His presentation, “Common Errors that Bedevil Biomedical Research and How to Fix Them,” will take place from 4:10 to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the lecture.
“Richard Harris has written a very important and unsettling book based on his careful investigation of the biomedical research enterprise. We can expect an intriguing and thought provoking lecture,” said Mark Winey, distinguished professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and dean of the College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis, who is hosting the journalist.
American taxpayers spend $30 billion annually funding biomedical research. “We all rely on biomedical research for new treatments and cures,” Harris says. “But this critical enterprise is not in the best of health itself. Most experimental treatments fail. One reason is that the underlying research does not hold up to scrutiny. Scientists find that far too often that they are unable to repeat experiments that other researchers have carried out.”
By some estimates, half of the results from these studies can't be replicated elsewhere—the science is simply wrong, Harris asserts. (See NPR)
The award-winning science journalist has covered science, medicine and the environment for NPR Radio since 1986. He took a year-long sabbatical to explore the issues facing biomedical research. Rigor Mortis, published in April 2017 by Basic Books, is his first book.
Harris, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, holds a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz, graduating with highest honors and serving as a commencement speaker. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Livermore (Calif.) Tri-Valley Herald, discovering that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was working on a new generation of nuclear weapons—ones that use nuclear explosives to generate energy beams. Scientists at the time, he wrote, contemplated using the weapons in space to shoot down incoming missiles.
He later joined the San Francisco Examiner as a science writer. He is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and the Northern California Science Writers' Association, and co-founded the DC Science Writers Association.
His work covers everything from oil spills to the hazards of smoking to climate change. In 2010, he revealed the U.S. Government was vastly underestimating the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. He shared a Peabody award with colleague Rebecca Perl for their 1994 reports about the tobacco industry's secret documents, which showed that company scientists were well aware of the hazards of smoking.
He has also reported on climate change, traveling from the South Pole and the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic Ocean. The American Geophysical Union awarded him with a Presidential Citation for Science and Society.
In 2014, he turned his attention back to biomedical research and took a year-long sabbatical at Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes to research and write Rigor Mortis.
The Tracy and Ruth Storer Lectureship in the Life Sciences, established in 1960, is the considered the most prestigious of the endowed seminars at UC Davis. The lectureship is funded through a gift from Professor Tracy I. Storer and Dr. Ruth Risdon Storer to bring eminent biologists to the UC Davis campus.
Past Storer Lectures have included Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Science and acclaimed authors in the life sciences and medicine.
(Editor's Note: Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the Storer Lectureships in Life Sciences for the academic year. She may be reached at email@example.com)
The Vosshall laboratory studies the molecular neurobiology of mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes require a blood meal to complete egg development, she explains. "In carrying out this innate behavior, mosquitoes spread dangerous infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, Chikungunya and yellow fever."
She further explains: "Humans attract mosquitoes via multiple sensory cues including emitted body odor, heat, and carbon dioxide in the breath. The mosquito perceives differences in these cues, both between and within species, to determine which animal or human to target for blood-feeding. We have developed CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing in the Aedes aegypti mosquito with the goal of understand how sensory cues are integrated by the female mosquito to lead to host-seeking behavior."
"Some of the questions we are currently addressing are: Why are some people more attractive to mosquitoes than others? How do insect repellents work? How are multiple sensory cues integrated in the mosquito brain to elicit innate behaviors? How do female mosquitoes select a suitable body of water to lay their eggs? The long-term goal of all of our work is to understand how behaviors emerge from the integration of sensory input with internal physiological states."
The seminar, open to all interested persons, is sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences and the Storer Life Sciences Endowment. Host is molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
At the Rockefeller University, Vosshall is the Robin Chemers Neustein Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior and director of the Kavli Neural Systems Institute. She is known for her work on the genetic basis of chemosensory behavior in both insects and humans.
Her notable contributions to science include the discovery of insect odorant receptors, and the clarification of general principles regarding their function, expression and the connectivity of the sensory neurons that express them to primary processing centers in the brain. She founded the Rockefeller University Smell Study in 2004 with the goal of understanding the mechanisms by which odor stimuli are converted to olfatory percepts.
Vosshall received her bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Columbia University, New York, in 1987 and her doctorate from Rockefeller University in 1993. Following postdoctoral work at Columbia University, she joined the Rockefeller faculty in 2000.
She is the recipient of the 2008 Lawrence C. Katz Prize from Duke University, the 2010 DART/NYU Biotechnology Award, and the 2011 Gill Young Investigator Award. She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more information on the seminar, contact host Joanna Chiu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is one of the best in the world, according to information released today (April 3) by the Times Higher Education's Center for World University Rankings.
