Protein of the week- EASTER

Since it isn’t very long until Easter I had a look at an interesting protein named EASTER.

Of course EASTER was discovered in Drosophila melanogaster. It is a maternal gene translated in the developing embryo, where it cleaves proSPAETZLE to activate SPAETZLE, which in turn establishes the dorsoventral axis of the embryo. EASTER is just the last step in a tightly regulated cascade of cleavage events, necessary for developing a perfect fly. It is translated as a protoenzyme, which needs to be activated by cleavage through the protease SNAKE. (1)

Most of the time EASTER is in a complex with a protease inhibitor that stops SNAKE, but in the ventral part of the embryo, EASTER gets activated and in turn activates SPAETZLE. SPAETZLE activates the TOLL receptor, which after a signaling cascade results in the expression of DORSAL and a concentration gradient that defines the up- and down side of the embryo.

EASTER was first described in 1984, the paper was published in September, but it is very possible that this protein was first discovered during the Easter holidays and similar to the Easter islands, just named for the time of year.

What I also found pretty interesting about EASTER is its involvement in pattern formation on butterfly wings. So Happy Easter.

easter

 

References:

Misra S, Hecht P, Maeda R, Anderson KV. Positive and negative regulation of Easter, a member of the serine protease family that controls dorsal-ventral patterning in the Drosophila embryo. Development. 1998 Apr;125(7):1261-7.

Steward R. Relocalization of the dorsal protein from the cytoplasm to the nucleus correlates with its function. Cell. 1989 Dec 22;59(6):1179-88.

Rebecca Chasan, Kathryn V. Anderson The role of easter, an apparent serine protease, in organizing the dorsal-ventral pattern of the Drosophila embryo Cell 1989, 56(3) 391–400

Anderson KV, Nüsslein-Volhard C. Information for the dorsal–ventral pattern of the Drosophila embryo is stored as maternal mRNA. Nature. 1984 Sep 20-26;311(5983):223-7.

mentoring

by Juliane

BUMC has started a mentoring program for postdocs. As part of this mentoring effort, Joanne Kamens, executive director of Addgene, gave a very interesting talk about how to be a good mentee. It is a lot of work; to get the best out of a mentoring relationship the mentee has to be proactive and very organized and should know what they want. Unfortunately this is the hardest part for me, because I really don’t know what I want to do when I grow-up.

If you are similar to me, here are two ways to help making this decision easier: myIDP and forced choice analysis. Both of these methods help to identify the things you don’t want to do and by default the perfect career should be left. That’s the theory.

Joanne also explains this on her blog, which is a great read and includes a link to her ebook about mentoring. Check it out!

the postdoc guidebook-part 6 the end

by Juliane

I am almost done with reading the postdoc guidebook. This last part is about research. Let’s see if this covers more than RIMS.

Brownie points for mentioning the training courses, some links need updating and most trainings are now online, so the only a few times a month restriction doesn’t apply for lots of trainings.

This is followed by almost two pages about RCR (responsible conduct of research); even though I agree RCR is important, this is slightly too much, since all this information is available in a more updated version from RCR.

The next page is a handy list of research offices, which I find useful and might print out.

Then a long list of research policies, this is also useful, since it is always possible for postdocs to run into compliance issues, so it is good and useful to know who to contact.

But then the postdoc guidebook goes back to thinking postdoc are students: Links to university policies, which might be of interest to postdocs, but apply mainly to students, like the Drugs and Alcohol policy.

The chapter about funding and grants is a good compilation of links that are worth exploring for anybody, who is looking for their own funding. It is organized alphabetically, which makes it harder to find grants/societies relevant for each field, plus you have to click on every link to figure out if you qualify or not. Often we don’t, e.g. the national endowment for the humanities doesn’t help science postdocs.

I like the links to networking and career advancement websites, but again they need updating.

