I ended part 2 Monday night. It was an exciting day with many excellent talks, but the best talk (mine, of course!) was due the next day.
Tuesday started with the seminar on engineering cells and tissues. There was the mandatory CRISPR talk as the great new thing in bio-engineering these days. Jennifer Doudna talked about the discovery, then went on to discuss new experiments (using Halo-tag to track Cas9 in live cell nuclei to study movement & binding kinetics) and improved technologies (transfect cells with pre-assembled Cas9-gRNA for quick editing & less off-target cleavage).
Angela Belcher is using phage display libraries to select for proteins that can do new things outside of normal biology: to build batteries, to create solar panels and other non-biological materials. She also uses them to label tumor cells to improve detection of even tiny tumors for removal by surgeons.
The last talk by Kristi Anseth discussed tissue engineering by the use of hydrogels as synthetic scaffolds. I admit that I kind of got lost after a few minutes and didn’t follow the talk to its end.
I browsed some of the exhibitors and then went to an excellent talk by Andrew Moore, editor-in-chief of BioEssays (Wiley publishing). The title of the talk was “Want people to read your paper? Here’s how to optimize your chances…” which is based in part on an editorial he wrote several years ago. I live-twitted the talk, so I’ll try to collect my tweets to a coherent list of tips:
The major goal of publishing is communicating your ideas/data.
Know your audience: who are the people that will read your paper?
- The editor (academic or professional?)
- The reviewers
- The general community (experts, non-experts)
Take into account changes in the reading experience. Reading on-line is very different that reading on paper:
- Reading on-screen is less deep that when reading on paper
- Reading on-screen produces less long term memory of what you read
- As consequence, there is less recall of facts.
Therefore, make the paper easier to read, understand and assimilate:
- Use short sentences.
- Write a clear concise message as statement or question.
- Don’t confuse principle and details: state your message as a principle, leave the details for the results section.
Don’t bother with pre-submission inquiries for original data papers. But if you provide re-analysis of existing data, or write a review paper, then it is recommended to send a pre-submission inquiry.
Some basic rules for titles:
- Keep it short
- Keep it interesting
- Use punctuation to separate parts of the title (colon, semi-colon, exclamation mark, question mark)
- Technical complicated titles restrict the audience – less attractive to non-experts.
- Think how people find your article in search engines (>60% through google):
- Make sure keywords are within the first 40-50 characters that are visible in the search results page.
- Use the same keywords in title, abstract, text; think of search engine optimization (SEO).
- Remember that you can change your title throughout the evaluation process: fit the title to the editor, reviewers, audience at different steps.
Some suggestions for abstracts:
- Contrary to common belief, put your most exciting finding/question already at the first sentence as well as at the last sentence. The middle text is the part most people will skip or won’t remember.
- Try not to use too much technical terms, put too many details
- Again, use the same keywords in all parts of the paper.
Suggestions for the text:
- Use headings, sub-headings (same rules as for the article title)
- Put information in “chunks”, stating the key findings as a statement, and then detailing the data.
Moore wrote other editorials in BioEssays concerning scientific writing and the peer-review process.
After a very salty lunch, came my time to shine – I was up for the 5min talk and ePoster presentation in microsymposium 16: cell biology of genetic information. I felt that my talk was ok, I ended it almost on time, and had 4-5 people come to my ePoster later.
There was one very interesting talk in my session, about extremely long-lived proteins in non-dividing cells (up to weeks and months!). That was surprising (to me).
The last thing I did at the meeting was the image-analysis for quantitative microscopy hands-on workshop by Anne Carpenter & Mark Bray. Although I have heard about Cellprofiler before, I never attempted to use it, because all of my image analysis was centered around FISH, using FISHquant. But I do have a few experiments in which CellProfiler will be useful and I intend to try it. It was a good workshop, though we ran out of time before we could really finish the analysis. I think they spent too much time on the introductory lecture (1hr) which was really aimed at people with almost no prior background.
I hope that after I use CellProfilr, I’ll have the time to write a postblog about my experience.
I skipped the last day of the meeting, since I wanted to rest, and I had a train to catch at noon.
Last, I would like to list some of the exhibitors that caught my attention.
One world lab – they offer 50$ test-size antibodies from original manufacturers only (so there’s no redundancy when you order from different companies the same antibody relabeled).
Aviva systems biology– Among other things, they test antibodies for you for Western blotting to find the right Ab and the right conditions for your samples, before you purchase and antibody
Cell-Ess – offer completely synthetic, serum-free cell-culture media. Its supposed to be chemically defined (no variation between Lot of serum), no unknown hormones/proteins and supposed to be safer (no viruses, prions, endotoxins etc…). The problem is – it is expensive.
They also offer a serum-free, DMSO-free freezing media which they claim allows for greater survival rate after thawing. This I’d like to test, but again – not cheap.
Minipcr – because it’s cool. You can control it from your phone, take it to the field, can even power it with solar panel.
Zephyrus biosciences– a system for single cell Western analysis. This is something that would have been very useful to me, but according to the exhibitor at ASCB, the detection threshold is ~20,000 protein molecules/cell, and I don’t think I get to these numbers in my system. The technology is based on this paper at Nature methods.
On-Chip biotechnologies– a novel flow cytometry system using microfluidic. One of the advantages is that it works on low pressure, so the sorting may take a longer time but better preserves the cells.
Also, since it uses sterile disposables, there’s no need for extensive pre-sterilization steps as in regular FACS machines. It’s also a very small machine that fits comfortably into a bio-safety cabinet. I showed it to the stuff at our flow cytometry unit. I really hope they’ll purchase it.
Bio-protocol – is a rather new e-journal. Their mission is “to make life science research more efficient and reproducible by curating and hosting high quality, open access, life science protocols.”
To summarize, this was a very interesting, productive, yet exhausting meeting. Travel time was too long for me, and it exhausted all of my yearly allocated travel funds (for postdocs). But I will definitely try to attend in years to come, particularly if it’s in a closer, cheaper venue.
Although, hopefully, next time I attend will be as a PI, not as a postdoc…
Moore, A. (2010). What’s in a title? A two-step approach to optimisation for man and machine BioEssays, 32 (3), 183-184 DOI: 10.1002/bies.201090009
Hughes AJ, Spelke DP, Xu Z, Kang CC, Schaffer DV, & Herr AE (2014). Single-cell western blotting. Nature methods, 11 (7), 749-55 PMID: 24880876