Thursday, June 28, 2007

MGX Pre-conference meeting

I was off on my way to the MGX pre-conference meeting for all of about a minute before I hit traffic. Here's why. You can't see, but somebody drove their car off of the interstate. I mean, lots of people do that, but this person chose a poor exit route. The median here is something of a ditch. You can't see that, either, but then, traffic was moving by at this point and I was trying to keep from turning the accident scene into what is known in the business as a mass casualty incident. Trying to drive while balancing a camera level on your steering wheel while you try to frame a shot off to the side of the road ain't easy. There is an ambulance and a duty officer here from the company I am a volunteer member of (CRS 75).

This time whilst in the Sunshine State, I stayed at Staybridge Suites on International Drive. Here's the bed in my room. This bed was a little lumpy, but better than the last place I stayed at. But only five pillows? Slackers.

Here's a picture of the vanity. There was a bench under it. I never used it, but there it was. What's in that cabinet in the foreground, you say?

A TV, of course. This TV just had regular TV channels, not that weird TV menu system that is in so many hotels. I really didn't watch any TV. I had some playing in the background while I was trying to fix my Treo. It was a show on the AFI top 100. You can currently find out what films I think belong in the top 100 by going to my profile page. Listening to people gush about Citizen Kane was a bit much, but it is a good movie. No trespassing.

Here's the bath. It worked.

The towels with the popular seashell arrangement for the wash cloths.

A bundle o' towel. Well, and a hair dryer.

The room safe in the closet.

The very blue iron in the closet.

And this is the closet.

So this is what the main room looked like.

And this is more of what it looked like.

And still a little more, and lo, a kitchen.

Here is the kitchen. Among my recent business trips, I think this is the first I've stayed in room with a kitchen. I also bought a new battery charger which I thought wouldn't scare the TSA as much as my old one. I had lots of power to take pictures.

This is the cabinet on top of the refrigerator. It hadn't been cleaned since being installed. But there are a couple things. One, I doubt the maids are as tall as I am, so they probably can't reach it, let alone see it. And two, these rooms were recently renovated. I didn't really care about the particle board shavings that were in the cabinet.

Here's the microwave, under another, cleaner cabinet. The microwave was new and clean.

The cabinet above the stove. It had a toaster in it. I don't usually keep toasters in cabinets.

Another cabinet, this one with dishes and plates.

And sure, they look clean, but they come with a warning. Here's the text of the section of code (61C-3.001[8])it references: "Employee areas -- Employee locker rooms, rest rooms or quarters and their furnishings shall be kept clean and in good condition." Umm.

Yet another cabinet. This one with sugar and spice. And one single coffee filter.

An oddly-shaped cabinet fit for a hotel.

A cabinet with a pot and pan.

Here are the drawers. A lot of cabinets, but only this set of drawers.

OK, the oven wasn't quite as clean as the rest, but I'm sure it is harder to clean.

Florida regulations (61C-3.001[4]) state: "refrigeration equipment shall be kept clean and free from odors and in good repair." This refigerator was certainly compliant.

The dishwasher had water laying in the bottom of it. I'm not sure that's right.

I know you were thinking I was out of cabinents, but no. The only thing this room had more of than cabinets were light switches on the wall. I didn't take pictures of all of those. But I thought about it.

Another TV. In the main room. Among my recent trips for business, I think this was also the first room I stayed in that had more than one TV.

This was the view out of one of my three windows.

The view out the second window.

The kiddie pool.

The view out my third window. The pool was a noisy place until it shut down at 10:00 p.m.

This is a board listing exchange rates. I had about an hour to kill after lunch before I headed to the airport, so I took the I-Ride trolley to some outlet mall.

I took this picture while I was on the trolley. There was a heavy rain that rolled after I decided to make my little trip. So far I am two for two for rain on my trips to the Sunshine State.

This is the sky when I got home to the Dulles Airport. Or closer to home, anyway. For once this was the view to the west instead of to the east.

Another view of the sky. That's a wicked UFO in the picture, huh? It looked more like a plane before my camera got ahold of it.

This is what happened when I tried to take a picture holding my camera. I think it's interesting. I'm not sure why.

I also took a few pictures from Daily Garage 2. Here's a DHL plane.

And here's the UPS plane next to it.

And here are several dimly-lit FedEx planes.

This is a picture of Cargo Road. There is a parking garage shuttle in the picture. Do you see it?

And last, here's a picture of the Dulles terminal itself, all lit up.

Thursday, June 28, 2007 

Category: Jobs, Work, Careers

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Simple switch turns cells embryonic

Nature 447, 618-619 (7 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/447618a; Published online 6 June 2007

Simple switch turns cells embryonic
David Cyranoski


Technique removes need for eggs or embryos.

Research reported this week by three different groups shows that normal skin cells can be reprogrammed to an embryonic state in mice1, 2, 3. The race is now on to apply the surprisingly straightforward procedure to human cells.


The birth of this chimaeric mouse suggests that the cells used to generate it behave like embryonic stem cells.

