deCODE Genetics finally goes under, filing for bankruptcy in US court [Genetic Future]

Struggling Icelandic biotech deCODE Genetics has finally reached the point of formal insolvency. A press release today announces that the company has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in a US court:

In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware late on Monday, deCODE listed total assets of $69.9 million and total debt of $313.9 million, as of June 30.

deCODE launched in 1996, basing its business plan on its unique access to biological samples and genealogical and medical records from the small, homogeneous Icelandic population. Since its launch it has proved wildly successful as a research institute, generating an astonishing number of high-profile publications on the genetics of common traits and diseases. Unfortunately it has also been a complete disaster as a commercial venture, haemorrhaging away over $700 million while failing to generate a single quarterly profit.

As I understand it, following the filing deCODE will continue to operate its business as a "debtor-in-possession" and will seek interim financing to allow it to continue to provide its services to customers. However, the company has also entered into an agreement with a US investment firm to sell off its subsidiary Islensk Erfdagreining (IE), which "conducts deCODE's human genetics research, manages its population genetics resources and provides its personal genome scans, DNA-based risk assessment tests, and genomics services for contract customers" - so it sounds as though ownership of the deCODEme personal genomics service and most of the company's other assets will be moving off-shore.
As for the genetic data from customers being held by deCODEme? Three very timely recent guest posts from Dan Vorhaus and Lawrence Moore here on Genetic Future provide a solid basis for speculation, herehere and here.
As I've said in the past, the loss of deCODE's formidable resources would represent a major blow to the field of human genetics, but finding a buyer given the legal and privacy challenges associated with deCODE's Icelandic database (as well, I gather, as outright obstructiveness from notoriously defiant CEO Kari Stefansson) has obviously proved extremely difficult.
We'll have to wait and see what the future holds for deCODE's database, and cross our fingers that it doesn't simply slip under the Icelandic permafrost. 

For the financially cognisant, I've added more details from Stockhouse:

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select deCODE Genetics finally goes under, filing for bankruptcy in US court [Genetic Future]

Hippos are photographed biting a crocodile to death [Tetrapod Zoology]

You've probably seen - presumably on TV - Nile crocs Crocodylus niloticus interacting with Common hippos Hippopotamus amphibius (if you've seen it in real life, lucky you). By and large the two seem to keep apart. Having said that, there are certainly photos of the two sharing the same sandbanks. And then there are those instances of hippos scaring crocs away from carcasses, the weird reports of hippos mouthing and chewing the backs and tails of resting crocodiles, and those cases where crocodiles have been seen to walk or run across hippos' backs.

croc-killed-by-hippos-2-Vaclav-Silha-16-11-2009.jpg

What can certainly be said to be the most remarkable croc-hippo encounter yet reported was photographed by Czech wildlife photographer Václav Šilha last year, and yesterday they were featured in various national newspapers. Here's the best photo (in my opinion: you may already have seen it November's BBC Wildlife magazine).

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Hippos are photographed biting a crocodile to death [Tetrapod Zoology]

Cameron Neylon: Article-Level Metrics and the Evolution of Scientific Impact

Cameron Neylon
Article-Level Metrics and the Evolution of Scientific Impact - http://www.citeulike.org/user...
Walton Jones, Yaroslav Nikolaev, Mr. Gunn and 20 other people liked this
Article on ALMs by myself and Shirley Wu - Cameron Neylon
Great article! I really need to add some comments or notes, just to prove the authors' point :-) - Björn Brembs
BTW, when does PLoS finally get karma? I've been asking for proper 'show off' userprofiles for like ever :-) - Björn Brembs

See original: FriendFeed - search Cameron Neylon: Article-Level Metrics and the Evolution of Scientific Impact

Cameron Neylon: Wave as a scholarly document editor: not promising at this stage

Cameron Neylon
Wave as a scholarly document editor: not promising at this stage - http://ptsefton.com/2009...
Mr. Gunn, Duncan Hull, Dan Hagon and 7 other people liked this
Pete Sefton has some significant criticisms of the Wave document model - Cameron Neylon

See original: FriendFeed - search Cameron Neylon: Wave as a scholarly document editor: not promising at this stage

@blogadda Joseph LeDoux. The emotional Brain. I'm sure u'r not that excited about finding this out?-:)

sandygautam: @blogadda Joseph LeDoux. The emotional Brain. I'm sure u'r not that excited about finding this out?-:)

See original: Twitter @blogadda Joseph LeDoux. The emotional Brain. I'm sure u'r not that excited about finding this out?-:)

When abandoned farmland passively restores back to tidal wetlands

A new study looks at wetland recovery on formerly reclaimed agricultural lands once farming practices are abandoned and the levees are breached......