The rankings show UC Davis as No. 7 in the world, scoring 89.88 of a possible 100. Of the top 10, two are in California. UC Riverside is ranked as No. 2. The list:
- University of Florida, 100 score
- University of California, Riverside, 95.23
- Cornell University, 91.95
- Kansas State University, 91.29
- North Carolina State University, 90.88
- Michigan State University, 90.74
- University of California, Davis, 89.88
- University of Georgia, 88.98
- Nanjing Agricultural University, China, 86.74
- University of São Paulo, Brazil, 86.74
Performance indicators are grouped into five areas: Teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff students and research) and industry outcome (knowledge transfer).
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is led by chair Steve Nadler and vice chair Joanna Chiu.
According to the website:
"The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016 list the best global universities and are the only international university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook."
"The top universities rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments. This year's ranking includes 800 universities from 70 different countries, compared with the 400 universities from 41 countries in last year's table. View the World University Rankings methodology here."
Overall, UC Davis scored No. 1 in the world in the subject, agricultural economics and policy, with a 100 score.
UC Davis rankings by subject:
- Agriculture, Multidisciplinary, No. 3
- Agronomy, No. 7
- Behavioral Sciences, No. 7
- Biodiversity Conservation, No. 3
- Biology, No. 10
- Chemistry, Applied, No. 9
- Ecology, No. 3
- Entomology, No. 7
- Environmental Sciences, No. 7
- Evolutionary Biology, No. 10
- Horticulture, No. 2
- Nutrition and Dietetics, No. 7
- Plant Sciences, No. 3
- Soil Science, No. 6
- Toxicology, No. 3
- Veterinary Sciences, No. 3
- Zoology, No. 5
Professor Jared Shaw of the UC Davis Division of Math and Physical Science is hosting the informal session. Free and open to all interested persons, it is sponsored by the Capital Science Communicators and the UC Davis Department of Chemistry. Science Café events take place in casual settings and aim to feature an engaging conversation with a scientist about a particular topic.
Chiu, an associate professor who specializes in molecular genetics of animal behavior, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in June 2010. She received her doctorate in molecular genetics from the Department of Biology at New York University.
"All living things on our planet, from bacteria to humans, organize their daily activities around the perpetuating 24-hour day-night cycles, the result of earth rotating on its own axis and orbiting around the sun," Chiu says. "In order for organisms to anticipate predictable variations in their environment that naturally occurs over the 24-hour cycle and coordinate their physiology and behavior to perform at their best, they rely on an internal biological clock. At the science cafe presentation, I will discuss how this internal clock, termed the circadian clock, affects many important aspects of our lives, including the timing of when we feel tired and want to go to bed, the time-of-day our immune systems are most susceptible to pathogen attack, and even when medicines should be taken to give you 'the most bang for your buck.'" In addition, I will discuss the consequences of when the circadian clock is 'broken' or 'off-kilter' because of diseases, work-schedule, jetlag, and light pollution."
Chiu will be featured on Capital Public Radio's "Insight with Beth Ruyak" from 9 to 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 7. See http://www.capradio.org/insight)
Undergraduate student Jessica West, Ph.D. candidate Rosanna Kwok, and research specialist Katherine “Katie” Murphy all excel in STEM, an acronym that stands for the academic disciplines of “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
“Undergraduates who learn cutting-edge research skills in laboratories like Dr. Chiu's set themselves apart from students who only pursue coursework for their degree,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “Undergraduate research opportunities are what turn science students into young scientists.”
Early in their undergraduate studies, West and Murphy were accepted into the UC Davis Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, a vigorous, multi-discipline, research and mentoring program administered by UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members Jay Rosenheim, Louie Yang and Chiu.
"Including this year, over the first six years that the program has operated, we have admitted 58 students, 36 of which (62%) are women," said Research Scholars Program co-administrator and professor Jay Rosenheim.
"It is asking a lot of freshmen and sophomores to jump into an intensive research experience when they are already challenged by their academic course load," Rosenheim said. "But we've been very gratified with the accomplishments of the students and their demonstrated abilities to develop the skills needed to conduct independent research. Strong effort by the students and close mentorship by campus faculty seem to be key ingredients in student success.”
West, who will receive her bachelor's degree in bochemistry and molecular biology June 12, is the recipient of the 2016 College of Biological Sciences Medal—only one is awarded each year. She also won an “Outstanding Citation for Research Performance.” Although not yet in graduate school, West has already published two peer-reviewed articles. In November 2015, she received the President's runner-up prize at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Minneapolis for her talk on the seasonal biology of the spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii. This fall she will enroll in the Ph.D. program in biochemistry at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. “Over her undergraduate graduate career, Jessica has compiled an impressive list of awards and prizes,” said Chiu, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Kwok, scheduled to graduate from UC Davis in the fall of 2016 with a Ph.D. degree in entomology, has already published six peer-reviewed papers, including one in PLOS Genetics, and has three more in preparation. As part of her requirement for her 2014-16 NIH fellowship, she will leave the Chiu lab in June 2016 to start an internship at OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Redwood City, CA. The internship is her last requirement before graduation from the Entomology Graduate Group.