If researchers succeed, it will make it relatively easy to produce cells that seem indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, and that are genetically matched to individual patients. There are limits to how useful and safe these would be for therapeutic use in the near term, but they should quickly prove a boon in the lab.

"It would change the way we see things quite dramatically," says Alan Trounson of Monash University in Victoria, Australia. Trounson wasn't involved in the new work but says he plans to start using the technique "tomorrow". "I can think of a dozen experiments right now - and they're all good ones," he says.

In theory, embryonic stem cells can propagate themselves indefinitely and are able to become any type of cell in the body. But so far, the only way to obtain embryonic stem cells involves destroying an embryo, and to get a genetic match for a patient would mean, in effect, cloning that person - all of which raise difficult ethical questions.

As well as having potential ethical difficulties, the 'cloning' procedure is technically difficult. It involves obtaining unfertilized eggs, replacing their genetic material with that from an adult cell and then forcing the cell to divide to create an early-stage embryo, from which the stem cells can be harvested. Those barriers may have now been broken down.

"Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I've never worked with either," says Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, who has pioneered the new technique.

Last year, Yamanaka introduced a system that uses mouse fibroblasts, a common cell type that can easily be harvested from skin, instead of eggs4. Four genes, which code for four specific proteins known as transcription factors, are transferred into the cells using retroviruses. The proteins trigger the expression of other genes that lead the cells to become pluripotent, meaning that they could potentially become any of the body's cells. Yamanaka calls them induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). "It's easy. There's no trick, no magic," says Yamanaka.

The results were met with amazement, along with a good dose of scepticism. Four factors seemed too simple. And although the cells had some characteristics of embryonic cells - they formed colonies, could propagate continuously and could form cancerous growths called teratomas - they lacked others. Introduction of iPS cells into a developing embryo, for example, did not produce a 'chimaera' - a mouse carrying a mix of DNA from both the original embryo and the iPS cells throughout its body. "I was not comfortable with the term 'pluripotent' last year," says Hans Schöler, a stem-cell specialist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster who is not involved with any of the three articles.

This week, Yamanaka presents a second generation of iPS cells1, which pass all these tests. In addition, a group led by Rudolf Jaenisch2 at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a collaborative effort3 between Konrad Hochedlinger of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Kathrin Plath of the University of California, Los Angeles, used the same four factors and got strikingly similar results.

"It's a relief as some people questioned our results, especially after the Hwang scandal," says Yamanaka, referring to the irreproducible cloning work of Woo Suk Hwang, which turned out to be fraudulent. Schöler agrees: "Now we can be confident that this is something worth building on."

The improvement over last year's results was simple. The four transcription factors used by Yamanaka reprogramme cells inconsistently and inefficiently, so that less than 0.1% of the million cells in a simple skin biopsy will be fully reprogrammed. The difficulty is isolating those in which reprogramming has been successful. Researchers do this by inserting a gene for antibiotic resistance that is activated only when proteins characteristic of stem cells are expressed. The cells can then be doused with antibiotics, killing off the failures.

The protein Yamanaka used as a marker for stem cells last year was not terribly good at identifying reprogrammed cells. This time, all three groups used two other protein markers - Nanog and Oct4 - to great effect. All three groups were able to produce chimaeric mice using iPS cells isolated in this way; and the mice passed iPS DNA on to their offspring.

Jaenisch also used a special embryo to produce fetuses whose cells were derived entirely from iPS cells. "Only the best embryonic stem cells can do this," he says.

"It's unbelievable, just amazing," says Schöler, who heard Jaenisch present his results at a meeting on 31 May in Bavaria. "For me it's like Dolly [the first cloned mammal]. It's that type of accomplishment."

It's unbelievable, just amazing. It's like Dolly. It's that type of accomplishment.
The method is inviting. Whereas cloning with humans was limited by the number of available eggs and by a tricky technique that takes some six months to master, Yamanaka's method can use the most basic cells and can be accomplished with simple lab techniques.

But applying the method to human cells has yet to be successful. "We are working very hard - day and night," says Yamanaka. It will probably require more transcription factors, he adds.

If it works, researchers could produce iPS cells from patients with conditions such as Parkinson's disease or diabetes and observe the molecular changes in the cells as they develop. This 'disease in a dish' would offer the chance to see how different environmental factors contribute to the condition, and to test the ability of drugs to check disease progression.

But the iPS cells aren't perfect, and could not be used safely to make genetically matched cells for transplant in, for example, spinal-cord injuries. Yamanaka found that one of the factors seems to contribute to cancer in 20% of his chimaeric mice. He thinks this can be fixed, but the retroviruses used may themselves also cause mutations and cancer. "This is really dangerous. We would never transplant these into a patient," says Jaenisch. In his view, research into embryonic stem cells made by cloning remains "absolutely essential".

If the past year is anything to judge by, change will come quickly. "I'm not sure if it will be us, or Jaenisch, or someone else, but I expect some big success with humans in the next year," says Yamanaka.

Additional reporting by Heidi Ledford
For more on alternative stem-cell work, see page 649; and see


Thursday, June 07, 2007 

Category: Life