Cell Biology Celebration

The American Society for Cell Biology 50th Annual MeetingCell biologists, including many of our funded investigators and a few of us from NIGMS, were in a celebratory mood as the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology Exit icon kicked off December 11 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The keynote symposium began with Gary Borisy’s description of the first ASCB meeting, when Hans Ris described his then-heretical finding that chloroplasts contain DNA. For more details about the genesis and early years of the ASCB, check out John Fleishman’s article, A Place of Our Own, in the December 2010 ASCB Newsletter Exit icon.

An exciting addition to this year’s meeting was the science discussion table format. Eminent researchers sat at tables for an hour at the beginning of each poster session and took questions from relative newcomers to the field. I stopped by to say hello to some of the NIGMS-supported investigators in my grant portfolio, but each table was crowded with graduate students and postdocs eager to discuss science and seek advice from their fields’ leaders. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched the scene unfold: I wish that there had been these tables when I was a young scientist, and I hope this format becomes a regular feature of the ASCB meeting.

While science is the major focus of the ASCB meeting, education, mentoring and career development also are important features. A number of education workshops focused on topics such as pedagogy, science literacy and online teaching resources. Women in Cell Biology-sponsored events focused on careers, mentoring and managing life as a scientist. In addition, NIH program and review staff answered questions about the grant process. I was one of them, and my favorite part was talking to postdocs and investigators I know from phone calls and e-mail exchanges.

I saw a number of outstanding talks and posters at the meeting, and to say that there is not enough room here to mention them all is an understatement. I was particularly intrigued by presentations from Ron Vale’s lab at University of California, San Francisco, on the cytoplasmic dynein motor domain at 6 Å resolution and from Tom Schwarz at Harvard Medical School on identifying a role for Parkinson’s disease-associated proteins in the regulation of mitochondrial transport within axons. As someone interested in intracellular transport, both presentations offered answers to long-standing problems in cell biology and provided a launching pad for testing new ideas about how organelles move to specific cellular destinations.

I’m already looking forward to the 2011 meeting in Denver.

Important Application Reminders for January Submissions

NIH has issued a notice with important reminders affecting grant applications submitted on or after January 25.

The NIH policy on page limits means that reviewers need not consider text or materials that have been inappropriately placed in the Appendix or other sections without page limits, particularly when they circumvent page limitations for the Specific Aims and Research Strategy sections. In some instances, NIH may withdraw the application from review or funding consideration. For a reminder of what’s acceptable in the Appendix, see NOT-OD-10-077.

Also, post-submission application materials must adhere to new restrictions on timing and content; see NOT-OD-10-091.

As I previously posted on August 20 and October 8, other application policy changes also on the way for submissions on or after January 25 include:

  1. Elimination of the error correction window from the application process for electronic and paper-based submissions; see NOT-OD-10-123.
  2. Resubmission deadlines of no more than 37 months after the receipt date of the initial application; see NOT-OD-10-140.
  3. New application forms for F, K, T and D series applications, which will apply to all other applications as of May 7, 2011; see NOT-OD-11-007 and NOT-OD-11-008.

Stepping Down as NIGMS Director

This morning, I announced that I will step down as NIGMS Director at the end of June 2011. I had no intention of leaving NIGMS at this point, but am doing so in support of the career of my wife, Wendie, a leading breast imaging clinical researcher. After a change in her situation in May, we have been looking for a suitable position for her to continue her work on testing new methods for breast cancer screening. She has been actively recruited by a number of institutions around the country, and we have particularly explored options in the Baltimore-Washington area.

After considering all known options, we have decided to accept positions at the University of Pittsburgh. She will be starting in the Department of Radiology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in March 2011. I will be waiting until the end of June to move in order to complete some important projects at NIGMS and to allow our youngest child to finish her freshman year of high school. I will be serving as the University of Pittsburgh’s Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Science Strategy and Planning in the Health Sciences and as a faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology.

My time at NIGMS has been one of the highlights of my career. When I joined the Institute more than 7 years ago, I was immediately impressed with the dedication and competence of the staff at all levels. During my tenure, we have been able to recruit a number of outstanding individuals to join this team. So while I am very sad to leave such an outstanding organization, I am confident that it will be in good hands, and I look forward to the new adventures that await me and my family.

