Sunday, July 22, 2012

Scientists ID ‘Morning Person’ Gene

Found this really interesting article on the discovery of a gene that determines sleep duration:

"Napoleon Bonaparte, Margaret Thatcher, Leonardo da Vinci … history is full of  names of famous figures who accomplished historical feats on reportedly few hours of sleep.
Now, new research suggests they may have had a  certain genetic advantage.
Scientists at Germany’s Ludwig Maximalians University of Munich have found that one gene, called ABCC9, influences sleep duration and could explain why certain people seem able to operate on limited amounts of shut-eye. The researchers studied responses to a sleep survey from more than 4,000 Europeans in seven different countries and also scanned their genomes. They found that people who had two copies of a particular variant of the ABCC9 gene generally reported sleeping for shorter periods than those who had two copies of a different version of the gene.
The ABCC9 gene has been previously linked  to heart disease and diabetes. These latest findings on the genetic factor’s role in sleep duration add to a growing body of evidence suggesting a connection between sleep and cardiovascular health. A 2008 study found a connection between lack of sleep and a dangerous build-up of calcium in the arteries. Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by abnormal pauses in breathing,  has also been associated with high blood pressure and heart attacks.
“Apparently, the relationships of sleep duration with other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, can be in part explained by an underlying common molecular mechanism,” study author Karla Allebrandt told the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
The scientists also found that the ABCC9 gene controls sleep duration in fruit flies, providing a clue to the gene’s evolutionary age,  Allebrandt said.
Scientists  are gradually learning more about the genetics behind sleep habits. In 2008, researchers found a gene associated with narcolepsy, a rare but devastating sleep disorder. A 2010 study identified genetic differences that make some people sleepier than others, even after they’ve had a full night’s rest. Dr. Mark Mahowald, medical director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, told ABC News that there’s more to sleep habits than most people think.
“Our society has equated sleepiness with defects of character, like laziness and depression, but really, some people are generally sleepier during the day,” Mahowald said. “We have to accept the fact that sleep duration is genetically determined and not a sign of a defect.”"
It's a wonderful thing that this discovery open doors to more studies on sleep patterns in the future. A very interesting read.

 “We have to accept the fact that sleep duration is genetically determined and not a sign of a defect.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

H5N1 Timeline

I just found a really interesting H5N1 timeline from the journal Science.

The link for it is here:

It covers news and controversies since Nov 2011 - June 2012 on H5N1 research in their Science journals.

And this month, they also have a special edition H5N1 issue made free to the community, right here:

So be sure to check those out! :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Exciting news! ;)

It brings me great pleasure to announce the addition of a new second author to this blog!

In fact, he's none other than my beloved bf (:

He's gonna bring in some really interesting science articles just like me and also some psychology related ones cos' that's his interest too.

So stay tuned guys! I'm looking forward too! ;D

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Controversial flu paper finally published

It's been a long time since I've blogged an article. I've been super busy with my assignments and exams for my masters and I'm finally more free to do my thesis. Here's an interesting read this morning on a recent controversial H5N1 flu virus research paper:

"One of two controversial studies of H5N1 bird flu, held back because of fears about bioterrorism, has finally been published. The work, by Yoshihiro Kawaoka and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was considered the less threatening of the two studies, partly because it created a virus that did not kill the experimental subjects – ferrets.

Kawaoka's work could help the world guard against bird flu by showing what kinds of changes in the virus – not just which particular mutations – could lead to an H5N1 pandemic.

Both the Kawaoka work and the study by Ron Fouchier and colleagues at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, show that H5N1 can evolve to spread between mammals. As such, they confirm that H5N1, now spreading across Eurasia and in Egypt, does present a real pandemic threat.

Bioterrorism fear

Full publication of both studies was delayed after US biosecurity experts said the studies were recipes for bioweapons – a decision revised last month.

The US committee unanimously agreed that there was little threat in Kawaoka's virus, although if it got loose it could potentially unleash a whole new human flu family. Kawaoka's research paper, which appears this week in the journal Nature, is accompanied by a "risks and benefits" assessment by what the journal describes as "a bio-defence agency outside the US". The assessment argues that safety measures were adequate and the benefits of the research were worth the risks.

The US committee was divided over the Fouchier study, though, because that adapted virus did kill ferrets. The debate over the Fouchier study also led to its falling foul of Dutch export restrictions on sensitive material. Fouchier, objecting to the idea of trade officials controlling the publication of research, briefly threatened last month to publish without permission from the Dutch government, which might have left him facing criminal charges. But he relented, the government gave permission, and the work should appear shortly in the journal Science.

In Kawaoka's study, only the surface protein – haemagglutinin (HA) – was from H5N1. The rest was 2009 pandemic flu, which does not kill ferrets. Both the 2009 virus and H5N1 infect pigs, though, and a hybrid of the two could emerge naturally, making it valuable to know how such a virus might behave.

The work shows that before a hybrid could spread in people, the HA would have to change. Kawaoka's team gave it two mutations that boosted binding to sugars on human, rather than bird, throat cells. It picked up two more mutations while infecting ferrets, which let it grow faster. Viruses with all four spread via airborne droplets between ferrets as readily as the deadly 1918 pandemic virus.

Wild mutations

Both the Wisconsin and Rotterdam viruses have four mutations in their HA, but not all of these mutations are the same in the two viruses.

Kawaoka's team says its study should permit virologists to recognise viruses that pose a pandemic threat, even if they have different mutations. This is because the mutations that allowed the team's virus to spread had particular chemical effects on HA. They boosted binding to the human sugar; they made HA less sensitive to acid, which triggers a radical shape-shift in the protein during the infection process; and they prevented a crucial chemical process called glycosylation, in which a carbohydrate is attached to the HA protein at one spot, changing the shape of a cleft in the molecule where it binds to a cell to infect it. Several mutations have these effects, so any of them could be dangerous.

It is not clear how many such mutations are already circulating in the wild. But mutations that prevent the crucial glycosylation "are not uncommon in the field, in both avian and human H5N1 viruses", says Malik Peiris, a leading flu virologist at Hong Kong University.

Peiris is co-author of a review also published this week in Nature that compares the dozen or so studies so far that have explored mutations and transmission in H5N1. Only the Rotterdam and Wisconsin studies have been held up for biosecurity concerns.

Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature10831"


Well, I was thinking, if glycosylation is such an important process which changes the binding site on the molecule, perhaps a therapeutic potential would be to glycosylate this site? However, glycosylation of proteins in an post-translational process in humans, so how do we ensure proper targeting of the carbohydrate to HA? Maybe an alternative form of carbohydrate that will not be used by humans and only by the virus? 

That's something to think about.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WHO raises global alert level on swine flu

This is one of the latest update from the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the swine flu. The pandemic phase has been raised from a level 3 to a level 4

"MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The swine flu epidemic entered a dangerous new phase Monday as the death toll climbed in Mexico and the number of suspected cases there and in the United States nearly doubled. The World Health Organization raised its alert level but stopped short of declaring a global emergency.

The United States advised Americans against most travel to Mexico and ordered stepped up border checks in neighboring states. The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel both to Mexico and parts of the United States.

The virus poses a potentially grave new threat to the U.S. economy, which was showing tentative early signs of a recovery. A widespread outbreak could batter tourism, food and transportation industries, deepening the recession in the U.S. and possibly worldwide.

