Category Archives: Academia

UC Berkeley-spawned Amyris shares collapse


The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

Amyris Inc. [previously], the company started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to create affordable fuels from using technology created to genetically engineer yeast to produce the most widely used antimalarial drug, hit an all-time low of forty-one cents per share today, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

Part of the reason is contained in a 20 June filing lodged by the company with the Security and Exchange Commission:

On June 14, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) received a letter from The NASDAQ Stock Market LLC (“NASDAQ”) notifying the Company that it is not in compliance with the requirement of NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1) for continued listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market as a result of the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock being below $1.00 for 30 consecutive business days. This notification has no effect on the listing of the Company’s common stock at this time.

In accordance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5810(c)(3)(A), the Company has 180 calendar days, or until December 12, 2016, to regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1). To regain compliance, the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock must be at least $1.00 for a minimum of 10 consecutive business. If the Company does not regain compliance during such period, it may be eligible for an additional compliance period of 180 calendar days, provided that the Company meets NASDAQ’s continued listing requirement for market value of publicly held shares and all other initial listing standards for the NASDAQ Capital Market, other than the minimum bid price requirement, and provides written notice to NASDAQ of its intention to cure the deficiency during the second compliance period. If the Company does not regain compliance during the initial compliance period and is not eligible for an additional compliance period, NASDAQ will provide notice that the Company’s common stock will be subject to delisting from the NASDAQ Capital Market. In that event, the Company may appeal such determination to a hearings panel.

The Company is currently evaluating its available options to resolve the deficiency and regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1).

In other words, Amyris is now officially what’s called a “penny stock,” and stock valued at under a buck and restricted to trade on minor markets.

And while Amyris has promised and failed to deliver on its cheap fuel promises and shifted its development aims to tweaking its yeast to produce genetically engineered cosmetic chemicals, Bill Gates, an original investor from the company’s earliest days, gave Amyris $5 million in April to help cut costs on production of the drug for which he originally bankrolled Keasling and his students.

The drug is produced in Europe and Amyris realizes no profits from its sale.

But now comes more bad news and a possible reason for the continuing decline of the price of Amyris shares.

From the University of British Columbia:

The rapid decline in effectiveness of a widely used anti-malaria drug treatment on the Thailand-Myanmar border is linked to the increasing prevalence of specific mutations in the malaria parasite itself, according to a paper published in The Clinical infectious Disease Journal.

The mutations in specific regions of the parasite’s kelch gene – which are genetic markers of artemisinin resistance – were the decisive factor, the authors say, in the selection of parasites that are also resistant to mefloquine. This resulted in growing failure of the widely-used anti-malaria drug combination of mefloquine and artesunate, the first artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Led by Dr. Aung Pyae Phyo of SMRU, the study used data from a 10-year study of 1,005 patients with uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria at Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) clinics on the Thai-Myanmar border in northwest Thailand.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that artemisinin resistance leads to failure of the artemisinin partner drug, in this case, mefloquine. This means that the first line artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) introduced here in 1994 has finally fallen to resistance,” says François Nosten, Director of SMRU.

Resistance to artemisinin combination therapy drugs (ACTs) – the frontline treatments against malaria infection – poses a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria. If drug resistance spreads from Asia to the African sub-continent, or emerges in Africa independently, as has happened several times before, millions of lives, most of them children under the age of 5 in Africa, will be at risk.

The study shows that, contrary to the view sometimes expressed that resistance to artemisinin is not a direct threat, it is in fact responsible for the rapid demise of the partner drug and the failure of the drug combination, resulting in patients not being cured and further transmission of the malaria parasite.

“The evidence is clear: Artemisinin resistance leads to partner drug resistance and thereby the failure of artemisinin combination treatments,” said Oxford Professor Nicholas White, Chairman of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) and chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

Given the very limited number of effective drugs, it is urgent to eliminate P. falciparum from the areas where it has developed resistance to the artemisinins, said Prof. White: “The spread of artemisinin resistant Plasmodium falciparum is perhaps the greatest threat to our current hopes of eliminating malaria from the world.”

A unit of the Bangkok-based MORU, SMRU is based in the refugee camps and migrant communities along the Thai-Myanmar border. Led by researchers based at SMRU (Thailand), the study was funded with the support of the Wellcome Trust (UK).

Reference:

Pyae Phyo A et al, Declining efficacy of artemisinin combination therapy against P. falciparum malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (2003-2013): the role of parasite genetic factors [open access], Clinical Infectious Diseases, published online 16 June 2016.