MacDonald, G., Noel, P., Proosdij, D., & Chmura, G. (2009) The Legacy of Agricultural Reclamation on Channel and Pool Networks of Bay of Fundy Salt Marshes. Estuaries and Coasts. DOI: 10.1007/s12237-009-9222-4  The Legacy of Agricultural Reclamation on Channel and Pool Networks of Bay of Fundy Salt Marshes


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English When abandoned farmland passively restores back to tidal wetlands

A Home for the Bugs in Our Appendix

The appendix has long been considered a useless, vestigial organ, primarily based on the fact that it can be removed with no visibly harmful effects on the appendectomy recipient and that it is rather susceptible to severe inflammation. In fact, many theories have been proposed for its ancient purpose, ranging from being a place to allow plant matter to ferment to being a locale for crushed bones to be dissolved.

However, recent evidence posits that the appendix plays a crucial role in maintaining important gut symbionts. ...

Smith HF, Fisher RE, Everett ML, Thomas AD, Bollinger RR, & Parker W. (2009) Comparative anatomy and phylogenetic distribution of the mammalian cecal appendix. Journal of evolutionary biology, 22(10), 1984-99. PMID: 19678866   Comparative anatomy and phylogenetic distribution of the mammalian cecal appendix.


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English A Home for the Bugs in Our Appendix

The Drink Spiking Myth Part 1

Searching the archives of the BBC, Daily Mail or Guardian returns hundreds of results for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol. Figures from Google Trends show that search volume for 'date rape drugs' or more specific terms like 'Rohypnol' has decreased since 2004, but remains high. Up and down the country, many people are convinced they have been a victim of date rape drugs, their fears fuelled by media scare stories and alarming reports from the usually sensible ACMD.

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So it's all the more surprising to hear the Chief Executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust - a charity aimed at reducing crime - quoted in a research paper [1] making the following complaint:

"As far as I am aware, there has never been a case of Rohypnol in this country found ever. We ask women when they are out to look after themselves and they say ‘I always put my finger over the bottle so it can’t be spiked’ . I want to tear my hair out because what is in the bottle is what’s lethal!"

To suggest that there have been no cases is perhaps an exaggeration, but the various studies we have on this tell a very different story from that reported in the press until recently.

Michael Scott-Ham of the UK's Forensic Science Service led a study that "analysed samples taken from 1014 victims in the UK soon after the alleged assault between January 2000 and December 2002." They found sedatives in only 2% of samples (the presence of which could of course have several explanations. An Australian study at two hospitals in Perth found that none of the 97 young men and women who claimed to have had their drinks spiked had been drugged.

So if date rate drugs didn't cause these people to lose control of the situation, what was it? The UK Forensic Science Service study provides a big clue. Of the 391 victims who had given samples with 12 hours of the alleged assault, around a third had consumed enough alcohol to result in unconsciousness or memory loss. Similar results have come from Northern Ireland.

To put it another way, scientific studies show that the #1 date rape drug, by far, is alcohol.

A recent study in the British Journal of Criminology - Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink ‘Spiking’ by Adam Burgess, Pamela Donovan and Sarah Moore, takes an interesting look at risk perceptions and psychology surrounding date rape drugs, conducting various surveys of students in Britain and the United States [1].

Their results highlighted the disproportionate level of risk attached to spiking:

"To better establish the strength of concern about DFSA, the UK respondents were asked to rate their sense of risk and sense of worry for the following four crimes: being a victim of drink-driving, being mugged, having a home or room burgled, and being a victim of DFSA (see Table 1 ). UK respondents were more likely to express acute worry about DFSA than any of the other crimes they were asked about."

"Having a drink spiked with drugs was the most commonly cited risk factor for sexual assault, with 150 (75 per cent) of participants identifying this as an important risk factor — a more signi? cant risk factor than drinking alcohol or taking drugs (see Table 2 ). Furthermore, it is noteworthy that [spiking] elicited a more acute sense of worry amongst female students than mugging."

