New Kendall Square restaurant set up to host bio events like this one

When new drug development company H3 decided to throw a party to launch the opening of Kendall Square labs and offices, organizers didn’t have to go very far. They took the elevator downstairs.

Last week, local researchers, bio boosters and lots of men in dark suits from the Japanese drug company Eisai gathered in the trendy meetings room at the new Catalyst restaurant.

Floor to ceiling windows overlook a landscaped concrete plaza that joins the cluster of new and renovated mid-rises known as Technology Square. The landlord, lab developer Alexandria Properties, chose the restaurant — and the former chef of now closed Aujourd’hui — with meetings like this one in mind. Thus, 1,900-square-feet of meeting space behind the dining room can be split up into the Crick, Franklin and Watson rooms. (The rest of the restaurant is farm-to-table chic, with panelling made of old barn boards a “two-way fireplace” encased in glass.)

Before the ribbon cutting, waiters worked their way through the crowd with minted oysters on the half shell and tuna tartar. Slides with information about the H3—for “human, health and hope” — looped on two flat screens embedded in the blonde wood siding.

Betting on an approach emerging from the Broad Institute labs, the company plans on “integrating human cancer genomics with next-generation synthetic organic chemistry and tumor biology.” In other words, they plan to use genetic insights gleaned from actual cancer patients to identify therapeutic targets.

H3 Biomedicine is not your standard startup. Rather than seek out venture capital, the company arrives as a subsidiary of Japanese drug maker Eisai. In turn Eisai, which makes anti-cancer cancer drugs along with an epilepsy treatment, has invested $200 million into H3. Many gathered at the event had “Eisai” on their name tags and company president Haruo Naito flew in for the champagne toast. Click here’s for Mass High Tech’s take on the event.

Angus McQuilken, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, told the group that “If you stand in Kendall Square and throw a rock in any directions, you’ll hit a world class scientist.” Two of them are H3’s “scientific founders” Dr. Stuart Schreiber and Dr.Todd Golub, both of the Broad. The website Xconomy describes them as “scientific luminaries.”

More from that site.

H3 aims to discover small molecule drugs that target weak points in tumors that have been uncovered through genetic studies of people’s cancers. Fittingly, both Golub and Schreiber are founders of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, one of the largest genomic research centers in the world. Schreiber, an expert at synthesizing drug compounds to home in on disease proteins, has been a founder of numerous biotech companies such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals and more recently Forma Therapeutics. Golub, a fellow scientific founder of Forma, is an authority on the genetics of cancer.

Always worth noting that much of the seed money that allows the Broad researchers to move into drug discovery comes from the feds. The National Institutes of Health database reports that for 2010 and 2011, Golub is working with grants worth $9 7 million, which included about $4 million for the Broad Cancer Center. Schreiber lists $22.3 million in grants, including $15 million money for including Broad comprehensive screening program

BU’s biolab makes it to level-2, still seeking level-4 approval

Massachusetts environmental regulator recognized that there is a big difference between TB and Ebola. So, last week, they granted Boston University permission to begin using their

new biolab to work on bio safety level-2 materials.

From the Globe:

For years, the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory — a high-security biolab designed to allow scientists to conduct research on the world’s deadliest germs, such as Ebola and plague — has been tied up by legal challenges and regulatory reviews.

As the legal process dragged on, the 192,000-square-foot building has sat largely empty. In August, BU sought a waiver from the state to proceed with research on less hazardous materials …

A spokeswoman for BU said today that the university is not abandoning plans to eventually use about 16 percent of the building, located on its medical campus in the South End, as a biosafety level-4 lab. However those plans are still undergoing an environmental safety review by the National Institutes of Health.

Here’s BU’s take on the decision from the In-house web site, BU Today:

The first research scheduled for the state-of-the-art facility would consist of two projects involving nonpathogenic tuberculosis. One study, led by James Galagan, a College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering and a scientist at the Broad Institute, will use computational biology, genomics, and lab work to study the genetic on/off switches of a nonpathogenic relative of the bacterium that causes TB..

The second project, under the direction of Igor Kramnik, a MED associate professor of medicine and director of MED’s Aerobiology Core, will explore the interaction between the vaccine strain of TB and mammalian hosts. Kramnik hopes to learn more about which factors confer resistance to the bacterium.

Sunday’s Chef Adrià talk at Harvard’ sells out

Most of Harvard’s Science and Cooking Lectures are first come, first served, so to speak. But, you needed a ticket for Tuesday’s return of superstar Spanish chef and modernist Ferran Adrià of elBulli, who talked about “The New Culinary Think Tank – el bulli 2.0.” And they were scooped up a few days after they became available.

But, you can watch this video of last week’s talk:

Is Kendall Square getting too hip? MIT adds to the boom

The Globe has a story on MIT’s plans for Kendall Square, which describes the school’s backyard as “urban desert, with unused spaces and buildings isolated by wide streets, exaggerating the sense of emptiness.”

That view is a little dated as the bleak landscape made huge progress on the cool curve this summer. In addition to a burst of new restaurants, add this to support that conclusion — it was hard to find a parking space on a recent Thursday night.

Read more of the Globe story here.

Or, take a look yourself:

NYTimes: Profile and video interview w/ Harvard’s Steven Pinker

This Times profile is getting a lot of ink. Check it out.

(For more on the other side of Pinker’s controversial ideas about gender and the brain, check out this New Yorker story ($) about his nemesis, Elizabeth Spelke. Or see this video of their debate.)