The postdoc guidebook isn’t a bad document, but it is not perfect. If you are completely new to BU and Boston, the postdoc guidebook can help, but so does the employee guidebook and ISSO. To get to the parts that actually matter for postdocs, after they have been around for more than two months, you have to scroll until page 30 out of 34. There is a table of content, but it is not linked to the appropriate pages, so whatever you want, lots of scrolling is necessary and the page numbers and the actual number of the page in the .pdf are not identical. This makes the guidebook harder to use. There is potential for a new edition, maybe not a .pdf this time. Any volunteers to write it?

the postdoc guide book part 5

by Juliane

The next part of the postdoc guide book might be the most important part.

Finding services; this part tells us about the great services BU offers its employees. I am not being sarcastic here, BU is actually a great employer, they just like to hide a lot of their offers on obscure websites behind fifty links. Also a lot of those nice offers do not apply if you are on a fellowship or employed by BMC.

It starts rather boring informing us about the yellow pages and where the post offices are located.

But then it gets more interesting with links to human resources, child care, including back-up childcare, which sounds brilliant for snow days or school holidays.

The Staff assistance office is mentioned as well as the ombuds office, so postdocs at least have a first contact just in case something goes very wrong. These two organizations are also the first ever hint in the postdoc guide books that postdocs are actually staff and not students.

The following pages could definitely be copied from a student handbook:

There is a page about religious life, but I think that those organizations are more targeted towards students. This doesn’t mean they are not going to welcome postdocs, but it might not be what you were looking for.

There is a paragraph about students with disabilities which links to disability services, which are for students only, staff with disabilities have to make arrangements through HR.

There is information about BU gyms, which are free for students, but are with 50 dollars/month for staff not the cheapest option in Boston.

There is information about taking classes in English as a second language, which I find slightly insulting to most postdocs, but might be useful for accompanying spouses.

Following is some quite useful information for international students and scholars, how to get a Social Security Number and Mass ID. However I am not sure why we would need a Harvard ID to get a Massachusetts Identity card. I assume that this paragraph has been copied from the OPA at Harvard, which might also explain why the address of the satellite office of the Social Security Office in Somerville is provided.

The next part is going to be really good, it’s about money.

First comes a description about what BU does for employee postdocs. I am actually quite happy with the list, what exactly an employee postdoc is and I didn’t know that all those different positions for postdocs exist at BU. Unfortunately that’s it for employee postdocs, there is just a link to the rather confusing HR website to learn about benefits. International postdocs, who might be not terribly familiar with the US system of health insurances and other benefits, are pretty much left alone. I guess even some postdocs born and educated in the American system might still be confused about their rights and possibilities.

Then follows the part about the postdocs BU doesn’t like, the stipendee postdocs. There is a depressing list of all the benefits stipendee postdocs don’t get, but not much help about how to get health insurance, retirement funds or paid vacation, there isn’t even a link. I know that the OPA and the PAC is working very hard to improve the situation for stipendee postdocs, but this page in the postdoc guide book is just depressing. Maybe it serves as a warning: do not apply for fellowships, if you get one you are screwed.

Now finally taxes: lots of links to forms for both employee and stipendee postdocs, which actually include the dates on which stipendee postdocs have to file estimated taxes. Another big warning to only apply for fellowships if the department has really  nice and competent administrative support for postdocs.

mentoring

tomorrow starts our first BUMC mentoring program for postdocs!

That is pretty exciting!

 

protein of the month- Prune

prune

 

This is a prune, I believe that that’s basically a dried plum. It is very very healthy and contains lots of vitamins and fibers and all this important stuff , however most people don’t seem to like it all that much.

There are also at least two proteins, called prune, PRUNE 1 and PRUNE 2, as well as several prune-like proteins.

As many others PRUNE has first been discovered in Drosophila melanogaster.

prunefly

Prune changes the eye-color of flies, when mutated. This is not very exciting, but it explains the name, the new eye color is similar to that of a prune. This is because the levels of drosopteridins, pigments that color the eyes red, are reduced.