The suspected number of deaths rose to 152 in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak with nearly 2,000 people believed to be infected.

The number of U.S. cases rose to 50, the result of further testing at a New York City school, although none was fatal. Other U.S. cases have been reported in Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. Worldwide there were 79 confirmed cases, including six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland.

The World Health Organization reported a slightly lower figure, 73. The WHO said it was still awaiting official reports from the U.K. about the Scottish cases, and it was reporting different numbers in the U.S. (40) and Mexico (26) from what those governments confirmed.

While the total cases were still measured in hundreds, not thousands, Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said the epidemic was entering an extremely dangerous phase, with the number of people infected mushrooming even as authorities desperately ramped up defenses.

"We are in the most critical moment of the epidemic. The number of cases will keep rising, so we have to reinforce preventative measures," Cordova said at a news conference.

The WHO raised the alert level to Phase 4, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country.

Its alert system was revised after bird flu in Asia began to spread in 2004, and Monday was the first time it was raised above Phase 3.

"At this time, containment is not a feasible option," as the virus has already spread to several other countries, said WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda.

Putting an alert at Phases 4 or 5 signals that the virus is becoming increasingly adept at spreading among humans. That move could lead governments to set trade, travel and other restrictions aimed at limiting its spread.

Phase 6 is for a full-blown pandemic, characterized by outbreaks in at least two regions of the world.

It could take 4-6 months before the first batch of vaccines are available to fight the virus, WHO officials said.

Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan said they would quarantine visitors showing symptoms of the virus amid global fears of a pandemic, an epidemic spread over a large area, either a region or worldwide.

President Barack Obama said the outbreak was reason for concern, but not yet "a cause for alarm."

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that so far the virus in the United States seems less severe than in Mexico. Only one person has been hospitalized in the U.S.

"I wouldn't be overly reassured by that," Besser told reporters at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, raising the possibility of more severe cases in the United States.

"We are taking it seriously and acting aggressively," Besser said. "Until the outbreak has progressed, you really don't know what it's going to do."

U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Millions of doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile were on their way to states, with priority given to the five already affected and to border states. Federal agencies were conferring with state and international governments.

"We want to make sure that we have equipment where it needs to be, people where they need to be and, most important, information shared at all levels," said Janet Napolitano, head of the Homeland Security Department.

"We are proceeding as if we are preparatory to a full pandemic," Napolitano said.
She said travel warnings for trips to Mexico would remain in place as long as swine flu is detected.

Mexico canceled school at all levels nationwide until May 6, and the Mexico City government said it was considering a complete shutdown, including all public transportation, if the death toll keeps rising. Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcon said employers should isolate anyone showing up for work with fever, cough, sore throat or other signs of the flu.

Even some of Mexico's most treasured national holidays were affected by the swine flu alert.
Authorities announced Monday the cancellation of the annual Cinco de Mayo parade, in which people in period costumes celebrate Mexican troops' defeat of a French army on May 5, 1862. The national labor umbrella group announced the cancellation of Mexico City's traditional May 1 parade and the National Institute of Anthropology and History said all of its 116 museums nationwide would be closed until further notice.

Amid the warnings, the Mexican government grappled with increasing criticism of its response. At least two weeks after the first swine flu case, the government has yet to say where and how the outbreak began or give details on the victims.

The health department lacked the staff to visit the homes of all those suspected to have died from the disease, Cordova said.

Cordova said 1,995 people have been hospitalized with serious cases of pneumonia since the first case of swine flu was reported April 13. The government does not yet know how many were swine flu.

He said tests show a 4-year-old boy contracted the virus before April 2 in Veracruz state, where a community has been protesting pollution from a large pig farm.

The farm is run by Granjas Carroll de Mexico, a joint venture half owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc. Spokeswoman Keira Ullrich said the company has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine flu in its herd or its employees working anywhere in Mexico.

Mexico's Agriculture Department said Monday that its inspectors found no sign of swine flu among pigs around the farm in Veracruz, and that no infected pigs have been found yet anywhere in Mexico.

As if the country did not have enough to deal with, Cordova's comments were briefly interrupted by a 5.6-magnitude earthquake in southern Mexico that rattled already jittery nerves and sent mask-wearing office workers into the streets of the capital.

Aside from the confirmed cases, 13 are suspected in New Zealand, and one is suspected in both France and Israel.

European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and parts of the United States, although Besser said that including the U.S. in the advisory seemed unwarranted at this time.

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said Vassiliou's remarks were his "personal opinion," not an official EU position, and therefore the department had no comment.

"We don't want people to panic at this point," Wood said.

The U.S. stepped up checks of people entering the country by air, land and sea, and the State Department warned U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico. It said those who live in Mexico should avoid hospitals or clinics there unless they have a medical emergency.

The best way to keep the disease from spreading, Besser said, is by taking everyday precautions such as frequent handwashing, covering up coughs and sneezes, and staying away from work or school if not feeling well. He said authorities are not recommending that people wear masks at work because evidence that it is effective "is not that strong."

Besser said about 11 million doses of flu-fighting drugs from a federal stockpile have been sent to states in case they are needed. That's roughly one quarter of the doses in the stockpile, he said.

There is no vaccine available to prevent the specific strain now being seen, he said, but some antiflu drugs do work once someone is sick.

If a new vaccine eventually is ordered, the CDC already has taken a key preliminary step - creating what's called seed stock of the virus that manufacturers would use.

Many of the cases outside Mexico have been relatively mild. Symptoms include a fever of more than 100, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

European and U.S. markets bounced back from early losses as pharmaceutical stocks were lifted by expectations that health authorities will increase stockpiles of anti-viral drugs. Stocks of airlines, hotels and other travel-related companies posted sharper losses.

WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley singled out air travel as an easy way the virus could spread, noting that the WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any time.

Governments in Asia - with potent memories of previous flu outbreaks - were especially cautious. Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines dusted off thermal scanners used in the 2003 SARS crisis and were checking for signs of fever among passengers from North America. South Korea, India and Indonesia also announced screening.

In Malaysia, health workers in face masks took the temperatures of passengers as they arrived on a flight from Los Angeles.

China said anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms within two weeks of arrival had to report to authorities.

China, Russia and Ukraine were among countries banning imports of pork and pork products from Mexico and three U.S. states that have reported swine flu cases, while other countries, such as Indonesia, banned all pork imports.

The CDC says people cannot get the flu by eating pork or pork products.

Germany's leading vacation tour operators were skipping stops in Mexico City as a precaution. The Hannover-based TUI said trips through May 4 to Mexico City were being suspended, including those operated by TUI itself and through companies 1-2 Fly, Airtours, Berge & Meer, Grebeco and L'tur.

Japan's largest tour agency, JTB Corp., suspended tours to Mexico through June 30. Russian travel agencies said about a third of those planning to travel to Mexico in early May had already canceled.