How to create mini-NSAs to spy on social media


The NSA, the National Security Agency, is America’s super-agency for monitoring global communications. While it’s only nominally no to spy on US citizens, the policy is more honored in the breach than in the observance.

But, still, local law enforcement agencies can’t access the massive cache of our digitally expressed thoughts and feelings, and. my. how they’d like to.

So what to do?

Well, why not start with create a program to monitor social media for all the things cops want to know?

From the University of North Carolina, Charlotte:

Yong Ge, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing and Informatics’ Department of Computer Science.  Through funding from the National Institute of Health, Ge has developed a tool that leverages social media data to help analyze use patterns of illegal drugs by young adults across the country.

“Up until now the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts a national survey once a year in which thousands of people are randomly selected to supply information,” says Ge.  “Essentially it tries to determine what types of illegal drugs people are using. Not only was it very costly but it generated hundreds of pages of information, some of which might not even be accurate based on the responses of those being surveyed.”

Ge says by doing the survey only once a year it makes it nearly impossible to capture the dynamics of illegal drug usage on an ongoing basis. He says through the use of social media analysis that has all changed.  Ge says they can now capture and analyze data on an ongoing basis, track trends, etc., which gives them a much more powerful tool to figure out what is actually going on out there.

Ge says another challenge is creating a database for all of the different names being used to describe drugs.

“People use many different street names to describe illegal drugs,” says Ge.  “Therefore we need to capture that data in order to get a good sampling of what people are using. It is very rare that folks will use the real names of the illegal drug.”

Ge says by tracking illegal drug use via social media analysis they are able to see where certain illegal drugs are being used, sort patterns of usage of drugs, detect new ways of using drugs, etc.  He says as they acquire this real time information they will be able to detect and report immediately what is trending and where.

Ge says eventually they hope to be able to supply this information to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and law enforcement authorities.

Julian Assange begins his fifth year of asylum


Today, 19 June 2016, marks the start of the fifth year of the political asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains within the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, sheltered from extradition that would likely see his removal to the U.S. and trial on espionage charges for publishing diplomatic cables and other documents furnished by the now-imprisoned Chelsea Manning.

To commemorate the date and raise a renewed call for his freedom, notable figures in journalism, governance, human rights, law, environmentalism, academia, art, film, and even fashion raised their voices in events around the world.

For a full list of participants, see thje #freeassagenow website, but meanwhile, from The Press Project, here are a few videos recorded for the event:

We begin with a familiar face:

Noam Chomsky in support of Julian Assange


Next, a Slovenian philosopher:

Slavoj Žižek in support of Julian Assange


And a Chinese artist:

Ai Wei Wei in support of Julian Assange


Followed by a world renowned composer and musician:

Brian Eno in support of Julian Assange


And Italy’s most esteemed investigator reporter, a journalist who lives with round-the-clock police protection because of his brilliant exposes of organized crime:

Roberto Saviani in support of Julian Assange


Finally, the British fashion designer and human rights activist who brought the punk style into the mainstream:

Vivienne Westwood in support of Julian Assange

Europe warned to regulate endocrine disruptors


We’ve posted endlessly about the dangers posed by plastics and other chemicals [including those used in fracking, flame retardants, food packaging, and more] flooding the environment now demonstrated to disrupt the healthy operation of the body’s endocrine system [glands in common parlance].

Chemicals secreted by the endocrine system regulate a wide range of bodily process, everything to weight and stature to sexual characteristics.

And now the organization representing the physicians, researchers, and educators specializing in endocrine studies has called upon the European Union to strictly regulate chemicals identified as endocrine disruptors.

From the Endocrine Society:

To protect human health, Endocrine Society members called on the European Commission to adopt science-based policies for regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals in an opinion piece published today in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

The publication comes two days before the European Commission is expected to announce its final criteria for identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones – the chemical signals that regulate brain development, reproduction, metabolism, growth and other important biological functions. EDCs can be found in common products including food containers, plastics, cosmetics and pesticides.

More than 1,300 studies have linked EDC exposure to health problems such as infertility, diabetes, obesity, hormone-related cancers and neurological disorders, according to the Endocrine Society’s 2015 Scientific Statement. Recent studies have found that adverse health effects from EDC exposure cost the European Union more than €157 billion each year in healthcare expenses and lost productivity.

“A growing body of research has found endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a threat not only to those who are directly exposed, but to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said the Society’s European Union Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Task Force Co-Chair Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, MD, PhD, first author of the opinion piece, of the University of Liège in Liège, Belgium. “We need to protect the public and future generations with regulations that address the latest scientific findings and incorporate new information from emerging research.”

