Saturday, February 28, 2009

Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, I give you one of the preeminent biochemists of the 20th century, Percy Julian. Born in 1899, he received his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna. He passed away in 1975.
His biomedical research made it possible to synthetically produce large quantities of cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. His synthesis of cortisone reduced the price from hundreds of dollars per drop for natural cortisone to a few cents per gram.
His story is one of dedication: to one's ideals and to one's dreams. If you believe you can, find a way to do so. Percy Julian did.

Friday, February 27, 2009

New medical disorder identified

Playstation palmar hidradentitis. I kid you not.
Called "PlayStation palmar hidradentitis" by the scientists, the skin disorder can cause painful lesions on the palms similar to patches found on the soles of children's feet after taking part in heavy physical activity, they said.
Sign of the times?

Kelp Car

From Toyota.
The kelp car would build upon the already hypergreen 1/X plug-in hybrid concept, which weighs 926 pounds, by replacing its carbon-fiber body with plastic derived from seaweed. As wild as it might sound, bioplastics are becoming increasingly common and Toyota thinks it's only a matter of time before automakers use them to build cars.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Victory for self-harvested stem cells?

Stem Cell therapy cure for MS?
Edwin McClure, a Virginia Commonwealth University advertising graduate student, says a stem-cell study he participated in appears to have cured his multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Here is another link to a similar study.
Not one of 21 adults with relapsing-remitting MS who had stem cells transplanted from their own bone marrow deteriorated over three years.
Do No Harm - Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics

ASM 2009

Well I found out today the "disposition of my ASM abstract". Looks like I'll need to stay for pretty much the entire meeting because my poster session is towards the end. Certainly not the worst thing to happen to me, though I was sort of hoping that I could get in there, hit the sessions I needed to, give my presentation, and then boogie on home. Since it's in Philly, a place I've actually never been ... even though I grew up in that general area ... I guess I can spend a bit of time sight-seeing as well. Anyone know of some really good places to eat (and visit) while I'm there?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Electric bike.
Under its current configuration, a bike powered solely by a single GreenWheel (front, rear or both wheel can be equipped with a GreenWheel) has an estimated range of 25 miles. Pedaling the bike doubles the range under electric power, provided the rider isn't traveling at the nearly top speed of 30 miles an hour. The bike can be charged by pedaling or by plugging it into the electric grid.

ASU closing Med Tech program in cuts to science courses

In this day and age, closing off a source of vital job training is silly. It's a crying shame when that closure comes at the hands of a supposed institute of higher learning, which I imagine Arizona State University fancies itself.

At any rate, received this email from the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) today:

Nationwide Campaign to Save ASU's CLS/MT Program

Tell Board of Regents, University Leadership:
Don't Close ASU's Clinical Laboratory Sciences/Medical Technology Program
Arizona State, Others Closing Doors to Laboratory Education

ASCP urges all members of the laboratory team to help!
Take a few minutes to help halt the closure of Arizona State University's ASU's CLS/MT program: send a message that laboratory professionals are critical to the health care team and that the documented shortage of laboratory professionals is reason to keep training programs open!

There are approximately 15,000 open positions for Medical Technologists in the United States. Some states, such as Oklahoma, don't have university Med Tech programs so it's not that Med Techs are being churned out in massive numbers. However, more students are getting certified as laboratory professionals through technical colleges and distance learning programs, like this one that offers online health science programs and degrees. The growing for-profit education sector accounts for some of the lack of interest by many health science departments in medical technologist programs. I'm not sure if ASU…. I'm not sure if ASU is the only Arizona school with a B.S. degree Med Tech program, however even if it were not ... closing it down is still a big mistake IMNSHO. If you think so too, click the link and send those emails out (actually the site does it for you, you just put in your information).

Don't eat that bird!

Doh! Too late.
A rare quail from the Philippines was photographed for the first time before being sold as food at a poultry market, experts say.


Scientists had suspected the species—listed as "data deficient" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's 2008 Red List—was extinct.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Geothermal Power

Interesting article in Scientific American. It even has an economic link!

Hello Comet Lulin

Comet to pass by Earth next week.
On Monday at 10:43 p.m. EST, it will be 38 million miles from Earth, the closest it will ever get, according to Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There Can Be Only One!

In graduate school I used to sometimes go by the nickname "The Highlander". It wasn't a name I gave to myself, it was given to me ... I mean really, who gives themselves that sort of nickname? At any rate, I received that nickname because when I used to do transformations, sometimes I'd wind up with one colony ... which happened to contain the exact product I needed, or if I screened multiple clones they'd all fail except for one ... which happened to contain the exact product I needed. If it had happened once, no big deal ... but I seemed to have had a penchant for pulling that one clone trick multiple times.Nice to see I haven't lost my touch.