By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO and PAUL HAVEN Associated Press Writers"

I guess what everyone can do now is to protect yourselves by improving and maintaining a good personal hygiene and to take care of your own health and the health of your loved ones around you. If you are sick, seek medical attention immediately and always always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
The virus spreads easily via respiratory droplets from a cough/sneeze, and once another person breathes them in, he/she may catch this virus. Not only that, this new virus is contagious a day before clinical symptoms appear and 7 days after the first onset of symptoms, this is different from SARS of which a person becomes contagious a few days after the onset of symptoms. So for this new virus, the person could already be infectious before symptoms appear, and it makes the virus even more dangerous to detect.
Please protect yourselves and everyone around you, and help to prevent a possible pandemic.
The best way to keep the disease from spreading, Besser said, is by taking everyday precautions such as frequent handwashing, covering up coughs and sneezes, and staying away from work or school if not feeling well. He said authorities are not recommending that people wear masks at work because evidence that it is effective "is not that strong."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mexico swine flu deaths spur global epidemic fears

I'm sure many of you are now aware of the swine flu outbreak that started in mexico:

"MEXICO CITY – A unique strain of swine flu is the suspected killer of dozens of people in Mexico, where authorities closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in the capital on Friday to try to contain an outbreak that has spurred concerns of a global flu epidemic.

The worrisome new virus — which combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before — also sickened at least eight people in Texas and California, though there have been no deaths in the U.S.

"We are very, very concerned," World Health Organization spokesman Thomas Abraham said. "We have what appears to be a novel virus and it has spread from human to human ... It's all hands on deck at the moment."

The outbreak caused alarm in Mexico, where more than 1,000 people have been sickened. Residents of the capital donned surgical masks and authorities ordered the most sweeping shutdown of public gathering places in a quarter century. President Felipe Calderon met with his Cabinet Friday to coordinate Mexico's response.

The WHO was convening an expert panel to consider whether to raise the pandemic alert level or issue travel advisories.

It might already be too late to contain the outbreak, a prominent U.S. pandemic flu expert said late Friday.

Given how quickly flu can spread around the globe, if these are the first signs of a pandemic, then there are probably cases incubating around the world already, said Dr. Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota.

In Mexico City, "literally hundreds and thousands of travelers come in and out every day," Osterholm said. "You'd have to believe there's been more unrecognized transmission that's occurred."

There is no vaccine that specifically protects against swine flu, and it was unclear how much protection current human flu vaccines might offer. A "seed stock" genetically matched to the new swine flu virus has been created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said Dr. Richard Besser, the agency's acting director. If the government decides vaccine production is necessary, manufacturers would need that stock to get started.

Authorities in Mexico urged people to avoid hospitals unless they had a medical emergency, since hospitals are centers of infection. They also said Mexicans should refrain from customary greetings such as shaking hands or kissing cheeks. At Mexico City's international airport, passengers were questioned to try to prevent anyone with flu symptoms from boarding airplanes and spreading the disease.

Epidemiologists are particularly concerned because the only fatalities so far were in young people and adults.

The eight U.S. victims recovered from symptoms that were like those of the regular flu, mostly fever, cough and sore throat, though some also experienced vomiting and diarrhea.
U.S. health officials announced an outbreak notice to travelers, urging caution and frequent handwashing, but stopping short of telling Americans to avoid Mexico.

Mexico's Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordoba said 68 people have died of flu and the new swine flu strain had been confirmed in 20 of those deaths. At least 1,004 people nationwide were sick from the suspected flu, he said.

The geographical spread of the outbreaks also concerned the WHO — while 13 of the 20 deaths were in Mexico City, the rest were spread across Mexico — four in central San Luis Potosi, two up near the U.S. border in Baja California, and one in southern Oaxaca state.

Scientists have long been concerned that a new flu virus could launch a worldwide pandemic of a killer disease. A new virus could evolve when different flu viruses infect a pig, a person or a bird, mingling their genetic material. The resulting hybrid could spread quickly because people would have no natural defenses against it.

Still, flu experts were concerned but not alarmed about the latest outbreak.

"We've seen swine influenza in humans over the past several years, and in most cases, it's come from direct pig contact. This seems to be different," said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert with the University of Michigan.

"I think we need to be careful and not apprehensive, but certainly paying attention to new developments as they proceed."

The CDC says two flu drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, seem effective against the new strain. Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, said the company is prepared to immediately deploy a stockpile of the drug if requested.

Both drugs must be taken early, within a few days of the onset of symptoms, to be most effective.

Cordoba said Mexico has enough Tamiflu to treat 1 million people, but the medicine will be strictly controlled and handed out only by doctors.

Mexico's government had maintained until late Thursday that there was nothing unusual about the flu cases, although this year's flu season had been worse and longer than past years.
The sudden turnaround by public health officials angered many Mexicans.

"They could have stopped it in time," said Araceli Cruz, 24, a university student who emerged from the subway wearing a surgical mask. "Now they've let it spread to other people."

The city was handing out free surgical masks to passengers on buses and the subway system, which carries 5 million people each day. Government workers were ordered to wear the masks, and authorities urged residents to stay home from work if they felt ill.

Closing schools across Mexico's capital of 20 million kept 6.1 million students home, as well as thousands of university students. All state and city-run cultural activities were suspended, including libraries, state-run theaters, and at least 14 museums. Private athletic clubs closed down and soccer leagues were considering canceling weekend games.

The closures were the first citywide shutdown of public gathering places since millions died in the devastating 1985 earthquake.

Mexico's response brought to mind other major outbreaks, such as when SARS hit Asia. At its peak in 2003, Beijing shuttered schools, cinemas and restaurants, and thousands of people were quarantined at home.

In March 2008, Hong Kong ordered more than a half-million students to stay home for two weeks because of a flu outbreak. It was the first such closure in Hong Kong since the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"It's great they are taking precautions," said Lillian Molina, a teacher at the Montessori's World preschool in Mexico City, who scrubbed down empty classrooms with Clorox, soap and Lysol between fielding calls from worried parents.

U.S. health officials said the outbreak is not yet a reason for alarm in the United States. The five people sickened in California and three in Texas have all recovered.

It's unclear how the eight, who became ill between late March and mid-April, contracted the virus because none were in contact with pigs, which is how people usually catch swine flu. And only a few were in contact with each other.

CDC officials described the virus as having a unique combination of gene segments not seen before in people or pigs. The bug contains human virus, avian virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia. It may be completely new, or it may have been around for a while and was only detected now through improved testing and surveillance, CDC officials said.

The most notorious flu pandemic is thought to have killed at least 40 million people worldwide in 1918-19. Two other, less deadly flu pandemics struck in 1957 and 1968.
Associated Press Writers Maria Cheng in London; Traci Carl in Mexico City; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta, Georgia; and Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.

I started worrying when I first heard of this news on the bus on my way home, when it just started. Today, the news reported that in a high school in New York City more than 100 students began suffering a fever, sore throat and aches and pains and some of their relatives have also fallen ill. Some of the students had recently traveled to Mexico but they are still awaiting test results to confirm if the strain matches the same strain that killed people in Mexico. However, preliminary tests of samples taken from sick students' noses and throats confirmed that at least eight had a non-human strain of influenza type A, indicating probable cases of swine flu, city health officials reported.

As mentioned in the report above, a prominent U.S. pandemic flu expert said that it might already be too late to contain the outbreak. I agree with this since the virus may have an incubating period or may be found in asymptomatic people who carry the virus but do not display symptoms and are already spreading it around unknowingly. As of now, the virus is a new combination strain and researchers are still figuring out its mechanism. It has, however, already been confirmed that it is spread via the same way as SARS do, by respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing.

Anyway I'll be watching news of this new virus as closely as I can. I really hope it won't spark a new global pandemic.