Like West, Kwok received a President's runner-up prize (2013 ESA meeting) for her presentation on the chronotoxicity of spotted wing drosophila, working with Chiu and Professor Frank Zalom, integrated pest management specialist in the department. “I believe Rosanna will have a very successful career in the biotech industry,” Chiu said.
Murphy, who was accepted into the inaugural class for the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, began working in the Chiu lab her sophomore year. When she graduated from UC Davis in 2014 with a bachelor of science degree in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior, she received an “Outstanding Citation for Research Performance.” After graduation, she opted to stay in the Chiu lab to gain more research experience. “Over her career in my lab--from undergraduate research to two years of technician-- Katie has already published four peer-reviewed papers, has one currently in review, and two in preparation,” Chiu said. She is also an author on a provisional patent application for a biopesticide that the Chiu lab developed to target insect pests.
The three young women followed a similar path to get where they are today and strongly encourage others to pursue STEM careers.
Jessica West, who grew up in the Redding area of Northern California, spent her childhood in the small town of Shasta Lake before enrolling at UC Davis.
“I first became interested in science in high school, particularly when I took Advance Placement (AP) Biology,” West recalled. “ I was very curious and always asked a lot of questions in school. What excites me the most is that now I can ask questions that don't yet have answers, and through my research I can work to actually answer them.”
West, who will start her PhD program in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology at Cornell in the fall, says her career goal “ is to teach and conduct research at the university level.”
“I think it's important to start getting girls involved in science at a young age,” West said. “Often young girls are not encouraged to pursue their interests in STEM subjects, but I think that the culture is changing. There are programs like Girls Who Code that seek to get more girls involved in STEM fields that are traditionally male-dominated. If young girls can see that other women like them can succeed in STEM fields, they are more likely to see their goals as attainable.”
Rosanna Kwok grew up in Las Vegas, Nev. –“Yes, people actually live there,” she quipped. “I have always been interested in having a career in science,” she recalled, “and it just took a bit of exploration before I found myself studying the circadian clock under the mentorship of Joanna. The most exciting and motivating thing about being a scientist is knowing that I have the resources to answer the ‘how' and ‘why' questions regarding biological phenomenon.
Her career plan is “to contribute my background and skills to the field of precision therapeutics. It is hard to predict where I will be in a few years, but my goal is to be in an environment where I am constantly challenged and growing as a scientist.”
How to get more young women and girls interested in science? “Thankfully, I do believe that there is a much greater representation of women in sciences than there has in the past,” Kwok said. “With that said, I really believe in the importance of establishing mentoring relationships when it comes to retaining the amount of women in science. I have definitely benefitted from having strong female mentors throughout my scientific career. Many girls are discouraged starting from pursuing their curiosities, or from pursuing certain career paths, and sometimes it takes a more established person in that field to tell them to just go for it, and not apologize for wanting something different than what's expected of them.”
“I believe that in order to get more people in general interested in science, there needs to be more communication between scientists and people who are not in STEM fields,” Kwok said. “Not only will this show that large scientific achievements can be made by real people, it will also help prevent the misconceptions and distrust in science that we sometimes see."
Katherine “Katie” Murphy
Katie Murphy spent her childhood in a small rural town in Lake County, Northern California. “ I grew up on a pear farm, which exposed me to the staggering amount of fruit that goes to waste if the appearance of the fruit is not perfect enough for the grocery store,” she related. “I believe we have a duty as a society to be less wasteful, and therefore I feel inspired to find ways to turn waste into useful materials."
“I discovered my interest in science as a career through a student research position in Dr. Joanna Chiu's lab at UC Davis,” Murphy said. “I believe the greatest challenges that face the world today, such as world hunger, global warming, and the energy crisis, can only be met through technological advancement. I am excited for the opportunity to develop new technologies that use cutting edge science to make the world a better place.”
As an undergraduate research assistant, she was awarded a UC President's Undergraduate Research Fellowship for the summer/fall of 2012 for her project, “Transgenic Yeast as an Organic Pesticide.” She explored the use of RNAi technology in combating the invasive pest, the spotted-wing drosphila, Drosophila suzukii.
Murphy's career plans? “I am pursuing a career in metabolic engineering,” she said. “The technology I hope to develop uses microbes to produce fuels and chemicals from ‘leftovers' such as agricultural waste and non-edible plant materials. This technology will reduce dependency on fossil fuels and provide sustainable energy alternatives."
When asked how society can engage more young women and girls in science, she commented “I think children and adolescents of both genders can benefit from greater exposure to STEM fields. In the media, scientists are often represented as evil, mad, or even downright uncool on TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory. What about a TV show where scientists and engineers are portrayed as heroes?”
The Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, established in 2011, aims to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. This could result in career goals that will take them to medical school, veterinary school or graduate program sin any biological sub-discipline, the administrators said. Because insects can be used as model systems to explore virtually any area of biology (population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; cell biology), faculty in the program can provide research opportunities across the full sweep of biology. More information on the program is at http://ucanr.edu/sites/insectscholars/