Personal and business Twitter profiles – should they be separate?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about whether I should create another Twitter profile, so that I can separate my personal and business/work activities.

It occurred to me that my Twitter needs change from minute to minute, depending on whether I am interacting with my friends (in the inescapable pursuit of ‘banter’) or building connections with people in my profession. It is certain that those two groups will value different content, and that while producing something to keep one set interested I may lose  the buy-in of the other.

So, should I separate the two, to mitigate this risk? Or might this seem a little disingenuous, like I am hiding aspects of my personality?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts (and potential solutions). For example, is there a way of subdividing my followers, so that I can tweet independently to each group?

Feel free to share your ideas and insights in the comments


Time for a rebrand

Right, it’s time for a rebrand.


Mostly because I am rubbish and never update my blog, so a rebrand is my way of kicking myself up the xxxx to do a better job.

But I’m also rebranding because of a fundamental mistake I made. I called my blog ‘The meaning of memes’… doh!  It may sound clever, but it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone! And on the web, you only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. Better to be dull and informative (and keep your readers) than overly witty or wordy.

Still, making mistakes is fine… as long as you learn from them 🙂

Onwards and upwards…

Academic Research and Commerce in the Next Decade

As I read and hear more about the concept of the ‘knowledge economy’, the more I am struck by how both the academic and commercial sectors need to further adapt to the challenges of the ever-changing economic world. Commerce needs to learn to build bridges with academic institutions, as grass roots research is the raw material upon which innovation is built.

However, there is still a prevailing attitude in academia that interacting with business is ‘selling out’. Many companies, especially those in the life science and biotech sectors in which I work, have been quick to forge these relationships, recognising the importance of commercialising scientific discoveries. The attitude of academics has been less progressive, with commercial collaborations the exception rather than the norm. Clearly something needs to change in order to increase the dialogue between academia and business for the good of the economy.

The Knowledge Economy

Since the 2008 economic meltdown, production and export from many Western developed countries has significantly slowed, in large part due to the pressure put on the system by cheaper alternatives in Asia. In order to stay competitive, the West has had to focus on those sectors where it can still lead the world. One such area is in the quality and number of university graduates our top academic institutions can produce. Highly trained ‘thinkers’, ‘designers’ and ‘innovators’ drive the progression of new technologies, creating new markets (and therefore jobs) by effectively creating sectors that did not exist before.

In this way, investment in the so called ‘knowledge economy’, propels economic development in ways that are difficult to predict and cannot be easily and quickly usurped by cheaper alternatives in Asia. It is therefore unsurprising that Western governments (and private entities) have been investing significant resources into nurturing our academic talent. Asian markets have not been blind to this, and have themselves invested heavily in research and education in an effort to catch up quickly. In order to stay ahead of the game, Western economies must leverage the small lead they have as soon as possible, by fully utilising the West’s knowledge resources.

Academic Attitudes

Having spent over ten years in higher education and academic research, I was able to witness first hand the attitude of academics to collaborating with commercial companies. All too often there appears to be, at best a malaise, and at worst a fierce opposition to, exploiting research efforts for commercial gain. Now, I undertook my PhD and post-doc studies at Cambridge, a university that prides itself on tradition and excellence, so it may not be the best barometer for measuring the attraction between companies and academics. Either way, all academics at all institutions should be encouraged to consider the commercial value of their research. They are not selling out. Far from it. They are buying in.

Academics should be made to realise that THEY are the most important resource Western countries such as the UK have for the future. Even the most blue sky research has a commercial application; even if it is ‘just’ the development of niche methods and tools for conducting that kind of research. These can be commercialised and sold around the world, driving future economic development, generating a return for the inventor and increasing workflow efficiency for everyone involved. It’s win-win-win.

Driving the Dialogue

Well, that’s the problem, so what can we do about it? This is where I urge you to get involved, valued reader. What can we do to foster links between academia and commerce? I can utilise my (brief) experience in the life science sectors to make a few suggestions but I think this conversation requires wider input, and your expertise. The economic livelihood of western society may depend on it!

Some ideas:

1. Educate

It may be necessary to educate academia to view commercial partners as another resource to be valued rather than shunned or feared. This will take a campaign to change academic attitudes.

2. Make it easy

If you are in the commercial sector and you want to leverage the creations of the knowledge economy then you need to make it as easy as possible for academics to contribute. For example, invite them to speak at your company (simultaneously sharing their wisdom) or take it a step further and organise larger seminars of conferences. You could even offer free ‘consultation services’, where you send your experts in to sit with scientists and discuss the best way to commercialise their research. It will take time and resources, but it might make sure you are on to the next big thing before anyone else is.

Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

QR codes in Life Sciences

QR (Quick Response) codes are the new fashion in marketing and ‘new media’ initiatives. But what are they, and are they really useful?

QR codes are ‘two-dimensional’ barcodes printed on products, business cards, posters etc, and encode information such as a webpage hyperlink. Modern smartphones equipped with a camera and access to the internet can be used to snap a quick picture of the code, which quickly takes the user to the intended supplementary content of interest. This might be a product webpage, demonstration video, pdf download or any other information to support the product / poster / article in question.