Just when all of us thought the avian flu might be a cause of a global pandemic, now a combination of swine, avian and human strains may cause us to relive the 1918 global nightmare.
At least with our experience with SARS, we should be better prepared to handle another pandemic if it comes as long as we do not get too complacent with ourselves at the same time.

Given how quickly flu can spread around the globe, if these are the first signs of a pandemic, then there are probably cases incubating around the world already, said Dr. Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Vaccines as Biological Weapons? Live Avian Flu Virus Placed in Baxter Vaccine Materials Sent to 18 Countries

Sorry everyone..for not updating for a long time. I hope that you will still occasionally pop in for some science news or sign up for the alert whenever a new entry is posted.

I was pretty shocked when I read this article. This really proves that authorities should be very alert when inspecting vaccines and luckily they discovered this in time. It's actually quite scary knowing how such things may happen that could have actually spark the next global deadly pandemic.

"Reported by: Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor

(NaturalNews) There's a popular medical thriller novel in which a global pandemic is intentionally set off by an evil plot designed to reduce the human population. In the book, a nefarious drug company inserts live avian flu viruses into vaccine materials that are distributed to countries around the world to be injected into patients as "flu shots." Those patients then become carriers for these highly-virulent strains of avian flu which go on to infect the world population and cause widespread death.

There's only one problem with this story: It's not fiction. Or, at least, the part about live avian flu viruses being inserted into vaccine materials isn't fiction. It's happening right now.

Deerfield, Illinois-based pharmaceutical company Baxter International Inc. has just been caught shipping live avian flu viruses mixed with vaccine material to medical distributors in 18 countries. The "mistake" (if you can call it that, see below...) was discovered by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada. The World Health Organization was alerted and panic spread throughout the vaccine community as health experts asked the obvious question: How could this have happened?

As published on (, serious questions like this are being raised:

"Baxter International Inc. in Austria 'unintentionally contaminated samples with the bird flu virus that were used in laboratories in 3 neighbouring countries, raising concern about the potential spread of the deadly disease'. Austria, Germany, Slowenia and the Czech Republic - these are the countries in which labs were hit with dangerous viruses. Not by bioterrorist commandos, but by Baxter. In other words: One of the major global pharmaceutical players seems to have lost control over a virus which is considered by many virologists to be one of the components leading some day to a new pandemic."

Or, put another way, Baxter is acting a whole lot like a biological terrorism organization these days, sending deadly viral samples around the world. If you mail an envelope full of anthrax to your Senator, you get arrested as a terrorist. So why is Baxter -- which mailed samples of a far more deadly viral strain to labs around the world -- getting away with saying, essentially, "Oops?"

But there's a bigger question in all this: How could this company have accidentally mixed LIVE avian flu viruses (both H5N1 and H3N2, the human form) in this vaccine material?

Was the viral contamination intentional?

The shocking answer is that this couldn't have been an accident. Why? Because Baxter International adheres to something called BSL3 (Biosafety Level 3) - a set of laboratory safety protocols that prevent the cross-contamination of materials.

As explained on Wikipedia (

"Laboratory personnel have specific training in handling pathogenic and potentially lethal agents, and are supervised by competent scientists who are experienced in working with these agents. This is considered a neutral or warm zone. All procedures involving the manipulation of infectious materials are conducted within biological safety cabinets or other physical containment devices, or by personnel wearing appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment. The laboratory has special engineering and design features."

Under the BSL3 code of conduct, it is impossible for live avian flu viruses to contaminate production vaccine materials that are shipped out to vendors around the world.

This leaves only two possibilities that explain these events:

Possibility #1: Baxter isn't following BSL3 safety guidelines or is so sloppy in following them that it can make monumental mistakes that threaten the safety of the entire human race. And if that's the case, then why are we injecting our children with vaccines made from Baxter's materials?

Possibility #2: A rogue employee (or an evil plot from the top management) is present at Baxter, whereby live avian flu viruses were intentionally placed into the vaccine materials in the hope that such materials might be injected into humans and set off a global bird flu pandemic.

It just so happens that a global bird flu pandemic would sell a LOT of bird flu vaccines. Although some naive people have a hard time believing that corporations would endanger human beings to make money, this is precisely the way corporations now behave in America's ethically-challenged free-market environment. (Remember Enron? Exxon? Merck? DuPont? Monsanto? Need I go on?)

Make no mistake: Spreading bird flu is a clever way to create demand for bird flu vaccines, and we've all seen very clearly how drug companies first market the problem and then "leap to the rescue" by selling the solution. (Disease mongering of ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc.)

Why it all suddenly makes sense

Until today, I would not have personally believed such a story. I personally thought talk of bird flu vaccines being "weaponized" was just alarmist hype. But now, in light of the fact that LIVE bird flu viruses are being openly found in vaccine materials that are distributed around the world, I must admit the evidence is increasingly compelling that something extremely dangerous is afoot.

Baxter, through either its mistakes or its evil intentions, just put the safety of the entire human race at risk. Given all the laboratory protocols put in place to prevent this kind of thing, it is difficult to believe this was just a mistake.

There is some speculation, in fact, that the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide (, was intentionally started by injecting servicemen with "experimental" flu vaccines that actually contained live, "weaponized" flu material just like the material being distributed by Baxter today.

Examine the historical record. You'll find that the 1918 flu originated with servicemen. Even more interestingly, it began in multiple cities, simultaneously! There is no single point of origin with the 1918 flu. It appears to have "spontaneously" sprung up across multiple cities all at once, including a military base in Kansas. (Kansas? Yep. So how did it get to Kansas in an era when air traffic was virtually non-existent? Vaccines, of course!)

All those cities and servicemen have one thing in common: Flu shot vaccinations given to them by the military.

If you put the pieces together on this, it's not too difficult to suspect that influenza could potentially be used as a tool of control by governments or drug companies to catalyze outrageous profit-taking or power grabbing agendas. A desperate, infected population will gladly give up anything or pay anything for the promise of being cured.

Or was it just an innocent mistake?

Oops!But for the skeptics who dismiss any such talk of conspiracy theories, let's examine the other possibility: That a global avian flu pandemic was nearly unleashed unintentionally due to the outrageous incompetence of the companies handling these viral strains.

As we just saw, this is a very real possibility. Had this live bird flu virus not been detected, it could have very easily found its way into vaccines that were injected into human beings. And this, in turn, could have unleashed a global avian flu pandemic.

If the drug companies making and handling these materials are so careless, then it seems like it's only a matter of time before something slips through the safety precautions again and gets unleashed into the wild. And that leads to essentially the same scenario: A global pandemic, widespread death, health care failures and a desperate population begging for vaccines.

So either way -- whether it's intentional or not -- you essentially get the same result.

Why a global pandemic is only a matter of time

I am on the record stating that a global pandemic is only a matter of time. The living conditions under which humans have placed themselves (crowded cities, suppressed immune systems, etc.) are ideal for the spread of infectious disease. But I never dreamed drug companies could actually be accelerating the pandemic timeline by contaminating vaccine materials with live avian flu viruses known to be highly infectious to humans. This, it seems, is a whole new cause for concern.

You can believe what you will. Maybe you agree with the nefarious plot theory and you agree that corporations are capable of great evils in their quest for profits. Or perhaps you can't accept that, so you go with the "accidental contamination" theory, in which your beliefs describe a very dangerous world where biohazard safety protocols are insufficient to protect us from all the crazy viral strains being toyed with at drug companies and government labs all across the world.

