applicant pool from among more than one thousand educators in the Biotechnology Institute’s National Teacher-Leader Program. Vavra, who received an award of $10,000, was chosen by a panel of judges for his proven leadership and excellence as an educator, his commitment to furthering the teaching of biotechnology by outreach to other educators, and the development of innovative ways to teach biotechnology.

Also honored was the second place winner, Michael Dunn of Capuchino High School in San Bruno, CA. who received $5,000. The third-place winner, Simon Holdaway of The Loomis Chaffee School of Windsor, CT, received $2,500.

The other seven finalists, who received a $1,000 product credit from Invitrogen, were:

  • Jennifer Albanese, Salesianum School, Wilmington, DE
  • Myron Blosser, Eastern Mennonite School, Harrisonburg, VA
  • Peggy Deichstetter, St. Edward High School, Elgin, IL
  • Mario Godoy-Gonzalez, Royal High School, Royal City, WA
  • Cheryl Powers, Cate School, Carpinteria, CA
  • Tamica Stubbs, E.E. Waddell High School, Charlotte, NC
  • John Taylor-Lehman, Tri-Valley High School, Dresden, OH

The Biotechnology Institute’s National Biotechnology Teacher–Leader Program is building a network of thousands of teachers committed to teaching biotechnology to students and serving as a resource for other teachers. Through professional development programs and resources, the Teacher-Leader Program provides educators with the skills and strategies to introduce biotechnology to their students and assist their peers to do the same.

14 June, 2008


Arlington, VA (May 12, 2008) – Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, the San Francisco Bay Area’s second-largest biotechnology employer, and the Biotechnology Institute, the national biotechnology education organization, will launch an intensive program this spring to teach and inspire local young people to consider careers in science and technology. The two-pronged program will focus on students from less advantaged communities. 

“We are taking a two-track approach to addressing critical pressure points, the high school and graduate level, where students must be inspired about science, particularly biotechnology, and its immense potential for solving human health, food and environmental problems,” says Paul A. Hanle, president of the Biotechnology Institute. 

“Bayer shares with the Biotechnology Institute a recognition that the biotechnology industry is a major force for the future—economically, and through improving people’s lives,” noted Joerg Heidrich, Bayer’s senior vice president and global head of biotech product supply. “As an industry leader Bayer is committed to forging new generations of talented, imaginative professionals—and to providing concrete encouragement to all students, especially those traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, to train for jobs in this exciting field.” 

The partnership will establish the “Bayer Minority Fellows Program,” a mentoring program pairing Bayer scientists and executives with ten top-quality graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in life sciences disciplines, particularly those with an interest in research and development and manufacturing. Bayer Minority Fellows will be selected from universities with proximity to Bayer’s West Coast facilities including Washington State, northern California, and San Diego. 

With Bayer experts to guide them, Fellows will explore careers in the biotechnology industry, particularly research and development and biomanufacturing. Fellows will undergo rigorous professional development training in areas such as emerging technologies and industrial entrepreneurship. They will also receive coaching in career-building skills, including interviewing techniques and resume writing. 

The program, modeled after the Institute’s national Minority Fellows Program, will kick off with a two-day training session, to be held May 21-23, 2008, at Bayer’s global biotech headquarters in Berkeley, CA. The initial meeting will be followed with ongoing interactions facilitated over subsequent months in order to strengthen Mentor-Fellow relationships. 

The Bayer/Biotechnology Institute partnership also includes a two-day teacher professional development session on biotechnology for 20 middle and high school teachers from East Bay schools, particularly those in lower-income communities. The session, to be held at Bayer in November, will again tap the expertise of Bayer scientists, who will serve as subject matter experts and mentors. 

The partnership with the Biotechnology Institute is an important addition to Bayer’s portfolio of science education initiatives. On the West Coast Bayer founded the award-winning Biotechnology Partners program in 1992 as a way to train disadvantaged local high school and community college students for careers in the booming industry. Other initiatives include Making Science Make Sense, the company’s national program that brings scientists into public schools for hands-on science training, and programs ranging from elementary school science curriculum development to fellowships for minority graduate and post-doctoral students. 

About the Biotechnology Institute 
The Biotechnology Institute is an independent, national nonprofit organization dedicated to education about the present and future impact of biotechnology. Its mission is to engage, excite and educate the public, particularly students and teachers, about biotechnology and its immense potential for solving human health, food and environmental problems. For more information,

About Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals 
Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals is the U.S.-based pharmaceuticals unit of Bayer HealthCare LLC, a division of Bayer AG. One of the world’s leading, innovative companies in the healthcare and medical products industry, Bayer HealthCare combines the global activities of the Animal Health, Consumer Care, Diabetes Care, and Pharmaceuticals divisions. In the U.S., Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals comprises the following business units: Women’s Healthcare, Diagnostic Imaging, Specialized Therapeutics, Hematology/Cardiology and Oncology. The company’s aim is to discover and manufacture products that will improve human health worldwide by diagnosing, preventing and treating diseases. 