So in spite of the vanishingly small probability of drink spiking ever happening, students were more concerned about it than mugging, or drink driving. What is the explanation for this skewed perception of risk?

The elephant in the bedsit here is alcohol, a drug which culturally we seem to be in a state of denial over. Part of the explanation may be that the myth of drink-spiking provides a useful narrative through which we can rationalize away our own guilt: "I was in control of my drinking, but then somebody spiked my drink."

Is that true, or is it all a bit more complicated than that? How does this relate to the ongoing saga over drug policy? And how does this relate to the alternative medicine meme that 'natural is best'? We'll take a look in Part II of this post, which I'll be putting up this evening.

[1] Burgess, A., Donovan, P., & Moore, S. (2009). Embodying Uncertainty?: Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink 'Spiking' British Journal of Criminology, 49 (6), 848-862 DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp049

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Burgess, A., Donovan, P., & Moore, S. (2009) Embodying Uncertainty?: Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink 'Spiking'. British Journal of Criminology, 49(6), 848-862. DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp049  Embodying Uncertainty?: Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink 'Spiking'


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English The Drink Spiking Myth Part 1

Tamiflu-resistant pandemic influenza H1N1 virus selected by prophylaxis

The emergence of oseltamivir (Tamiflu)-resistant 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in a Canadian family illustrates the basic concept that viral loads depend on the dose of antiviral drug....

Baz M, Abed Y, Papenburg J, Bouhy X, Hamelin ME, & Boivin G. (2009) Emergence of Oseltamivir-Resistant Pandemic H1N1 Virus during Prophylaxis. The New England journal of medicine. PMID: 19907034   Emergence of Oseltamivir-Resistant Pandemic H1N1 Virus during Prophylaxis.


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English Tamiflu-resistant pandemic influenza H1N1 virus selected by prophylaxis

Speak, Nabokov | n+1 http://ff.im/-bzS68

sandygautam: Speak, Nabokov | n+1 http://ff.im/-bzS68

See original: Twitter Speak, Nabokov | n+1 http://ff.im/-bzS68

Swine-origin influenza virus risk factors

My friend Lauredhel, at the Hoyden About Town blog, made an interesting point about risk factors for swine-origin influenza virus (SOIV), and the perception of those risk factors in the press.   The press has made a big deal of the putative link between obesity and risk of severe SOIV.  But, as she pointed out back [...]...

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2009) Hospitalized patients with novel influenza A (H1N1) virus infection - California, April-May, 2009. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 58(19), 536-41. PMID: 19478723   Hospitalized patients with novel influenza A (H1N1) virus infection - California, April-May, 2009.

Justin T Denholm, Claire L Gordon, Paul D Johnson, Saliya S Hewagama, Rhonda L Stuart, Craig Aboltins, Cameron Jeremiah, James Knox, Garry P Lane, Adrian R Tramontana.... (2010) Hospitalised adult patients with pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza in Melbourne, Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia, 1-3. info:/

Louie JK, Acosta M, Winter K, Jean C, Gavali S, Schechter R, Vugia D, Harriman K, Matyas B, Glaser CA.... (2009) Factors associated with death or hospitalization due to pandemic 2009 influenza A(H1N1) infection in California. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 302(17), 1896-902. PMID: 19887665   Factors associated with death or hospitalization due to pandemic 2009 influenza A(H1N1) infection in California.

New South Wales public health network. (2009) Progression and impact of the first winter wave of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza in New South Wales, Australia. Euro surveillance : bulletin europeen sur les maladies transmissibles , 14(42). PMID: 19883546   Progression and impact of the first winter wave of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza in New South Wales, Australia.


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English Swine-origin influenza virus risk factors

Sunlight on Twitter

Our friend Clay Johnson over at the Sunlight Foundation recently posted an interesting idea about listening in on Twitter. Though he describes it as a mock proposal for the popular angel investment firm YCombinator, it really seems to be right along the lines we're thinking of for Expert Labs: It's entrepreneurial, but more importantly, it's the kind of technology that would let policy makers listen to the expertise of their fellow citizens. That's a marked contrast from a lot of government use of social media today, which is generally just being used to broadcast to citizens instead of soliciting their...

See original: Expert Labs Sunlight on Twitter