Research institutions

The 2008 class of new Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators was announced last week. The list includes a number of colleagues and personal friends, and I’m proud of all of them; I’ll resist the temptation to give a shout-out to my homies, however, and stick to this site’s mission:

Among the awardees is Andrew Dillin of the Salk Institute. Dillin studies the molecular biology of aging in the worm C. elegans. We discuss his lab’s work often enough at Ouroboros that he basically deserves his own category. Andy is one of the very few full-time biogerontologists to receive the honor of being named an HHMI investigator, if not the only one (if I’m overlooking someone, please correct me in the Comments). So it’s a big day for the field as well.

Congratulations, Andy and the Dillin lab!


Given the significance of the humble worm to the field of biogerontology, I thought I’d remind everyone that the application deadline for the worm course at Cold Spring Harbor is tomorrow. If you’ve got $3500 burning a hole in your pocket and want to learn about this system, run (don’t walk) to your nearest internet-capable appliance and register.

Here is the web page; here are the details:

August 9 – 24
Application Deadline: March 15, 2008

Shawn Ahmed, University of North Carolina
Arshad Desai, University of California San Diego
Mei Zhen, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Canada

This course is designed to familiarize investigators with C. elegans as an experimental system, with an emphasis on both classical genetic analysis and reverse genetic approaches. A major goal is to teach students how to successfully exploit the information generated by the C. elegans genome project. The course is suited both for those who have a current training in molecular biology and some knowledge of genetics, but have no experience with C. elegans, as well as students with some prior worm experience who wished to expand their repertoire of expertise. The following topics will be covered both in the laboratory and by lectures from experts in the field: worm pushing, C. elegans databases and worm bioinformatics, anatomy and development, forward genetics, chemical and transposon mutagenesis, generation of transgenic animals, expression pattern analysis, reverse genetics, construction and screening of deletion libraries, and RNA inactivation. The course is designed to impart sufficient training to students in the most important attributes of the C. elegans system to enable students to embark on their own research projects after returning to their home institutions.

I saw this up at SharpBrains and thought there might be some likely candidates among our readers as well:

Research Assistant – San Francisco

Sonia Arrison, a futurist and technology policy analyst, is seeking a part-time research assistant to help with collecting and organizing data on a broad range of subject areas relating to the politics of human longevity. The qualified candidate will be tech-savvy and must be able to search a wide variety of journals and other sources for both social and scientific information. The assistant must also be comfortable dealing with statistical data and is ideally interested in the prospect of radical life extension. This independent and self-motivated person will be available 15-20 hours a week.

Compensation depends on experience. Resumes should be sent to:

As I alluded last week, the Buck Institute for Age Research will be featured tomorrow on KQED’s morning talk show, Forum. The program starts at 9 AM PST; I’ve just learned that the show will be broadcasting live from the Buck itself.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can tune in at 88.5 FM. For the rest of the world, there is live streaming audio here and an audio archive here.

Note that Forum is a call-in show, and it might be nice to have some actual biogerontologists phone in a few good questions. I’m just sayin’.

On a personal note, my baymates and I are tickled pink because our beloved postdoctoral advisor, Judy Campisi, will be among the interviewees.

There’s a nice writeup of the Buck Institute for Age Research in the most recent issue of Nature (article|DOI). The piece covers some of the Buck’s history and also a series of recent triumphs…

In 2005, the agency named the Buck as one of five national Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging. And in September, it gave the institute US$25 million to create a new ‘interdiscipline’ called geroscience: defined as the study of connections between ageing and age-related disease. Now, the Buck is embarking on a growth spurt that will add 10 labs in 3–4 years. Plans have been drawn up for a long-term goal of three new buildings on its sunny hilltop campus and 20 more investigators, bringing the total number of labs to 45. … To Hughes and his colleagues at the Buck, the new geroscience grant offers a means to turn that idea into reality. “The essential thing that will come from this grant is speed,” says Lithgow. The geroscience grant enables risky work that, by and large, will fail. But in a few cases, it might succeed, leapfrogging years of painstaking studies and hitting pay dirt much faster.”

…as well as a description of some of the challenges confronting the Institute:

But the expansion will depend on funding, which, despite recent votes of confidence from the NIH, may be hard won. Peers in research on ageing see the Buck as a pioneer, testing the links between ageing and disease. … The geroscience grant is a boon for the Buck’s brand of high-risk research. But it does not guarantee success. The Buck is up against a few obstacles — for example, it must adhere to numerous building restrictions, limiting the potential for expansion. And although its location is idyllic, Marin County is isolated; the nearest universities, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco, are both 50 kilometres away.

Overall it’s a fair and informative piece, so if you’ve been wondering what they’ve been getting up to in Novato, it’s well worth a read.

UPDATE 11/29/2007: On or around Tuesday, December 4th there will be a story about the Buck on KQED’s morning talk show, Forum. I’ll post when I’m sure about the details.

Today I’m attending the 6th annual scientific meeting of the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, the kind people who pay my salary. I’m going to do my best to liveblog the highlights of this year’s meeting as they happen; if you’re interested in my thoughts about last year’s conference, please check out my review here.

I got stuck on the 880 South and missed Dale Bredesen, formerly CEO of the Buck Institute; I walked in to hear most of UCSD’s Laura Dugan’s discussion of oxidative damage and cell loss in the aging brain, as well as intervention strategies that exploit both broad-spectrum antioxidants as well as inhibitors of specific oxidases (some of which are chemically modified fullerenes). At the end of her talk, she drew connections between the age-related increase in the risk of psychosis (e.g., under anesthesia) and the cellular changes in the aging brain.

Dugan was followed by Cynthia Kenyon, the director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at UCSF. The program now has 35 affiliated faculty, whose research ranges from clinical (e.g., breast cancer and fronto-temporal dementia) to the very fundamental (prion diseases in yeast, the cell cycle, and the unfolded protein response). She described the main mission of the Center (funding promising graduate students with a desire to focus on the biology of aging), and reviewed some of the funding recipients’ most recent work.

Getting down to brass tacks and emphasizing the real-world applications of the work, Kenyon described a brave new world in which the 40-year-old men of the future will find themselves unwittingly, but enthusiastically, hitting on 90-year-old hotties in singles bars.

(The morning session continues here.)