On Pinker, Carl Zimmer writes:

As a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he pored over transcripts of children’s speech, looking for telling patterns in the mistakes they made as they mastered verbs. Out of this research, he proposed that our brains contain two separate systems that contribute to language. One combines elements of language to build up meaning; the other is like a mental dictionary we keep in our memory.

This research helped to convince Dr. Pinker that language has deep biological roots. Some linguists argued that language simply emerged as a byproduct of an increasingly sophisticated brain, but he rejected that idea. “Language is so woven into what makes humans human,” he said, “that it struck me as inconceivable that it was just an accident.”

Instead, he concluded that language was an adaptation produced by natural selection. Language evolved like the eye or the hand, thanks to the way it improved reproductive success. In 1990 he published a paper called “Natural Language and Natural Selection,” with his student Paul Bloom, now at Yale. The paper was hugely influential.

Click here for the video.

At UMass Amherst, skulls tell the tale of evolving bats

UMass Amherst news office has a release on a study looking at bats skulls:

“This study conducted during the International Year of the Bat offers a clear example of how the evolution of new traits, in this case a skull with a new shape, allowed animals to use new resources and eventually, to rapidly evolve into many new species,” (Elizabeth) Dumont (of UMass) says. “We found that when a new ecological niche opened up with an opportunity for bats that could eat hard fruits, they shifted their diet significantly, which in turn led to the evolution of new species.”

bat skuls.jpg

The skulls and faces of a nectar-eating bat (left) an insect-eating bat (middle) and a fruit bat (right). The short skulls of fruit bats allow them to bite harder than nectar or insect-eating bats.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dumont, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Can science help cooks evolve? Gastronomy gets molecular at Harvard

That great scientific debate – how to cook a turkey – came to Harvard last week in honor of Thanksgiving.

Using math, not a cookbook, Harvard physicist David Weitz introduced the week’s “Cooking and Science” lecture by explaining how to calculate the cooking time for a bird. But, guest speaker Nathan Myhrvold – also trained as a physicist – noted that dark meat and white meat need to be cooked to different temperatures. The author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking argued that it scientifically impossible to cook the whole bird and not undercook the legs or overcook the breast.

Myhrvold was the latest in a series of cooks to take charge of the lecture hall as part of Harvard’s hugely popular program. Now in its second year, the classes and public lectures features some of the stars of what is alternately is known as molecular gastronomy, culinary physics or, simply, avant garde cuisine. They use chemistry, physics and microbiology to improve on traditional cooking techniques and create new ones.

Or as Myhrvold put it: “If you’re going to do something difficult, it really helps is you know what it going on, as opposed to going by a set of instructions.”

Something difficult like the “instant soufflé,” a squirt and bake mix stored in a whipped-cream can. That, he said, took 150 tries to perfect.

Mynrold, was the first chief technology officer at Microsoft. When he left in 1999, he took his PhD. in theoretical physics and became a scientific foodie. His latest project is a self-published, six-volume, 2,428-page, 42-pound cookbook. The $625 package is designed to offer the best from books on food science — which Mynrold says are short on technique —and books about how to cook, which are short on science and dated.

“You’ll find no technique that is younger than about 30 years old and most of them are older than that,” he told the full house of grad student-age hipsters who lined up before the doors opened.

So, Mynrold, figured out how to “optimize” the hamburger. First he cooks it "sous-vide’ – encased in plastic and immersed in warm water. That heats it all the way through. Then he dunks it in liquid nitrogen for a minute to freeze the outside. Then he deep fries it, leaving the outside crisp and the inside medium rare. He also “constructs” ice cream – his signature dessert made without milk or eggs but with pistachios and emulsifiers. His kitchen gets even more lab-like when he uses a centrifuge to make turn peas into “pea butter.” (The Modernist Cuisine website recommends the Thermo Scientific Sorvall RC-4 General-Purpose Floor Model – which goes for $22,000 on Amazon.)

A week before he spoke at Harvard, Mynrold was on a panel on “Traditionalist Versus Modern Cuisine.” The New York Times said the group was supposed to talk about the controversy over the new molecular gastronomy. While some see it as bringing food to a higher level, others find the focus on high tech kitchen wizardry to be pretentious and gimmicky.

But that panel "hardly mentioned the tools of the nouveau science-fiction kitchen: foams, gels, nitrogen for flash-freezing, alginates for specification, immersion circulators and antigriddle cooktops for low-temperature cooking.

Even the potential dangers of cutting-edge cookery were lowballed, as when Dr. Myrhvold pronounced that liquid nitrogen, frigid though it may be, is less dangerous than spattering fry oil. Or as Wylie Dufresne, the chef and owner of WD-50, put it, liquid nitrogen is “unlikely to freeze your customers to death, and hot soup in the dining room is more of a danger.” He added, “As with scissors, proper training is important.”

Dufresne has already been to Harvard. A video of his Oct. 14 talk on “Transglutaminase Tactics” is online, with all of the lectures so far. On Monday 11/28, White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses returns with a talk on “Lip Smackin’ Science: Crystals, Emulsions, Foams, and Pink Vanilla Cupcakes.” All of the lectures are free. Next week’s requires a ticket: The return of legendary Spanish chef and modernist Ferran Adrià of elBulli, who will talk about “The New Culinary Think Tank – el bulli 2.0.” Tickets for that talk will be available on Tuesday.