I'm not a big fan of Facebook ...

... and this won't help things at all. From their TOS:
"You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof."
Bold emphasis mine. Of course, I really haven't looked at the Blogger and Google TOS lately either.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Does this hold ...

... for manuscript rejections as well?
But in a modern world, our hypersensitivity to rejection can have surprisingly destructive consequences. When we're socially or romantically excluded, even in seemingly insignificant ways, it can lead to a host of negative psychological and physical side effects. That includes everything from lower scores on intelligence tests to a weakened immune system and increased aggression ...
I know I want to strangle someone when I get a less than stellar review on one of my manuscripts.

Currently ...

Listening To
So give me something to believe
Cause I am living just to breathe
And I need something more
To keep on breathing for
So give me something to believe

Believe, The Bravery

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Neandertal Genome

The rough draft of the Neandertal genome has been released.
...the team has decoded 3.7 billion bases of Neandertal DNA from a bone of a female Neandertal fossil discovered in Vindija cave in Croatia. That DNA represents about 63 percent of the total Neandertal genome.
So, what have they found so far?
Analysis of the genome reveals that humans and Neandertals share genetic roots stretching back at least 830,000 years. Neandertals, the species Homo neandertalensis, were humans’ closest relatives, appearing about 300,000 years ago and living in Europe and parts of Asia until going extinct about 30,000 years ago.
That's just a glimpse. The article is a good read, go check it out.

Court Sez: No link between vaccines and autism

So anti-vaccine activists, get over it.
An attorney for the families did not respond immediately to a request for comment. But the head of one consumer group that questions vaccine safety, the National Vaccine Information Center, said the court's ruling will do little to change the minds of most parents who suspect a link between vaccines and autism. She said more studies are needed.
Exactly how many more studies are needed? It wouldn't matter how many studies were performed ... you'd always make the same claim: More studies are needed.

So, just shut up and get your kids vaccinated already.

Monday, February 09, 2009

No talking in class!

ResearchBlogging.orgFor all microbiologists not living in a cave, we all know that we're really losing the war against pathogenic bacteria, at least on the antibiotic front. Even the most potent antibiotics like vancomycin -- often considered the antibiotic of last resort -- have seen some organisms develop resistance to it. So, it's time for either new drugs, or a new approach. A New Scientist article discusses developing new antibiotics which target quorum sensing. The article is based on a communication in Chemical Communications, entitled: Towards quorum-quenching catalytic antibodies. The process of quorum sensing is described as following in the NS article:
Individual bacteria monitor the concentration of signalling molecules, and when it reaches a certain level, change their behaviour. That concentration provides a rough indication of when the number of cells in a particular population has reached a certain critical mass – known as a quorum.
So? This process, the authors hypothesize, can be targetted in what they call "antivirulence therapy".
Bacterial antivirulence therapies seek to avoid the development of treatment-induced resistance.
The NS article continues to explain:
But hacking the bacterial communication system could make it possible to prevent this transformation, and leave the cells waiting in a safe form for an attack signal that never comes. That would give the immune system extra time to naturally clear the bacteria from the body, says David Spring at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Of course, that does mean that the body needs to clear the infection on its own. In some circumstances, that may not be possible. But at any rate, how can they do it? They plan on designing antibodies to these quorum molecules. These antibodies will degrade the quorum molecules upon contact, or at least that is the hope/plan.

Prashant B. Kapadnis, Evan Hall, Madeleine Ramstedt, Warren R. J. D. Galloway, Martin Welch, David R. Spring (2009). Towards quorum-quenching catalytic antibodies Chemical Communications (5) DOI: 10.1039/b819819e

The Grammy's

I consider award shows a total waste of time. Waste. Of. Time. However, after watching Be Kind Rewind last night (Netflix rocks), I switched back over to the television and came across the Grammy's. So I decided to watch for a bit. I think I hit the Disney segment because both Miley Cyrus (can't stand her) and the Jonas Brothers (can't stand them) both did performances. However, I noticed something interesting ... it appears that Disney couldn't just get them up on stage to perform. Instead they actually had to have their acts chaperoned. Miley had to sit next to the much more talented Taylor Swift, and the Jonas Brothers had to act like fools next to Stevie Wonder. I hope both of these kidlet acts never succeed outside of Disney's purview.

Come on Denver!

Get with the program. It's a statue for crying out loud.
Alternate monikers suggested for the horse with the glowering eyes include "Bluecifer," "Satan's Steed" and "Blue Devil Horse."
Bluecifer. Heh.