The European Commission has proposed four options for regulatory criteria identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The Endocrine Society supports option 3, which would create multiple categories based on the amount of scientific evidence that a particular chemical acts as an endocrine disruptor. This option also allows for incorporating new data as more studies are published.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different. . .


How about a drone and a couple of whales?

From the Auckland University of Technology:

Rare whale footage shot by drone thanks to AUT scientists

Program notes:

Unique footage of a Bryde’s Whale has been released by Auckland University of Technology. The footage shows an adult whale feeding, briefly joined by a young calf, and was filmed from a drone off the coast of Auckland. It is thought to be the first time the feeding behaviour of a Bryde’s Whale has been recorded by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The footage was captured by AUT post-graduate students, Ticiana Fetterman and Lorenzo Fiori, while on the water conducting their respective Masters and PhD research. They were stunned to glimpse the whales, and to share the rarely seen moment with their research supervisor Dr Barbara Bollard Breen.

“Bryde’s Whales are critically threatened in New Zealand, so it’s thrilling to see them in the wild and to be able to record them feeding from above is very special,” says the Senior Lecturer in Geospatial Science.

“Using a UAV allowed Ticiana and Lorenzo to film without disturbing the surrounding wildlife – revealing footage of the whales feeding that we wouldn’t have been able to see from a boat-based survey.”

The team was using a custom-built multirotor UAV, one of a number of drones used by AUT’s Institute for Applied Ecology in their conservation and ecology research.

It flew at a distance of at least 40 meters from the whales, while recording clear, detailed footage. The adult whale is estimated to be approximately 12 metres long, 12 tonnes in weight and 10 years old.

Researchers crack the Amazon price puzzle


From Northeastern University.

From Northeastern University.

We have mixed feelings about online megaretailers like Amazon.

Their predatory pricing kills community-based businesses and reduces labor to role of automata.

But on the other hand, those same predatory prices are virtually irresistible, especially in a society where worker paychecks are steadily losing ground.

But once you’re seduced by the low prices, the rule of caveat emptor still applies.

That’s because the low price you see often isn’t the lowest you can get.

And now some academics have cracked the puzzle of just how to get that lowest price.

From Northeastern University:

You need a new Chrome­book com­puter, so you go online to Amazon and start your search. You click on an attrac­tive item on the product page—an Acer 11.6-Inch, CB3-111-C670. Up pops the computer’s price ($188.88, new, last Friday morning) and, to the right, the ubiq­ui­tous “buy box,” beck­oning “Add to Cart.” You oblige.
Had you looked more closely, you might have done better.

New research [open access PDF] led by Northeastern’s Christo Wilson, assis­tant pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, reveals that Amazon is much more likely to fea­ture sellers in the buy box who use an auto­mated prac­tice called algo­rithmic pricing, even though their prices may be higher than those who don’t. Algo­rithmic pricing read­justs product prices in real-time using com­puter algo­rithms, reacting to vari­ables such as com­peti­tors’ changing prices and sellers’ inven­tory levels. The research was presented at the 25th Inter­na­tional World Wide Web Conference.

That Acer is a case in point: A tiny link below the buy box takes you to 107 other sellers whose prices for the same new machine start at just $149.

When you go to a page on Amazon, what you’re seeing is typ­i­cally not the lowest price avail­able,” says Wilson. “For example, we found that 60 per­cent of sellers using algo­rithmic pricing have prices that are higher than the lowest price for a given product. Now, 70 per­cent of the time they only raise the price by $1, but there are many cases where the price increase is on the order of $20 to $60. So you really have to take that extra step and click through to the list of all sellers for a given product if you want to find the lowest price.”

Pick your strategy

If algo­rithmic pricing sounds too sophis­ti­cated for inde­pen­dent sellers, it’s not: For a fee, any one of Amazon’s more than 2 mil­lion third-party sellers can easily sub­scribe to an auto­mated pricing ser­vice through com­pa­nies such as Sellery, Feed­visor, and Repri­ceIt, becoming so-called algo sellers. They then set up a pricing strategy by choosing from a menu of options like these: Find the lowest price offered and go above it (or below it) by X dol­lars or Y per­centage, find Amazon’s own price for the item and adjust up or down rel­a­tive to it, and so on. The ser­vice does the rest.

Read the rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day III: Peak public paychecks


From Deadspin, the top public employee paycheck recipient in each of the 50 states:

BLOG Paychecks