In either case, the world is not a very safe place when deadly viral strains are placed in the hands of the inept.

We are like children playing God with Mother Nature, rolling the dice in a global game of Viral Roulette where the odds are not in our favor. With companies like Baxter engaged in behaviors that are just begging to see the human race devastated by a global pandemic wipeout, it might be a good time to question the sanity of using viral strains in vaccines in the first place.

Vaccine-pushing scientists are so proud of their vaccines. They think they've conquered Mother Nature. Imagine their surprise when one day they learn they have actually killed 100 million human beings by unleashing a global pandemic.

We came close to it this week. A global pandemic may have just been averted by the thinnest of margins. Yet people go on with their lives, oblivious to what nearly happened.

What's inescapable at this point is the fact that the threat of a pandemic that looms for all of human civilization, and that drug companies may, themselves, be the source of that threat. "


We came close to it this week. A global pandemic may have just been averted by the thinnest of margins. Yet people go on with their lives, oblivious to what nearly happened.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Exercise, sleep cuts cancer risk: study

Just saw this article:

"WASHINGTON (AFP) - - Regular physical activity can significantly lower a woman's risk of developing cancer, but skimping on sleep can eliminate those gains, a new study has found.

In a long-term study of nearly 6,000 US women, researchers found that those who exercised the most had a 25 percent lower chance of developing cancer than those who were the least active.

But among younger, physically active women, those who slept less than seven hours a night had a 47 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than those who regularly got a good night's rest.

"Greater participation in physical activity has consistently been associated with reduced risk of cancer incidence at several sites, including breast and colon cancers," James McClain, a cancer prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, said Monday.

"Short duration sleep appears to have opposing effects of physical activity on several key hormonal and metabolic parameters, which is why we looked at how it affected the exercise/cancer risk relationship."

It is not yet known exactly why exercise reduces cancer risks but researchers believe it could be due to the lower body weight, improved immune function and hormone levels associated with regular physical activity.

Insufficient sleep has been linked to high risks of developing a number of conditions including heart disease, obesity and diabetes but, again, researchers have not determined exactly how sleep prevents disease.

The study was presented at a conference in Washington sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research."

[Acknowledgement: AFP]

So I guess it really gives me another reason to sleep early and exercise regularly...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

World warned over killer flu pandemic

Sorry for being MIA for some time again.

Anyway, here's an article from Focus Information Agency:

"World warned over killer flu pandemic

London. The world is failing to guard against the inevitable spread of a devastating flu pandemic which could kill 50 million people and wreak massive disruption around the globe, the Government has warned, cited by The Independent Daily.

The British Government's evidence appeared in a highly critical report from the Lords Intergovernmental Organisations Committee, which attacked the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "dysfunctional" and criticised the international response to the threat of an outbreak of disease which could sweep across the globe.

Peers joined ministers calling for urgent action to build up early warning systems across the Third World that can identify and neutralise outbreaks of potentially deadly new strains of disease before they are swept across the globe by modern trade and travel. Peers also called for new action to monitor animal diseases, warning of the potentially disastrous effects of conditions such as the H5N1 bird flu virus jumping to humans and demanded that Britain step up funding for the WHO to tackle the threat.

With international tourist journeys now reaching 800 million a year, giving unprecedented potential for epidemics to spread across borders, and many cities rapidly growing in developing countries, which would provide "fertile ground" to spread disease, peers on the committee warned that conditions such as Sars, avian influenza and ebola "have the potential to cause rapid and devastating sickness and death across much of the world if they are not detected and checked in time". "

Hmmm..well it's really a matter of "when" and not "if". Which many researchers have already mentioned. And I got this feeling that it might come in a few years later, in other words: soon.

The world is failing to guard against the inevitable spread of a devastating flu pandemic which could kill 50 million people and wreak massive disruption around the globe, the Government has warned.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and Earthquake in China

I'm sure many of you should have been aware by now, the recent disasters that have occurred in Asia.

Firstly, there was a cyclone that hit Myanmar last week.

"Cyclone Nargis hit five divisions and states -- Yangon, Bago, Ayeyawaddy, Kayin and Mon on May 2 and 3, of which Ayeyawaddy and Yangon sustained the heaviest casualties and infrastructural damage.

The death toll of Myanmar's cyclone disaster kept rising with 3,480 more people killed, bringing the total to 31,938, according to a news report of the state radio Monday evening. "

For the full article, click this link:

Then, just yesterday morning, a major quake struck China, the epicentre in the province of Sichuan, and the death toll had already exceeded 12,000.

"More than 18,000 people were still trapped in the rubble of Sichuan's second city today as Chinese troops battled through the disaster zone to devastated towns and villages cut off by yesterday's earthquake

As the official death toll climbed past 12,000, the official Xinhua agency reported that 3,639 people had been killed in Mianyang, a city near the epicentre of the 7.9-magnitude quake. A further 18,645 were still buried in the debris of collapsed buildings, beyond the reach of rescue teams, it said.

In another town, Beichuan, where 5,000 are feared dead, the old town had been almost completely buried by a landslide, residents said. In the new town, built on the banks of a river, the casualty toll was also expected to be high after the earthquake sent hundreds of buildings slipping into the water below.

The area has been hit by wave after wave of aftershocks, including a particularly violent tremor today measuring 6.1 that sent thousands of office workers in Chengdu rushing out into the open. Tens of thousands of people were already standing on the pavements huddling under umbrellas and makeshift plastic covers, sheltering from the rain, reluctant to return to their homes.

One said: "We are just too afraid that our homes will fall down."

For full article, click here:


It is just so sad, whenever any disaster happens, that people can lose their lives in just a matter of seconds because of the uncontrollable force of Mother Nature. Let's hope that they would all be able to rebuild their lives again and move on. May God be with them always. If you can, please pray for all those affected by these devastating disasters too.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The PCR song

I've recently received a link from my school about the PCR song from bio-rad.

The song is so cute!

For those who don't know what PCR is, it's short form for polymerase chain reaction. It is a technique used to amplify a piece of DNA to produce more copies of it for further testing. It's an amazing technique used for many purposes such as genetic fingerprinting or genetic analysis.

Here's the music video:

Here are the lyrics:

There was a time when to amplify DNA,
You had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells.

Then along came a guy named Dr. Kary Mullis,
Said you can amplify in vitro just as well.

Just mix your template with a buffer and some primers,
Nucleotides and polymerases, too.

Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do.

PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime.
(repeat chorus)

Thanks Bio-Rad for such a cute and wonderful song (:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Experiment - Blood type and Rhesus testing

As a timid person, pain terrifies me.

Before the experiment yesterday I knew that someone from the group would have to "sacrifice" to donate a little blood from his/her finger to do the blood type testing experiment in genetics class.

The objective was to demonstrate the principles of blood grouping and mendelian genetics. And to check out how testing can be done.

Even though there was a guy in my group, I didn't know what my blood group was, so I thought I should volunteer. Apparently, up till my batch, we no longer have to test our blood group for our identification card, and there was also no record of my blood group on my birth certificate, plus being in a single parent family, I know my mum's an O, which means I will definitely inherit one of her Os, but I dunnoe what's the blood grp of my dad. So I prepared myself for the experiment.

I was so freaking out before the experiment, as the teacher was explaining the procedure.

