Friday, November 21, 2008
From New Scientist:
HAD Amin Rustom not messed up, he would not have stumbled upon one of the biggest discoveries in biology of recent times. It all began in 2000, when he saw something strange under his microscope. A very long, thin tube had formed between two of the rat cells that he was studying. It looked like nothing he had ever seen before…
…At the time, it was not clear whether these structures were anything more than a curiosity seen only in peculiar circumstances. Since their pioneering paper appeared, however, other groups have started finding nanotubes in all sorts of places, from nerve cells to heart cells. And far from being a mere curiosity, they seem to play a major role in anything from how our immune system responds to attacks to how damaged muscle is repaired after a heart attack.
Essentially, these nanotubes allows animal cell interiors at some distance to “communicate” so that they act can in concert. This had previously been thought nearly impossible as cell communication seemed to occur almost entirely by releasing chemicals that can be detected by receptors on the surface of other cells.
There are potentially enormous implications for this discovery, not least in immunology. For instance, there is speculation that HIV may avoid an immunological response by traveling through nanotubes. Another fascinating aspect is this:
Using fluorescent proteins, the team also discovered that relatively large cellular structures, or organelles, could move from one cell to another through the nanotubes.
You have to understand the basic structure of a cell to grasp what this means. The human cell is a like micro-machine that generates it’s own energy and functions like a little organism, producing proteins to perform all sorts of activities including making new cells. To be able to pass an organelle from one cell to another is something like (but not quite) one human being being able to pass a kidney to another human being without the fuss of surgery.
Cell biology and immunology are among the most fascinating areas in science. I am not practiced enough to write about these topics at length, but if you want to understand how beautifully strange and complex life is, cell biology and immunology is a great place to start.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The Right-Wing Nut blogosphere and the McCain campaign is lit up because Biden suggested that if they really cared about children with a “developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect” they’d support stem cell research.
Continuing the Christianist crusade against science, Sarah Palin does not.
And this after Sarah Palin dragged her four month-old up on stage at the Republican National Convention under the hot lights and amidst a deafening din. That child, special needs or not, should have been in bed. Period. But the opportunity to show Palin as a tough mother was too good to pass up. Would anything have been lost except a photo op if, say, Trig and Todd were back at the hotel?
Of course not. They probably would have gained something by explaining why he wasn’t there.
Beyond that, among the first words out of her mouth were a pander to the parents of special needs children. Like McCain milking his POW experience to such a degree that it makes my ex-Marine father cringe, Palin/McCain will exploit any shameless opportunity for an advantage.
These people mean not only to stand in the way of scientific progress, but they are actively working to put America at a competitive disadvantage in one of the most important fields of the 21st century – biotechnology – all while exploiting a little boy with Down’s Syndrome for political advantage.
The new low in politics is Sarah Palin and the Palin/McCain ticket.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
MRSA, (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) a nasty bacteria spawned in hospitals, has become a health crisis not only for sick patients, but through community-acquired MRSA, for otherwise healthy people as well. The most troubling aspect of this potentially fatal bug is that it has proven resistant to all but a few classes of antibiotics and is quickly evolving.
The Independent (UK) reports that scientists may be near a cure for the bacteria. This new treatment, developed by a drug company called Destiny Pharma, works differently than antibiotics and has proven effective in clinical trials. Though still unavailable for public use, the company claims that “within six years it could routinely cure patients already infected with MRSA.”
Keep your fingers crossed. In the endless battle between man and germs, this would be a great victory.