Another Look at Measuring the Scientific Output and Impact of NIGMS Grants

In a recent post, I described initial steps toward analyzing the research output of NIGMS R01 and P01 grants. The post stimulated considerable discussion in the scientific community and, most recently, a Nature news article Exit icon.

In my earlier post, I noted two major observations. First, the output (measured by the number of publications from 2007 through mid-2010 that could be linked to all NIH Fiscal Year 2006 grants from a given investigator) did not increase linearly with increased total annual direct cost support, but rather appeared to reach a plateau. Second, there were considerable ranges in output at all levels of funding.

These observations are even more apparent in the new plot below, which removes the binning in displaying the points corresponding to individual investigators.

A plot of the number of grant-linked publications from 2007 to mid-2010 for 2,938 investigators who held at least one NIGMS R01 or P01 grant in Fiscal Year 2006 as a function of the total annual direct cost for those grants. For this data set, the overall correlation coefficient between the number of publications and the total annual direct cost is 0.14.

A plot of the number of grant-linked publications from 2007 to mid-2010 for 2,938 investigators who held at least one NIGMS R01 or P01 grant in Fiscal Year 2006 as a function of the total annual direct cost for those grants. For this data set, the overall correlation coefficient between the number of publications and the total annual direct cost is 0.14.

The 10th Anniversary of ABRCMS: Preparing Underrepresented Minority Students for Scientific Careers

The 10th Anniversary of ABRCMS: Preparing Underrepresented Minority Students for Scientific Careers

Last week, I had the privilege of giving a keynote address at the 10th Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) Exit icon in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference, sponsored by NIGMS and organized by NIGMS Council member Cliff Houston, had a record attendance of 3,100, including more than 2,000 students and about 20 NIGMS staff members.

The meeting contributes in two major ways to the goal of a scientific workforce that reflects the diversity of the U.S. population. It provides a forum for promising scientists from underrepresented groups to showcase their talent and knowledge and make important training and career connections. It also gives faculty mentors valuable resources for facilitating their students’ success.

My address was organized around the themes from Randy Pausch’s lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams Exit icon,” and it described key events and strategies that facilitated my own path to a career in science. I greatly enjoyed discussing science and career opportunities with many of the students at the poster session and after my talk.

Other keynote speakers at this impressive conference included Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Maya Angelou, NIH Director Francis Collins and NIGMS grantee Carolyn Bertozzi.

Jilliene Mitchell, who staffed the NIGMS exhibit booth and talked to a lot of attendees, writes:

The energy level among the meeting attendees soared through the roof of the Charlotte Convention Center. The undergraduate and graduate students were tremendously enthusiastic about networking, presenting their research, listening to scientific talks and getting advice about their career paths from accomplished scientists. The NIGMS exhibit booth received a lot of traffic, with students lined up to talk about training opportunities and faculty members lined up to discuss their grants.

Throughout the conference, I encountered many students who thanked NIGMS for sponsoring ABRCMS. One postdoc summed it up best when she said, “This is the best career development workshop I’ve been to—it’s huge!”

These video clips I took capture the mood and excitement.

The announcement for next year’s ABRCMS meeting is expected soon, and we will post information here when it is available.

Assessing the Outcomes of NIGMS Glue Grants

NIGMS Glue Grants Outcomes Assessment, November 4-December 15In September 2009, we announced that we were not reissuing the funding opportunity announcement for our Large-Scale Collaborative Project Awards (Glue Grant) program, which has supported research teams tackling significant and complex problems that are beyond the means of any one research group. We are currently assessing the need for this type of support and how best to manage programs of such scope and magnitude.

As part of this effort, we are conducting an assessment of the glue grant program’s major outcomes and their impact. We’re seeking your views through voluntary input forms posted on the NIGMS Web site. The forms will ask about various aspects of the glue grant program as a whole and about specific glue grant projects, including:

You can read more about the assessment and view the forms at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Initiatives/Collaborative/GlueGrants/OutcomeAssessment. The site will be open for input until December 15, 2010.

UPDATE: We have extended the comment period from December 15 to January 15.