I looked away as my friend pricked my middle finger on my left hand with the lancet. I kept telling myself as I was looking away that it's just going to be like an ant's bite. An ant's bite. Nope, it felt more like a cut. Which it really was. Seeing as I used to work in a pharmacy and got myself lots of cuts from packing medications, it felt like another work accident. But it was quite painful though.

My friend then drew blood that came out blob-like (I had to squeeze my finger so that she can draw using the micropipette). Interestingly though, I gave more than was required. I was afraid there might not be enough or like in case something happens. I won't want to prick my finger again.

We did two kinds of testing too, a blood group testing and rhesus testing. And with two different methods, one that was fast and another that would take an hour.

It was cool at the end of it actually. Coz I found out what's my blood group and rhesus! Saves me a trip to the doc plus I felt much braver after that too.

Thank God He gave me that courage (:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Results are in!

Let's take a look at our results from the lab:

1. My hand imprint


As you can see, even though I've washed my hands before I did this, there is still a mixed colony of bacteria. But at least still clean because it's not a lot.

2. Serial dilution

I will only show dilution 10^(-2) plate and dilution 10^(-5) plate for comparison:

Dilution Two

Dilution Five

As you can see, the colonies on 10^(-5) look easier to count. But we'll only be counting them in the next lab session.
3. Streaking
The streaking was done pretty well by my friend, as isolated colonies were observed:


4. Gram staining

Sadly, I haven't gotten the gram staining pics from my other friend who took the photos, but I will post them once I get them.

I am really satisfied with the results and can't wait for the next session (:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lab experiment with Staphylococcus auerus

I had a very interesting lab session in school last night.

There were four experiments conducted during the session:

1. I volunteered for the first one where I had to imprint my fingers onto the nutrient agar to kind of culture and see the different kinds of bacteria that were on my fingers. The agar was to be incubated at 37 degrees C, for 24 hours.

2. The second experiment was to do a serial dilution using a Staphylococcus aureus culture and then do a spread plate from the dilution tubes 10^(-5), 10^(-4), 10^(-3) and 10^(-2).

The way to do dilution is to firstly pipette 1ml of pure culture from a sample of S. aureus and then transfer that to another tube containing 9ml of water. This tube will be labelled as 10^(-1). From this 10^(-1) tube, another 1 ml of this mixture is drawn and placed in a new tube containing 9ml of water, this tube will be labelled as 10^(-2).

The same method continues until a 10^(-5) tube is obtained. So from tubes 10^(-2) to 10^(-5), 1 ml from each tube is drawn and expelled onto a nutrient agar plate each, and using a hockey stick (not the big one used for playing, but a small one that looks kind of like a straw that is bent at the top), the mixture is spread around the plate and they will again be incubated at 37 degrees C, for 24 hours.

The purpose of dilution is so as to make the colonies so called "countable" because if you spread and grow the undiluted culture, there will be too many colonies to count. But if you dilute them step by step, it makes them more countable. And after the colonies are counted, calculations will be done to estimate the number of bacterial/ml in the sample. This is known as bacteria enumeration.

3. The third experiment of the session was to do a streak plate. Streaking is a method used to isolate separate bacterial colonies from a culture. This is somewhat similar to dilution. There must first be a primary innoculation site, where a culture is taken using a sterilised loop and streaked many times on one part of the agar plate, another sterilised loop is used to draw abt 3-4 lines from the primary innoculation site (the plate turned 90 degrees), and another sterilised loop will draw another 3-4 lines from those 3-4 lines, the last part will be to use another sterilised loop to do a streak from the previous 3-4 lines, care must be taken not to touch the primary innoculation site. The same loop can be used but has to be sterilised using the aseptic technique of flaming the loop. But for my class, we used plastic sterilised loops, so we didn't have to flame them, or they might melt haha.

The difference between serial dilution and streaking is that serial dilution is used to estimate the number of bacteria per ml in the culture while streaking is used to isolate a single colony.

4. The last experiment of the session was to do gram staining, this experiment is one of the coolest i've ever done because gram staining, stains the bacteria to show what type it is (is it gram positive (purple) or gram negative (pink)?), and the shape, size and how they group together. Since the bacteria used last night was Staphylococcus aureus, Staph actually means cluster, and coccus is like grape-shaped, and since it is a gram positive bacteria, it should also be purple colour. And what we saw was indeed, grape-shaped purple bacteria clustered in groups.

When we did it the first time, we couldn't see anything under the microscope, probably coz I placed too little an amount onto the slide, so it could have been all washed off when we did the staining. So we tried again, and I was so happy and excited that we could actually see them, lol, believe me, all of us took turns to try and focus here and there but couldn't see anything (except probably the hair from someone that fell onto the slide haha), and finally when we could, it was like a Eureka moment. lol.

Anyway, all these would sound more exciting if there were pictures, but i'll only be going back to check on them on Friday. So be sure to check back here after Friday for the photos and further explanations!

Oh yeah, this is actually for a developing professional skills module, and so we learnt the various techniques related to microbiology work.

I am also taking the microbiology module this term, and let me tell you, the lab was even more exciting. But again, we will only have the chance to check on our plates in the next session, so I will blog about them when the time comes. The micro-organisms we used that time was more than just Staphylococcus aureus. We also used Saccharomyces cerevisiae (or baker's yeast), Bacillus cereus (close family with Bacillus anthracis [causes anthrax]. They produce endospores which are harmful to us), and also Klebsiella pneumoniae. For that session, one experiment allowed us to choose one of these micro-organisms to learn streaking, and I chose K. pneumoniae, I shall take a picture and post it here if it looks ok, haha, after I take a look at the plate.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hailstones + 2nd announcement:promotion

It was pretty scary.

I was at home two days ago during a very intense thunderstorm.

Hailstones were supposed to be really rare in such a tropical hot country like Singapore.

But around 3.15 in the afternoon, there was a thunderstorm, and as I sat on my bed tidying up some photos, I heard knocking sounds on my windows, as though someone was throwing stones at it. Seeing as I'm staying on the 30-something floor, I don't think any human being can throw stones that high up. I looked out of the window but couldn't see anything because the rain was just too heavy, it was like a blank white picture outside. But the knocking sounds continued and I suspected it could really be hailstones. I was quite afraid that my windows were going to break with the constant knocking, plus I couldn't tell what size they were.

Turns out, they were hailstones. Apparently, the storm was that intense that in the presence of a strong downdraft, the hailstones were most likely brought to the ground rapidly without melting.

Check out the news report here:

Luckily, they were about the size of a five cents coin, too small to cause much damage.

Aside from that I have a second announcement from my E-book site:

I am now having a special opening one-week promotion for my E-book!

Instead of the introductory price of $6.95 for the E-book (worth $19.95),

You can now get the E-book for only $2.95!

Hurry! Go to and grab a copy now!

Promotion lasts till 4th April!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unlocking Secrets of the Search Engine E-book

Finally, I've finished my E-book "Unlocking Secrets of the Search Engine".

You might be wondering what this book is about. Well, in short, it shows you how you can search the internet for information more effectively. Gives you tips and tricks on how you should pick your words so that you get relevant results from your search engine.

It includes a free bonus report: "Unlocking the secret to having fun researching on the internet, the scientific way." and a free bonus interview with Brad Callen (search engine optimization expert) on some key things you must take note when creating a website, especially if you're new to it and where you can get help regarding search engine optimization for your website.