When I saw the picture I thought it looked somewhat familiar, and wondered where I had seen something similar before. According to Wikipedia, Luis Jiménez, a sculptor was killed making this piece. Maybe the Bluecifer moniker is accurate after all. At any rate, it was based on a sculpting of his named Mesteño which is on display at my alma mater, Oklahoma. The one on the Oklahoma campus is just a wee bit smaller, coming in at approximately 8 feet in height (as compared to the 32 feet of the Denver airport sculpture). It's current location is outside OU's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. There are pictures on flickr here (daytime) and here (nighttime). Why the nighttime shot? Take a look for yourself, and that's not photoshopped either.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Forward Contamination

Forward contamination is the passing of earth organisms to other space objects (of particular relevance, the Moon and Mars). The issue is discussed in Time Magazine.
Even though Phoenix was assembled in a special clean room to minimize bacterial contamination, and its arm, which would have direct contact with Martian ice, was heat-sterilized before launch, it's likely that dozens or more species of microbes hitched a ride on Phoenix's 10-month trip to Mars. Once on Mars, it's possible that bacteria shielded by the structure of the spacecraft from the harsh Martian UV radiation could stay alive, in dormancy, for hundreds of thousands of years. And if native microbes do exist on Mars — nothing has been found yet, but scientists hold out hope that the ice present on parts of the planet harbors life — there's a risk that foreign bacteria could contaminate or somehow change the development of their Martian counterparts.

The state of sustainable energy

New Scientist article.
Although scientists are agreed that we must cut carbon emissions from transport and electricity generation to prevent the globe's climate becoming hotter, and more unpredictable, the most advanced "renewable" technologies are too often based upon non-renewable resources, attendees heard.
Three cited examples are: 1. Iridium; 2. Platinum; 3. Land.

To everyone who has freaked out about the flu ...

... there is a reason to feel a bit more secure today.
Strep infections and not the flu virus itself may have killed most people during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which suggests some of the most dire predictions about a new pandemic may be exaggerated, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
Yah, but ... something still killed those people.

Well, yes indeedy, but that something was a bacterium, and we now have antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, see?
"Neither antimicrobial drugs nor serum therapy was available for treatment in 1918," Klugman's team wrote.

Now there are also vaccines that protect against many different strains of S. pneumoniae, which cause infections from pneumonia to meningitis.
That's not to say that if you come down with a fever you should just pop whatever antibiotics you have in your bathroom cabinet ... since you should have finished your antibiotics for what they were prescribed for ... but there is no reason to panic about some massive flu epidemic which will wipe out 10% (or more) of the worlds population.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

That's Doctor Thomas Joseph to you!

On occasion, the scientific blogosphere gets into a tizzy about some subject or another. This week it's about Dr. Biden wanting to be called ... well ... Dr. Biden. Go figure.
"My feeling is if you can't heal the sick, we don't call you doctor," said Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post's A section and the author of two language books.
Heh. O-tay!

At any rate lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots (and I didn't get/list them all) of Science Bloggers are blogging about it, and most are miffed!

Honestly, at work and especially in my private life ... I don't expect to be called doctor. Heck, when I received my degree and called my family, my own mother didn't even call me Doctor (though the rest of my family tried it out on me at least once), so I was brought down to earth fairly quickly. My mom of course denies that she did it to avoid me having a big head, but rather to the fact that she was road-tripping with my sister at the time and was paying attention to the road (even though my sister was the one driving).

At any rate, I can see what upsets people about the dismissive comments by Bill Walsh ("Mr." left off purposely). I especially understand that it can be upsetting to women, who often have earned their degree while fighting opposition and derogatory/sexist behavior -- much tougher odds than their male counterparts. I think everyone who earns their Ph.D. should be proud of it, and they should use it if they are so inclined. As for me, there are times I'm referred to as Doctor (it's the work culture I'm in actually), but I don't make a point of using it. I do have business cards that have Ph.D. after my name (they're cool) and I have a business card holder inscribed with my full name (and making mention of the Dr. as well) but that comes out only in certain instances ... such as when I attend customer workshops and people are looking to me for my scientific expertise. More often than not, I prefer to be called Tom, and my support scientists were instructed very early to use that, and only that to get my attention. What they call me behind my back is another story, and I probably don't want to know.

So, what does all this boil down to? If you earned it, and you want to use it. Use it! If you don't, don't! It's your call either way. All this typing to say that, eh?

Oh, and if you're one of those people who refers to all female teachers as "Ms." and all male teachers as "Dr." ... stop and think about it. Heck, why don't you ask them what they'd like to be called? There's a shocker for ya!