The more exiting part here is that in combination with a second mutation, “killer of prune” (Drosophila geneticists really do give their proteins funny names), mutations in PRUNE kill Drosophila in the second or third larval state.

“Killer of PRUNE” turned out to not actually be a gene by itself, but rather a specific mutation in http://genesdev.cshlp.org/content/2/10/1333.short a gene that is boringly, but aptly called abnormal wing disc, awd.

The biochemical connection between those to proteins was only understood after in 1999 the mammalian homologue of PRUNE, hPRUNE, was discovered and its interactions with the homologue of awd, nm23-H1, was investigated. It turns out that PRUNE negatively regulates nm23-H1, which is an oncogene. Failure to inhibit nm23-H1 can lead to neuroblastoma in humans and mice.

Sturtevant AH. A Highly Specific Complementary Lethal System in Drosophila Melanogaster. Genetics. 1956 Jan;41(1):118-23.

J Biggs, N Tripoulas, E Hersperger, C Dearolf, and A Shearn Analysis of the lethal interaction between the prune and Killer of prune mutations of Drosophila. Genes & Dev. 1988. 2: 1333-1343

A Reymond, S Volorio, G Merla, M Al-Maghtheh, O Zuffardi, A Bulfone, A Ballabio and M Zollo Evidence for interaction between human PRUNE and nm23-H1 NDPKinase Oncogene 1999 18:7244-7252

the postdoc guide book part 4

By Juliane

The next part of the postdoc guide book deals with housing. This is a topic very close to my heart, because when I moved to Boston everybody in my lab was either too political correct or too uninterested to tell me that apartment hunting in Roxbury isn’t something a single woman should be doing. But I only had been to Boston for a couple of days and needed an apartment fast. Maybe the postdoc guide book could have helped me.

BU housing is for students, there are only very few apartments for staff, and postdocs are staff, no matter what people would like to think.

BU also provides help in finding off-campus housing, with a little twist: you have to have a BU password, which isn’t all that helpful, if you are new in Boston and need to find a place to sleep, before you start lab work.

However the postdoc guide book helpfully provides quite a few links to other sources. Most of them are to realtors, which is good, because there are very few apartments available in Boston without one. Some of the links are no longer available but can be found again by quick googling.

To my surprise I learned that BU has an Office of Housing Resources that helps every step of the way, including choosing your neighborhood, I looked at their website and have the suspicion that this is targeted at students. Since postdocs are not students and some of us aren’t even BU employees, I don’t think this office will help. Their links about leases and tenant rights however are very useful and since those rights vary between states might be helpful to any postdoc new to Massachusetts.

What I am really missing in the guide book is some help towards finding short term accommodation, while postdocs are getting used to Boston. I would definitely have benefit from not signing a 12 months lease after just two weeks in Boston.

The postdoc guide book Part 3

By Juliane

I started looking at the postdoc guide book, and I am surprised how much information there is for postdocs, we just have to find it. It is also slightly out of date, being compiled at published in 2011. It hasn’t been updated since then.

We got settled and are now equipped to deal with BUMC campus life, the next section is about how to get away. Transport and Safety.

The beginning is copied from transcomm again and suffers from the usual update problem. It also should mention that parking at BUMC is really expensive and should be avoided whenever possible. The cheapest parking garage is 165 dollars per month and hourly parking is ridiculously expensive, unless you are really lucky and find a spot in the free parking areas.

Since parking should be avoided we have the BU shuttle busses. There was a surprise to me, because I wasn’t aware of the evening shuttle, the VA-BMC shuttle or the healthnet shuttle. Those are cool and useful.

Next are nice and basically correct information about the MBTA, even mentioning the fact that BU staff can get monthly tickets through BU, which lowers your taxable income and somehow makes it cheaper that way.

Then we are reading about driving. I don’t have a car so I can’t really comment on anything here. Only it is really useful to have a US license, since it works as an ID and you don’t have to carry your passport into bars or clubs.