For more information on the book, check out the website at or click the banner in the sidebar.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's been a long time

Wow, I didn't realize it's been 3 months since I've posted anything here. Really sorry about it.

Here's an interesting article from

Stressed parents equals sick kids

STRESSED parents aren't just damaging their own health - they may also be making their children more vulnerable to illness.

Stress is well known to affect a person's own physical health, but the effect on their children's health was unclear. To investigate, Mary Caserta and her colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York asked the parents of 169 children aged between 5 and 10 to monitor their child's health over three years, recording symptoms of illnesses and taking their temperatures.

Every six months, the parents took a test designed to assess their own psychiatric health, noting markers of stress such as anxiety or depression.

Caserta's team found that the total number of illnesses, both with and without fever, was significantly higher in the children of parents who reported high levels of emotional stress. The team also measured the levels of immune cells in the children, and found those with highly stressed parents were much more likely to have heightened immune activity - a sign that they were working hard to fend off infection (Brain, Behavior and Immunity, DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2008.01.007)

David Jessop at the University of Bristol in the UK calls the results fascinating, and thinks that future studies should aim discover which stress factors have the biggest impact on children's immunity.


This is quite interesting isn't it? But I thinks its quite ironic, in a sense that, sometimes, it's the children that gives the parents stress because maybe they are naughty, they don't do their homework the stress that parents get from work..but the children in turn become sick. Another thing is that, probably when the parents are around their children, the children's mirror neurons are at work, so they "feel" what their parents are feeling. And as stress lowers our immune system, it may have caused them to fall ill more easily.

For more information on the mirror neurons, click here to read the article i posted.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

another year

how time flies. I've not blogged here for a long time, and another year is starting. I rmbed starting this year with a look back at the weirdest science of 2006. Hmm..this year, maybe i'll post this video about the top 5 science videos of 2007 in newscientist. (you'll need a shockwave player)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Live Earth

I'm sure most of you must have heard of "live earth" on the 7/7/7 by now.

You can show your support by wearing green on 7/7 and 8/7.

Here's the website:

It provides many resourses on how you can help in the fight against global warming and to protect our Earth.

Please take some time to look at how you can help. The Earth needs us now!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Belief in reincarnation tied to memory errors

I noe I've not been blogging for more than a month. really sorry. Shall post this really interesting article:

"People who believe they have lived past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study.

The propensity to make these mistakes could, in part, explain why people cling to implausible reincarnation claims in the first place.

Researchers recruited people who, after undergoing hypnotic therapy, had come to believe that they had past lives.

Subjects were asked to read aloud a list of 40 non-famous names, and then, after a two-hour wait, told that they were going to see a list consisting of three types of names: non-famous names they had already seen (from the earlier list), famous names, and names of non-famous people that they had not previously seen. Their task was to identify which names were famous.

The researchers found that, compared to control subjects who dismissed the idea of reincarnation, past-life believers were almost twice as likely to misidentify names. In particular, their tendency was to wrongly identify as famous the non-famous names they had seen in the first task. This kind of error, called a source-monitoring error, indicates that a person has difficulty recognizing where a memory came from.

Power of suggestion
People who are likely to make these kinds of errors might end up convincing themselves of things that aren’t true, said lead researcher Maarten Peters of Maastricht University in The Netherlands. When people who are prone to making these mistakes undergo hypnosis and are repeatedly asked to talk about a potential idea — like a past life — they might, as they grow more familiar with it, eventually convert the idea into a full-blown false memory.

This is because they can’t distinguish between things that have really happened and things that have been suggested to them, Peters told LiveScience.

Past life memories are not the only type of implausible memories that have been studied in this manner. Richard McNally, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, has found that self-proclaimed alien abductees are also twice as likely to commit source monitoring errors.

Creative minds
As for what might make people more prone to committing such errors to begin with, McNally says that it could be the byproduct of especially vivid imagery skills. He has found that people who commonly make source-monitoring errors respond to and imagine experiences more strongly than the average person, and they also tend to be more creative.

“It might be harder to discriminate between a vivid image that you’d generated yourself and the memory of a perception of something you actually saw,” he said in a telephone interview.

Peters also found in his study, detailed in the March issue of Consciousness and Cognition, that people with implausible memories are also more likely to be depressed and to experience sleep problems, and this could also make them more prone to memory mistakes.

And once people make this kind of mistake, they might be inclined to stick to their guns for spiritual reasons, McNally said. “It may be a variant expression of certain religious impulses,” he said. “We suspect that this might be kind of a psychological buffering mechanism against the fear of death.” "

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lab disaster may lead to new cancer drug

Ok, i noe its been a looonng time since i last posted sth. I've started working so sometimes i just feel too tired to post. Even my own blog has shorter entries nowadays coz i usually end up been so tired i forgot what i intended to blog abt. But i do still read articles from various sources i subscribe to just that yeah, just tired. I'll try to post as much as i can (: Here's one that's quite recent and i thk it's good news for many cancer patients.

"WASHINGTON - Her carefully cultured cells were dead and Katherine Schaefer was annoyed, but just a few minutes later, the researcher realized she had stumbled onto a potential new cancer treatment.

Schaefer and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York believe they have discovered a new way to attack tumors that have learned how to evade existing drugs.

Tests in mice suggest the compound helps break down the cell walls of tumors, almost like destroying a tumor cell’s “skeleton”.

The researchers will test the new compound for safety and hope they can develop it to treat cancers such as colon cancer, esophageal cancer, liver and skin cancers.

“I was using these cancer cells as models of the normal intestine,” Schaefer said in a telephone interview.

Normal human cells are difficult to grow and study in the lab, because they tend to die. But cancer cells live much longer and are harder to kill, so scientists often use them.

Schaefer was looking for drugs to treat the inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which cause pain and diarrhea.

She was testing a compound called a PPAR-gamma modulator. It would never normally have been thought of as a cancer drug, or in fact a drug of any kind.

“I made a calculation error and used a lot more than I should have. And my cells died,” Schaefer said.

A colleague overheard her complaining. “The co-author on my paper said,’ Did I hear you say you killed some cancer?’ I said ‘Oh’, and took a closer look.”

They ran several tests and found the compound killed ”pretty much every epithelial tumor cell lines we have seen,” Schaefer said. Epithelial cells line organs such as the colon, and also make up skin.

It also killed colon tumors in mice without making the mice sick, they reported in the journal International Cancer Research.

Targets cells
The compound works in much the same way as the taxane drugs, including Taxol, which were originally derived from Pacific yew trees.

“It targets part of the cell cytoskeleton called tubulin,” Schaefer said. Tubulin is used to build microtubules, which in turn make up the cell’s structure.

Destroying it kills the cell, but cancer cells eventually evolve mechanisms to pump out the drugs that do this, a problem called resistance.

“Resistance to anti-tubulin therapies is a huge problem in many cancers. We see this as another way to get to the tubulin,” Schaefer said.

The PPAR-gamma compound does this in a different way from the taxanes, which might mean it could overcome the resistance that tumor cells often develop to chemotherapy.

“Most of the drugs like Taxol affect the ability of tubulin to forms into microtubules. This doesn’t do that -- it causes the tubulin itself to disappear. We do not know why.”

Schaefer’s team plans more safety tests in mice. As the compound is already patented, her team will probably have to design something slightly different to be able to patent it as a new drug.