National Festival Put Science in the Spotlight

Supermodels of ScienceMany kids (and adults) learned more about science and technology at the 2-week-long USA Science & Engineering Festival Exit icon this month in Washington, D.C. The event featured hundreds of activities, including performances, workshops, demonstrations, tours of mobile labs and interactive games. A number of these were hosted by NIH, which was also one of the event sponsors, and most of its components. The festival wrapped up last weekend with a grand finale expo on the National Mall.

On Sunday, I helped host the NIGMS booth, where we presented a computer activity called “Supermodels of Science.” It showed how model organisms—from slimy worms to furry mice—help scientists learn more about human health. The kids were most excited about responding to the quiz questions at the end of each segment. They also were very interested in how scientists use GFP to make organisms glow different colors.

Other NIH activities included a musical performance by NIH Director Francis Collins; the National Human Genome Research Institute’s “Strawberry DNA Extraction,” a hands-on lab experiment where visitors used a soapy mixture to remove DNA from mashed strawberries; and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders’ “It’s a Noisy Planet,” where staff increased the volume on an iPod to demonstrate dangerous noise levels.

The festival’s turnout was excellent—about 500,000 people attended the weekend event. The kids were excited about science and eager to learn, and the volunteer staff members were thrilled to teach them about the research we support.

We’ll post the “Supermodels of Science” activity on the NIGMS Web site soon, and you’re welcome to use it in your own educational outreach efforts.

Nation’s Top Science Honor to Benkovic, Lindquist, Others

Last week, President Obama announced the 2010 recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Exit icon. The 10 winners of the National Medal of Science include long-time NIGMS grantees Steve Benkovic from Pennsylvania State University and Susan Lindquist from the Whitehead Institute, MIT. As always, I am pleased when our grantees are among the outstanding scientists and innovators recognized by the President in this significant way.

Changes in NIH Application Policies

Here are several new NIH Guide notices regarding applications:

New Time Limit for NIH Resubmission Applications
Revised applications must be submitted no later than 37 months after submission of the preceding version. In most cases, the clock will start at the original receipt date. For special cases, please refer to NOT-OD-10-140.

NIH to Require Use of Updated Electronic Application Forms in 2011
Submissions for deadlines after May 7, 2011, must use an updated forms package (ADOBE-FORMS-B1). For deadlines before then, applicants may use either the new forms package or the current one, ADOBE-FORMS-B. There are some exceptions: K, T, D or F series applications submitted for deadlines on or after January 25, 2011, must use the new forms package. For more information, see NOT-OD-11-008 and NOT-OD-11-007.

Nobel News

Purdue University Nobel Prize for Chemistry News Conference

(Download the free Windows Media Player Exit icon to view)

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today that long-time NIGMS grantee Ei-ichi Negishi from Purdue University will share the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Richard Heck from the University of Delaware and Akiri Suzuki from Hokkaido University in Japan for “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” All of us at NIGMS congratulate them on this outstanding recognition of their accomplishments.

Carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions are the cornerstone of organic synthesis, and the reactions developed by these Nobelists are widely used to produce a range of substances, from medicines and other biologically active compounds to plastics and electronic components. NIGMS supports a substantial portfolio of grants directed toward the development of new synthetic methods precisely because of the large impact these methods can have.

I have personal experience with similar methods. I am a synthetic inorganic chemist by training, and a key step during my Ph.D. training was getting a carbon-carbon bond-forming reaction to work (using a reaction not directly related to today’s Nobel Prize announcement). I spent many months trying various reaction schemes, and my eventual success was really the “transition state” for my Ph.D. thesis: Within a month of getting this reaction to work, it was clear that I would be Dr. Berg sooner rather than later!

I’d also like to note that this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine to Robert Edwards “for the development of in vitro fertilization” also appears to have an NIGMS connection. Roger Donahue sent me a paper he coauthored with Edwards, Theodore Baramki and Howard Jones titled “Preliminary attempts to fertilize human oocytes matured in vitro.” This paper stemmed from a short fellowship that Edwards did at Johns Hopkins in 1964. Referencing the paper in an account of the development of IVF, Jones notes that, “No fertilization was claimed but, in retrospect looking at some of the photographs published in that journal (referring to the paper above), it is indeed likely that human fertilization was achieved at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the summer of 1964.” The paper cites NIGMS support for this work through grants to Victor McKusick.

In all, NIGMS has supported the prizewinning work of 74 grantees, 36 of whom are Nobel laureates in chemistry.