There are also some safety and emergency numbers that should also be posted in everybody’s lab and office. Just remember to dial a 9 for an outside line before calling 911.

Actually this chapter wasn’t too bad, regarding the out-of date information and actually quite helpful for people who are new to Boston.

The postdoc guidebook (part 2)

by Juliane

I started reading the postdoc guide book here. Since then I have found out that I can just google postdoc guide book BUMC to find it and don’t have to follow the links on the GMS postdoc website. Much easier this way!

The next part of the guidebook is called getting settled.

There are a lot of links that could be updated, but the guidebook was written in 2011 and a pdf is hard to update, so it might not be really necessary for the small stuff.

Information about the ID office has been updated on the linked Transcomm website, but not in the guidebook. Main changes: The price for a lost card is now 40 dollars, and the office is no longer open between 9.30 and 12.30.

The next part is copied and linked from BUMC-IT, so I highly recommend to just follow the link and not rely on the information in the guidebook, since as before there have been updates. Maybe there should be a disclaimer somewhere: information was correct in 2011. The year is present on every page, so I guess for reasonably educated people with a PhD that should be sufficient.

There is a useful table with location of banks and ATMs around the medical campus, which helps people new to the US to choose the bank where they want to open a bank account. This is great and useful.

The next part is about food and there are really quite a few places to eat without leaving campus. I didn’t even know MG’s or the Fuller café and I have been at the medical campus for three years now. I will definitely check them out now.

What isn’t mentioned are the varying food trucks on the corner Concord/Harrison streets and Flour on Washington Street. There is however a little ad for Flour as well as for Jae’s Eatery, which is on Columbus Street.

If we start making listing food places as far as Columbus Street, we should also mention Mike’s Diner and Equator in Washington Street and Orinoco at the corner of Concord and Shawmut streets to name just a few. There are certainly more nice affordable restaurants within walking distance from the medical center and often their lunch menus are the same price or marginally more expensive than the food in the hospital cafeterias.

Also as of this year city convenience on Albany street morphed somehow into a subway and from what I heard the sandwiches are less good but the service is faster.

The next page is about libraries and computers, I liked the part that helps BMC postdocs to get access to the BU library. It is worth to visit the Alumini medical library just for the view from the 12th floor. You don’t need a library card for this.

This page also mentions BU IT. BU IT is great, they even fix personal computers, however they charge more than some commercial companies and are relatively slow. What is great about BU IT is the HUB-program, that allows BU employees to buy the newest version of Microsoft office for 10 dollars. This information should be added to the guide book!

This completes the getting settled part, which definitely needs some updates, but is a nice starting point for postdocs, who are new to Boston.

The postdoc guide book (part 1)

by Juliane

There is a very comprehensive document for postdocs kindly provided by Yolanta from the office of postdoctoral affairs. It is accessible from the OPA website.

I don’t think many postdocs have read it, so I decided to read it and write about it.

This document is surprisingly comprehensive, or at least long (34 pages). I am impressed by the work Yolanta and other put into it.

The interesting stuff starts on page 4 with a very nice check-list for new postdocs.

I would add a few of points to the list:

-       HR orientation session for postdocs employed directly by BU and not on fellowships

-       Safety training for all researchers, in person basic laboratory training only happens every two weeks and should be done as soon as possible

Some other points need to be updated, which is understandable, since the guidebook was written in 2012.

-       The ID office at the medical campus is now closed between 9 AM and 12.30 PM, so we can only get ID-batches between 7 and 9 AM or 12.30 and 3 PM. I absolutely don’t understand why.

-       The BU housing office offers apartments to staff, but they are expensive and often not in a nice area, Harrison Court is right opposite the medical center.

What I find a little weird is the advice to talk to my tax accountant, I have never met a postdoc, who had a tax accountant. However, I am sure this is good advice, especially for postdocs on fellowships, who have to figure out their taxes and health insurance independently of BU.

This is a great start to the guidebook and so far I recommend it to new postdocs as a starting point.