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Just Like Times Square


One of the things I realized I liked when I moved back east to New York after living in the South and out West is the sheer number of people walking around the city at any given time. There's the mad rush in the morning to get on the subway and into crowded restaurants at night. It's a bustling city. There are so many people. Then again, there are so many people.

Academia, too, is bustling: it's full of PhDs and postdocs trying to find a quieter place to call their own, but they are having more trouble than just moving across the river to find a home. In this month's cover story, Tracy Vence looks into how academia came to be so crowded, tracing it back in the biomedical sciences to the doubling of the NIH budget. She says it's a cycle that perpetuates itself: when more faculty are hired, they need more graduate students and postdocs to work in their labs, leaving those researchers to eventually try to find faculty positions — and not all of them can. Many, then, are turning to careers in biotech, and there are now some programs in place to PhDs learn the business side of industry. In addition, Tracy reports that some creative types are looking for ways to slow the growth and find new opportunities for those PhDs who cannot find a spot for themselves in academia.

Elsewhere in this issue, Christie Rizk looks into a burgeoning collaboration among synthetic biology researchers. Jay Keasling, Drew Endy, and others have come together to standardize parts and devices for use in synthetic biology. In addition, Matthew Dublin finds that exome sequencing is carving out a niche for itself in the research world. It may be more than a stopgap, just-wait-until-we-have-whole-genome-sequencing technology, he reports. Indeed, there are a number of large-scale exome sequencing projects in the works in the US and around the world and some researchers are beginning to apply it beyond Mendelian diseases to more complex ones. Finally, in our ethics column, Christie says researchers might want to consider, prior to publishing their work, the possible nefarious uses their research could be put to.

The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.