Linkage 5/6: Shubin Honors, The Life Cycle of Drugs, & Bin Laden’s DNA

shubin-tiktaalikMore Honors for Shubin

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed an order creating the National Academy of Sciences, an organization bringing together the country’s most esteemed scientists to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art.” From the original 50 members, the group has blossomed to 2,100 today, with roughly 200 of those Nobel Laureates. Any club with a 10 percent Nobel ratio is pretty exclusive, so being elected to the Academy’s lifetime membership is a thrilling honor for a scientist.

This week, evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin was the latest UChicago scientist given the honor of NAS membership, part of this year’s class of 72 new members and 18 “foreign associates.” Shubin becomes the 40th current member of the NAS located at the University of Chicago, and joins Medical Center faculty such as Janet Rowley, Martin Weigert, Donald Steiner, Bernard Roizman, Robert Haselkorn, and David Jablonski, who was elected last year (Fermilab director and professor of physics Pier Oddone was also elected in this year’s class). Election is no simple matter – each new member must pass a 10-step process [pdf] and be voted in to the academy by their potential peers.

Shubin is most famous for the discovery of the pivotal fossil named Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional species between ancient fish and the first limbed creatures to walk the land. But Shubin’s research is more than just fossil-hunting, as he studies the genetic programs that control development of limbs in the embryos of species such as sharks and salamanders. On the blog, we recently featured a paper by Shubin and former graduate student Andrew Gillis, where the embryos of strange creatures called holocephalons revealed some of the earliest steps in limb evolution.

In all likelihood, Shubin’s election was helped by his scientific communication skills as well. From his book about the discovery of Tiktaalik and the story of human evolution, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Through the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, to his appearances as a correspondent on WTTW, to his anatomy teaching duties at Pritzker Medical School, Shubin has proven himself eager to educate the public at large about science. Appropriately enough, a second honor announced for Shubin this week was the Distinguished Service Award for Enhancing Education through Biological Research from the National Association of Biology Teachers. Once again, he finds himself in good company, as previous recipients include James Watson, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins.

“I am deeply honored to receive the NABT Distinguished Service Award. In an age where the ideas and tools of biology are increasingly playing a role in our lives, it is a deep honor to be recognized by those who are at the front lines of educating the next generation,” Shubin said.

The Science of Killing Bin Laden

A news story as big as the killing of Osama Bin Laden spares no beats, and there were plenty of science stories written this week in the aftermath of Sunday night’s surprise news. The most direct scientific angle was in the identification of the terrorist leader’s body, a step U.S. officials wanted to prove beyond a doubt before going public with the news. Like many of the events surrounding the raid, many of the details remain classified. But that hasn’t stopped science writers from writing explainers on how biometrics and DNA matching likely would have been used to make sure the Navy SEALS really had killed Bin Laden. President Obama himself confirmed that DNA testing was used to confirm they had the right body, but one fascinating mystery is where the DNA used to make the comparison was gathered. Nature blog The Great Beyond describes the candidates – from Bin Laden’s half-brothers and half-sister to one of his purported 26 children – and talks a bit about the recent history of using DNA identification techniques in criminal matters, including one crook busted by DNA he left on a slice of pizza.


The creation of new drugs, and the death of old drugs – Medical Center researchers commented on both sides of the pharmaceutical life cycle in newspaper stories this week. In the New York Times blog Fixes, reporter David Bornstein looks at the “valley of death” in developing new drugs for less-than-common diseases, and focused on the Myelin Repair Foundation and researchers such as Brian Popko (who we have featured twice). Then yesterday, the Chicago Tribune’s Bruce Japsen wrote about the upcoming patent expirations on the popular drugs Plavix, Lipitor, and Actos, and talks to our Caleb Alexander about the implications for health care.

How do you make a new species in the lab? It’s easier if you find a lizard species that is entirely female and can reproduce by cloning. Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science describes genome mash-ups, asexual reproduction, and the trickiness of species-naming in this great post.

A retired nurse and research coordinator at the Medical Center talks with Dawn Turner Trice about her experiences working with a small rural clinic in Ghana.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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