Where the Laboratory Research Jobs Are: What We Learned at Pittcon

March 12, 2014

The 64th annual Pittcon Conference, more formally known as the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, has evolved far beyond its roots as a small technical conference first held in 1950 in the William Penn Hotel. So much has changed since that time. For example, it wasn’t until 1953 that James Watson and Francis Crick made the startling announcement that DNA molecules exist in the form of a three-dimensional double helix. And we can’t forget that back in 1950, Pittsburgh was at its peak as the home of “Big Steel”, a true wonder of the industrialized economy.

Like its namesake home city of Pittsburgh, which has reinvented itself as a high-tech center for leading healthcare and genetics research, the Pittcon Conference has successfully stayed current with leading edge developments in laboratory science. That’s what makes the conference such an interesting bellwether for understanding the current mix of laboratory research jobs and where future laboratory research job growth lies.

Laboratory Research Jobs Grown Trend: Quantitative Proteomics

Dr. Steven A. Carr, Director of Proteomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, kicked off the conference with his presentation “Quantitative Proteomics in Biology, Chemistry and Medicine.” What is proteomics? That’s a great question, which we’ll answer in a minute. But first let’s answer a different question: What is the the Broad Institute? Here is a clue. If the name Eric S. Lander seems familiar, you may recall his leading role in the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the human genome in a race against privately held Celera Genomics. That work was completed in 2003, and in 2004 Lander founded the Broad Institute to create teams of scientists focused on developing high-tech tools to analyze the massive amount of genomic-related data unleashed by the Humane Genome Project. (note: The institute is named after the Broad family who endowed the institution. Broad is pronounced with a long O to rhyme with ‘code’).

Now with that background information, we can return back to Dr. Steven Carr at Pittcon and his talk about Quantitative Proteomics. Carr began by defining the difference between genomics and proteomics. The full set of proteins created by the genome is know as proteomes. Thus the study of proteomes, such as which ones are present, their relative amounts and their overall state of development, is known as proteomics. Got it?

Carr explains it this way: we should think of genomics as the blueprint of what proteins are intended to be like in your body. In other words, genomics is ‘what could happen’ to your proteins. Proteomics on the other hand is more like “what is happening” to the proteins in your body. (For you English majors out there familiar with Nature vs. Nurture, genomics is like Nature and proteomics is like Nurture.)