Archive for August, 2010

Gene Genie – Careful What You Wish For

The last 60 years or so have been splendid for those of us interested in genetics. It’s striking to think that it wasn’t really until 1952 that we came to universally agree that DNA was the heritable material rather than protein. This is only a year before the famous structure of the DNA double helix was uncovered. I would venture that almost everybody with any amount of post-infant-school education would be able to state that we inherit things from our parents via DNA. I would then go double or nothing that they could at least identify a picture of DNA.

Ooooh, look at those curves. Yeah!

DNA: This macro-molecule is why you're as ugly as both your parents , combined. Fact.

Continue reading ‘Gene Genie – Careful What You Wish For’

Erring On The Side of Caution

The ability of humanity to understand, intervene and hopefully minimise causes of premature death is perhaps one of our crowning achievements to date. Of course, it’s far from a complete and comprehensive achievement but, nonetheless, we have far outstripped any other organism’s ability (or even awareness) to challenge our mortality. And the change has been fairly swift. As recently as the Roman era, life expectancy was as low as 22 years. Yet now, in the UK at least, life expectancy is as high as 81.1 years for women.

More than middle aged.

If the Romans had their way, this little turd would only have 6 years left.

Continue reading ‘Erring On The Side of Caution’

HeLa

Science tends to work as a gradual accumulation of knowledge and technical progress in numerous fields. Then you get the bigger events which have wider felt consequences and represent a larger leap forward in understanding and ability. Such an example of this would be the recent creation of “Synthia”, the artificial Mycoplasma generated by Dr. Craig Venter’s team.

Then there are revolutionary events that transform our understanding and/or capability in a field. I say “and/or” but in reality a revolution in technical skill nearly always leads to a revolution in understanding of a field, eventually, and vice versa. I would argue that Craig Venter’s achievement, though massively impressive, does not constitute a revolution. If it hadn’t been him now, it would have certainly been someone within the next 5 years. In other words, and without detracting from the event, the creation of the first ostensibly artificial life is a natural progression in the chain of advancements in molecular and cellular biology. Craig Venter is a very talented scientist, with an excellent team, but he equally excels in promoting the Venter legend.

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman born in 1920 into a pretty tough life. And yet as a result of her suffering a true revolution in biomedical research arose. I am currently reading Rebecca Skloot’s new book on the story of Henrietta (it’s not like I’m advertising, so if you really want to know about the book, then Google is your friend!).

Continue reading ‘HeLa’

Go Drink Some Bleach… No, Really.

Wow. Sometimes the capacity for stupid being misinformed is impossible to overestimate.

So there is a product called Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS). Even without the presence of the word “miracle”  hanging off the front, the name is already in danger of falling into the quackery precipice (the quackipice, if you will). The world of mineral supplementation is already filled to the rafters with false claims and unnecessary products. Adding claims of miracley goodness already seems like taking the piss. More on this later.

Before we continue, I want you to study the following scientific diagram very carefully. It will be on the test.

Kills all known germs. And you.

Delicious but deadly. Bleach and medicine are not the same

So, MMS is beloved by many in the runaway mine-train of the alt-med “community”. Of course it is. After all it is marketed as the “answer to AIDS, hepatitis A,B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind’s worse diseases” (See the crazy here). I like the idea that they didn’t want to sound like they were getting carried away so tempered the whole “curing cancer” thing by just saying “most”. Yeah, that keeps it realistic. I think most people would be able to smell the bullshit a mile off.

Oh what’s the harm of a bit of innocent quackery if people enjoy themselves?” you may ask. Well aside from the usual anti-medicine rhetoric that proponents come out with that may directly cause people suffering from life-threatening illnesses to shun effective treatment , there is an additional threat here.

Remember that diagram above?

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. The “miracle” in MMS (which is actually a 28% aqueous Sodium Chlorite) is, essentially, bleach. Sodium chlorite is used in industry to generate chlorine dioxide, which is a highly effective bleach. The way the alt-med nuts advise you to take is with citric acid. Which of course is a good way to release that delicious chlorine dioxide.

The thing that amazes me about this is that the kind of advocates of MMS are the very people who protest against “life threatening side effects experienced from chemical drugs”. Firstly everything is a chemical, nutjob, and secondly I can’t think of anything much more chemically than bleach. They acknowledge that you get side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. You also get a burning sensation in your throat. Because you’re drinking fucking bleach.

So to sum it up: it’s obvious quackery at the first glance of the claims to cure AIDS and cancer. It refers to itself as a miracle, always a good sign of bollocks. And most of all, and I’m not sure if I’ve made this point, it results in the consumption of refreshing, delicious, thirst-quenching bleach.

BLEACH!

The Future Is Yesterday

I remember when we got our Sega Mega Drive. It was a good day. It was also a day in 1995, approximately half a decade after the original release of the Mega Drive.

This is a similarly momentous event. A mere 10 years and 8 months after the word “blog” was coined (tru fax, fact-fans) I have decided to leap with both feet into this turn-of-the-millenium medium.

Yesterday's future

Fig1: The goddam future. From YesterdayTM

Anyway, enough of the preamble. I guess it’s time to lay out my stall. I *HEART* science. And so I want to write about it. I work in academia and have also worked in an industrial context (bah, says I to doing that again). To me, science isn’t just a dry collection of facts. It’s about much more than that. It is a way of perceiving and experiencing the world. It’s a way of navigating and operating. Oh, and I get to play with lasers. Kapow!

I intend to just prattle on about things that interest me on this blog. Sometimes they may be things of a specific nature. Other times it might be a broad topic. I just don’t know.

Finally, I know that you always get better at things the more you do them. So there may well be a learning curve for me. I don’t really care about getting a faithful readership until I can write… erm… good.


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