In the future, Big Brother will go by one name ...

Google also is promising not to retain any information about its users' movements. Only the last location picked up by the tracking service will be stored on Google's computers, Lee said.

Requiescat In Pace

Michael Dubruiel. He was a blogger, an author, and most importantly to him a loving and caring father and husband.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Change we can believe in?

WTF is with all these Democrats who can't seem to file their taxes properly?

This is getting disgusting. The rich keep getting richer, and the rest of us get screwed. Fun times!

Irony ...

... I learned long ago that when one opens their mouth to be a wise-ass, it often comes back to bite you in the ass. And Biden has a big mouth, which means that chomp will often be painful (to the ego at the very least).

Monday, February 02, 2009

Keyword of the Day

The Nuclear Option

Is Nuclear Power Worth It? Link goes to a Scientific American article. It's definitely worth the read. Definitely some pro's and con's to this energy source.

A pro, as odd it may seem by reading this quote:
And nuclear power plants have been operating in the U.S. for 50 years without exposing workers or residents in surrounding areas to excessive radiation. "Radiation is mundane, it's a weak carcinogen," says Rod Reed, a senior health physicist at the NRC. "It leads to very mundane changes, not three-eyed fish."

In fact, a typical coal-fired power plant exposes local residents to as many as 18 millirems of radiation yearly, whereas a nuclear power plant emits less than six millirems per annum, according to researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Reed adds: "Radiation should be respected, not feared."
And a con?
At issue in the failure at Davis–Besse is the alloy metal used to craft the nozzles—known as Inconel 600 or Alloy 600. The alloy of nickel, chromium and iron is resistant to corrosion generally—but slowly cracks when exposed to boric acid and stress.

But it isn't just reactor heads that are made from the stuff. The steam generators that transfer the heat from the solution of water and boron, which comes into contact with the nuclear reactor, to the water heated into steam that turns the turbines to produce electricity also employ the alloy. "The tubes in the steam generators were susceptible to cracking," says Ken Karwoski, senior level advisor for steam generators and material inspection at the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. "It's a combination of the temperature and the water chemistry."
So is this an issue dealing with all nuclear power plants? Fortunately no.
As early as the late 1950s there was some suggestion that this metal would crack under pressure but "the decision was made to go with this material," Karwoski says. "The perspective was that it should last but it didn't." And, as of today, there are still 15 nuclear power plants, including Davis–Besse, employing their old steam generators made from the alloy.

The U.S. fleet of 104 nuclear reactors—most built in the 1960s and 1970s—produced 806.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2007, a record, and ran almost 92 percent of the time.
Speaking of issues with nuclear energy infrastructure, here is another article from Sci Am about nuclear mishaps.
In all, there were 10 incidents at U.S. nuclear plants last year [2006] that merited ratings of 2—"significant spread of contamination / overexposure of a worker" and "incidents with significant failures in safety provisions," as the INES handbook puts it—or above, Jones says. "Two reactor events and eight nonreactor events."
Overall, I'm still of the opinion that nuclear energy is a reasonable source of energy for the United States.

More on ...

... the new process to create LED lights.
The cost of production has kept the LEDs far from homes and offices, however. Gallium nitride cannot be grown on silicon like other solid-state electronic components because it shrinks at twice the rate of silicon as it cools. Crystals of GaN must be grown at 1000°C, so by the time a new LED made on silicon has cooled, it has already cracked, rendering the devices unusable.

One solution is to grow the LEDs on sapphire, which shrinks and cools at much the same rate as GaN. But the expense is too great to be commercially competitive.

Now Colin Humphreys's team at the University of Cambridge has discovered a simple solution to the shrinkage problem.

They included layers of aluminium gallium nitride in their LED design. These layers shrink at a much slower rate during cooling and help to counteract the fast-shrinkage of pure gallium nitride. These LEDs can be grown on silicon as so many other electronics components are. "They still work well as LEDs even with those extra layers inside," says Humphreys.

Currently ...

Listening To

Well, that's thanks for ya

Woman saves bosses life, only to be "downsized" a couple of months later.
The firing comes just months after Hegyi, a registered nurse, saved the life of station finance manager David Breed, who suffered a severe heart attack at work in September.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


SEDS Messier Catalog
TUMOL - The Ultimate Messier Object Log (Software)
Stellarium - Open Source Planetarium (Software)
Astronomy POTD - NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Microbe Zoo


I hate the Steelers. Arizona should have had that game wrapped up. Too many penalties and bad plays cost them.

I wonder if the Jets will ever make the Super Bowl again. In my lifetime would be nice.