Biotechnology in the United States is a dynaic industry so there are many opportunities for employment. Below are some links to job listings and information about careers in the biotech field.
Adsumo: A Life Sciences Career Website
America's Job Bank
America's Recruiting, Inc. 
American Society of Plant Biologists
American Society for Microbiology
Biocom Workforce

Biotechnology Jobs, Seattle, WA
Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education
Hire Health
NASA Kids Science News Network
Nature Jobs
NIH Careers
Pharmaopportunities Biotech Jobs
Science Jobs
SciWeb Biotechnology Career Center
Tiny Tech Jobs
Under the Microscope: Biotechnology Jobs in California 
Wet Feet

ASCC scores iPS cellsAustralian scientists to study iPS cells from Thomson lab.

Scientists from the Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC) will be the first in Australia to gain access to human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from Professor James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin.

The iPS cells have been imported under an agreement with Thomson, who has developed the human iPS cell lines and was, at the same time as Professor Shinya Yamanaka from the University of Kyoto, the first to describe human iPS cells in November 2007.

Thomson was also the first scientist to identify and describe human embryonic stem cells in the scientific press in 1998 and has been a leader in the field of embryonic stem cell research since.

Both scientists use retroviruses to insert genes into human skin cells to reprogram them. Each uses slightly different genes in the procedure.

The human iPS cells arrived at the ASCC's Melbourne laboratories in late May. Drs Andrew Laslett and Naoki Nakayama, both senior scientists in the human embryonic stem cell laboratory, will be the first at the ASCC to work with them.

"We plan to comprehensively compare the iPS cell lines to existing human embryonic stem cell lines using the first class scientific infrastructure and innovative characterisation and differentiation strategies in place at the Australian Stem Cell Centre," Laslett said.

"These experiments will give us a greater understanding of the relative utility, advantages and potential barriers to the clinical use of iPS cells as compared directly to human embryonic stem cells."

02 June, 2008

Skin colour and skin cancer

The team from Iceland's deCODE Genetics that identified sequence variations influencing hair, eye and skin pigmentation have found two more genetic determinants and two variants that confer an increased risk of melanoma.

The studies were published today in Nature Genetics, along with an Australian study identifying a new melanoma risk locus.

In October last year, deCODE reported novel single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) influencing skin, eye and hair colour in Europeans.

They found that a SNP on chromosome 14 in the SLC24A4 gene is associated with an increased likelihood of blond rather than brown hair, and blue rather than green eyes. Blonde hair is also associated with a variant near the KITLG gene on chromosome 12.

A SNP on chromosome 6 is associated with freckles, as is a SNP in the tyrosinase (TYR) gene.

The team also confirmed previous studies associating red hair, freckles and sun sensitivity with the MC1R gene, and other variants near the OCA2 gene with eye and hair colour.

In the new studies, the team found a variant in the ASIP (encoding agouti signalling protein) gene, which has a well-documented role in pigmentation, which was very similar to those observed in MC1R. They also found two coding variants in TPCN2 that are associated with blond versus brown hair.

Importantly for skin cancer research, the team has found a haplotype near ASIP confers a significant risk of cutaneous melanoma, the highly aggressive cancer that causes the majority of deaths, and a risk of basal cell carcinoma, the more common but less deadly cancer.

A variant on TYR also conferred a risk of cutaneous melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.

In an independent study, Stuart McGregor, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, and colleagues found two SNPs on chromosome 20 conferred a risk of cutaneous melanoma. The SNPs are located in the region of ASIP but the team believes there are several other candidate loci.

deCODE papers: DOI: 10.1038/ng.160 and DOI: 10.1038/ng.161 MacGregor paper: DOI: 10.1038/ng.163

Prototype vaccine for West Nile virus

Brisbane's Replikun Biotech has signed a licence agreement with UniQuest, the University of Queensland's commercialisation arm, to develop a new vaccine technology for West Nile virus.

The technology is based on research by UQ's Associate Professor Alex Khromykh and Dr Roy Hall and involves a developmental vaccine based on a modified form of the Kunjin virus, a benign flavivirus endemic to northern Australia.

The new technology will complement Replikun's core technology platform, Kunjin replicon gene delivery, the company's COO, Dr Lavinia Proctor said.

This technology provides a novel, persistent gene delivery system, which is anticipated to be suitable for immunotherapy, vaccine development and recombinant protein production, she said.

The Kunjin replicon is a self-replicating piece of RNA derived from the RNA genome of the Kunjin virus. It incorporates a vaccine or immunotherapy gene in place of deleted Kunjin virus structural genes.

The company said the removal of the Kunjin virus structural genes ensures that the Kunjin replicon cannot produce infectious particles. The Kunjin replicon retains the non-structural protein genes and several other elements essential for replicon self-replication.

The Kunjin replicon is well tolerated by cells, allowing vaccines to persist. Persistent vaccine antigen expression from the Kunjin replicon, combined with relatively low attendant inflammation, supports the formation and maintenance of protective immune responses, the company said.

Replikun is also developing a cancer immunotherapy candidate and a therapeutic HIV vaccine, both based on the Kunjin delivery system.

Under the agreement, Replikun will be responsible for all further development and commercialisation of the vaccine technology and will pay royalties to UniQuest on sales of licensed products.

West Nile virus has caused more than 1000 deaths in the US since it emerged in 1999 and is a growing problem in Europe. Khromykh and colleagues are also researching whether this type of vaccine could also be used against other flaviviruses such as dengue, tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis viruses.