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At the Core of It All

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My mother never understands why in any institution with a cafeteria, people love to talk about how awful the food is. (There is some question as to whether my mom has ever met a plate of food she didn’t like.) But the answer is simple: cafeteria food is a common denominator, and an easy conversation topic among people who may not know each other all that well.

I have a feeling that scientists’ complaints about their core labs occur in much the same vein. If you don’t work in a core lab, chances are you use one — and exchanging frustrations about service time, price, or available technology can be a pain-free bond with the stranger you’re stuck talking to at a conference. And if you are in a core lab, you’re probably breaking the ice with complaints about your customers.

Since so many of you work with or in a core lab facility, we decided it was high time to understand the customer/core dynamic. Does user satisfaction vary from academic labs, say, to pharma labs? Do members of government core labs have different priorities than members of industry core labs?

In late September we sent out e-mail invitations for our survey, and nearly 800 of you took the time to answer those questions and many more. Thanks so much for your time and cooperation — the results made for great data showing that, in fact, most core labs are created equal. Not all priorities align, though, as users appear to focus far more on cost than do the scientists running the cores. You’ll find the results of our core lab survey beginning on p. 26.

In our feature this month, we take a peek into the hype-infested waters of metabolomics. Though some scientists still express skepticism about the newest ’omic on the block, experts say it’s here to stay — and is already producing great data, both in and out of the clinic. For our article, we spoke with people on the basic and applied sides of metabolomics to find out the major challenges facing the field, as well as the potential it holds.

Many thanks to the five participants of our final roundtable of the year. They gathered in Boston late this summer to offer advice on how people can stay ahead in the systems biology realm. From skills you’ll need to the strange sociology of the field, their tips and musings are not to be missed.

Finally, this is our last regular issue of the year. You’ll get our special bonus issue next month celebrating rising young investigators to watch, and our regular editions of the magazine will resume next year. See you then.

 

Correction

In our September 2006 story on pathway informatics, we incorrectly stated that GeneGo has 35 annotators and 200 publications. In fact, the company has 42 annotators working with 2,400 publications. Genome Technology regrets the error.