QR codes at conferences and shows

One place I see QR codes taking off within the life science arena is via company booths, posters and presentations at shows and conferences. For example, QR codes for demo videos would allow potential customers to visit a booth, discuss a product, watch a video on their phone and take that info away with them to assist with their buying decision.

In the same way, people scribble copious amounts of notes while walking around poster presentations (such as those providing data to back up claims about a company’s new product) … it would be much more efficient to just download a high quality version of the poster pdf to your phone by snapping a QR code. This could be combined with url tracking to provide analytics (number of QR-related downloads for example) or for lead generation via ‘sign-up to download’ microsites.

Encouraging consumers to use QR codes

At present the main hold up preventing the widespread use of QR codes is to question who are actually using smart phones and QR codes (is it really the decision makers / influencers?). Fortunately for our sector, scientists often tend to be technologically aware and many post-docs, group leaders, senior lab managers etc are already using smart phones to manage data and collaborations, keep in contact with friends and colleagues and perform web-based research.

Therefore, perhaps the main remaining stumbling block to the widespread adoption of QR codes is the continued consumer education required to emphasise how quick, easy and valuable QR codes are for accessing high quality, relevant information?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the use of QR codes – feel free to leave a comment below!

Bioproduction – Born in the 80s, but soon to hit new heights

Bacteria have been producing compounds for us since we discovered how to brew alcohol thousands of years ago. In 1982, we started giving them new genes, exponentially expanding the products they could make for our consumption. Recently, researchers in the US worked out a way to completely rewrite the genetic code of E. coli (1), a move that will no doubt usher in the next generation of bioproduction processes by removing the limits imposed by the natural biology of life.

1982. Famous for the release of the first commercial CD player, Michael Jackson’s record selling-album Thriller and the Falkland’s War. E.T. was in the cinemas and one-hit-wonder ‘Come on Eileen’ was on the radio. It was also the year that genetically engineered bacteria were approved for use in bioproduction, namely the manufacture of insulin. This was a significant milestone in the commercialisation of biotechnology, driving down the price of insulin, while increasing the uniformity and safety of the product (until then, insulin had been harvested from the pancreases of sheep and pigs).

We’ve come a long way since then. Genetic engineering is now carried out routinely in labs across the world and the access to an ever expanding list of fully sequenced genomes continues to provide new fodder for the craft. Indeed, the first ‘synthetic’ genome was recently created, built by piecing together bits of other genomes to create a completely unique bacterium. This month, researchers at MIT and Harvard took the evolution of synthetic genomes one step further, indentifying a way to rewrite the genome in a way that will allow us to build proteins that could never exist in nature (1).

Although the amount of proteins that can be created naturally is incredibly diverse, they are limited to a list of 20 fundamental building blocks, the naturally occurring amino acids. The genomes of every organism on this planet are written with this in mind, using specific motifs (known as codons) to code for each individual amino acid, which are strung together like beads on a string to create a protein. Although the code itself consists of 64 different codons, there is significant redundancy in the system, with a single amino acid often represented by more than one codon. In addition, there are several stop codons, which do not encode for an amino acid, instead acting like the full stop at the end of this sentence, instructing the cellular machinery that the protein is complete.

The researchers in the US took advantage of this redundancy to completely replace one of the stop codons in the E. coli genome with one of the other stop codons. The idea was to free this codon from its obligations as a stop codon, so it could be utilised for a completely different purpose.

Scientists could now take advantage of this ‘spare’ codon to create entirely new genes, capable of producing unique proteins containing an additional, user-specified amino acid. This might include those that have been designed by chemists to harbour favourable catalytic properties making them perfect for the rational manufacture of biological products.

Even more excitingly, the further development of this technique should make it possible to complete rewrite the genetic code, removing the redundancy and taking advantage of all 64 possible codons. As well as expanding the options available to biotechnologists, rewriting the genome of bio-productive bacteria would also likely render them insensitive to the sorts of viruses that have commonly plagued bio-manufacture processes.

There is still plenty of work to do before the new bacterial genomes are ready for use. For a start, the protein production machinery of the cell will need to be modified so that it can accurately take advantage of the repurposed codon. Once this has been achieved it will be possible to start assessing the cellular toxicity of editing the genetic code. Finally, safety issues concerning the custom editing of an organism genome will need to be assessed, in order to satisfy consumers and regulatory bodies that production using custom genomes is viable and acceptable.

Over the last 30 years genetically engineered bacteria have become a massively important production tool. If the new technique is a success, custom product design and batch production using microorganisms could become the method of choice for a wide range of applications… many of which are probably yet to be imagined.

Note: This post has been reproduced from the one I wrote for the Alto Marketing blog.

1) Isaacs F.J. et al. (2011). Precise Manipulation of Chromosomes in Vivo Enables Genome-Wide Codon Replacement. Science, 333: 348-353