Taxol, developed by U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers and manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1993, had annual sales of $1.6 billion at its peak in 2000."

[Acknowlegement: Reuters; Msnbc]

Yep, i thk its really amazing and i hope that everything will go well in creating the new drug.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Report: Amniotic fluid yields stem cells

This is such a breakthrough!

Here's the article:

"Stem cell researchers reacted with enthusiasm and reservations to a report that scientists have found stem cells in amniotic fluid, a discovery that would allow them to sidestep the controversy over destroying embryos for research.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported Sunday that the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.

They reported they were able to extract the stem cells from the fluid, which cushions babies in the womb, without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

But Dr. Anthony Atala, head of Wake Forest’s regenerative medicine institute and the senior researcher on the project, said the scientists still don’t know exactly how many different cell types can be made from the stem cells found in amniotic fluid. The scientists said preliminary tests in patients are years away.

The cells from amniotic fluid “can clearly generate a broad range of important cell types, but they may not do as many tricks as embryonic stem cells,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientist at the stem cell company Advanced Cell Technology. “Either way, I think this work represents a giant step forward for stem cell research.”

Dr. George Daley, a Harvard University stem cell researcher, said the finding raises the possibility that someday expectant parents can freeze amnio stem cells for future tissue replacement in a sick child without fear of immune rejection.

Nonetheless, Daley said, the discovery shouldn’t be used as a replacement for human embryonic stem cell research.

“While they are fascinating subjects of study in their own right, they are not a substitute for human embryonic stem cells, which allow scientists to address a host of other interesting questions in early human development,” said Daley, who began work last year to clone human embryos to produce stem cells.

Atala said the research reported in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology expands far beyond similar work.

At a heart research conference in November, Swiss researcher Simon Hoerstrup said he managed to turn amniotic fluid stem cells into heart cells that could be grown into replacement valves. Hoerstrup has yet to publish his work in a scientific journal.

“Our hope is that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs as well,” Atala said.

It took Atala’s team some seven years of research to determine the cells they found were truly stem cells that “can be used to produce a broad range of cells that may be valuable for therapy.”

Atala said the new research has found even more promising stem cells with the potential to turn into many more medically useful replacement parts.

“We have other cell lines cooking,” Atala said.

The hallmark of human embryonic stem cells, which are created in the first days after conception, is the ability to turn into any of the more than 220 cell types that make up the human body. Researchers are hopeful they can train these primordial cells to repair damaged organs in need of healthy cells.

However, many people, including President Bush, oppose the destruction of embryos for any reason. The Bush administration has restricted federal funding for the embryo work since 2001, leading many scientists to search for alternative stem cell sources.

The advance is the latest in the so-called regenerative medicine field that has sprung from Atala’s lab in Winston-Salem, N.C.

No substitute for embryonic cells
In April, Atala and his colleagues rebuilt bladders for seven young patients using live tissue grown in the lab.

In the latest work, Atala’s team extracted a small number of stem cells swimming among the many other cell types in the amniotic fluid.

One of the more promising aspects of the research is that some of the DNA of the amnio stem cells contained Y chromosomes, which means the cells came from the babies rather than the pregnant moms.

Dr. George Daley, a Harvard University stem cell researcher, said that finding raises the possibility that someday expectant parents can freeze amnio stem cells for future tissue replacement in a sick child without fear of immune rejection.

Nonetheless, Daley said the discovery shouldn’t be used as a replacement for human embryonic stem cell research.

“While they are fascinating subjects of study in their own right, they are not a substitute for human embryonic stem cells, which allow scientists to address a host of other interesting questions in early human development,” said Daley, who began work last year to clone human embryos to produce stem cells."

[Acknowledgements: Associated press; Msnbc health]

Well although they are not a substitute for human embryonic stem cells, at least it is another path to which stem cells may be extracted and used to generate different types of organs or tissues etc. Much safer than using human embryos.

Stem cell researchers reacted with enthusiasm and reservations to a report
that scientists have found stem cells in amniotic fluid, a discovery that would allow them to sidestep the controversy over destroying embryos for

Monday, January 01, 2007

A new year!

Happy New Year everyone! Should have posted a last entry for 2006, but oh well, now i shall post the first entry of 2007. haha.

Let's look back at the weirdest science stories of 2006:

1st up:
Whales found to speak in dialects

We could blame our accents and different dialects on self-imposed borders -- but that doesn’t explain why animals from different regions speak in dialects. Using underwater microphones, scientists eavesdropped on whale talk and found that the blue whales off the Pacific Northwest sound different than those living in the western Pacific Ocean or near Chile. The reason? Still unknown.

2nd in line:
The Red Sea parts again

It parted once. It parted twice. And this time scientists are watching the whole thing. Satellite images show the Arabian tectonic plate and the African Plate are moving away from each other and parting the southern end of the Red Sea. This growing rift, which is tearing the northeast of Ethiopia and Eritrea from the rest of Africa, could eventually create a whole new sea.

the 3rd:
A new wave: Scientists write on water

Using wave generators, scientists were able to write on water. The Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin (AMOEBA)-- a circular tank created by researchers -- can form the Roman alphabets and some Japanese characters. The device could soon find its way to your nearest amusement park.

Spider cries out while mating

When mating, female Physocylus globosus squeak to tell their men what they should be doing. The cries are in response to being excited by males rhythmically squeezing their genitalia inside the female. The more a male squeezes, the greater the chance that it will be his sperm that sires her offspring.

Rats born to mice

Scientists produced healthy offspring from the cells of another species for the first time by taking rat stem cells involved in sperm production and implanting them in mice testicles. In the future, researchers hope to grow sperm of livestock or endangered species in mice or other lab animals.

Stingray kills 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin

In a tragic and unusual accident, the much loved and popular Australian television personality and conservationist,Steve Irwin, was killed by a stingray while filming off the Great Barrier Reef. Stingrays sport a tail with an 8-inch spear that stiffens when faced with a threat. Although the spear packs venom that alters heart rate and respiration, it rarely kills humans. The Crocodile Hunter was probably killed because the stingray's spear pierced his heart.

Scientists create cloak of partial invisibility

Writer H.G. Wells imagined it in his writing in the late 1800’s, and this year scientists inched closer to creating an invisible man. Duke University researchers created a cloaking device that can make objects invisible to microwave light. The device works by rerouting microwaves beam around it the way boulders in a stream divert flowing water.

Penis transplant removed

Chinese doctors removed the transplanted penis of a 44-year-old man who had lost his own in an accident. The organ was removed two weeks after the transplant because of psychological problems encountered by the man and his wife.

9th (quite interesting):
Coins don't smell -- you do

That metallic odor you smell after handling change? It's created by the breakdown of oils in skin after touching objects that contain iron. The chemical reaction has most of us running to wash our hands to get that musty scent out

last one:
Amazon River flowed backwards

The Amazon River apparently changed its mind a few times in history. South America’s majestic waterway currently flows east into the Atlantic Ocean. But scientists found this year that millions of years ago, the great river flowed east to west and at one time went in both directions at once.

[Acknowledgement: LiveScience and msnbc ]

Some of these are quite interesting so hope it ends 2006..weirdly enough. lol.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Most Chicken Harbors Harmful Bacteria

I felt this was a very important article indeed:

"Dec. 4, 2006 -- Even if you go for the more expensive organic or antibiotic-free chicken, the chicken you buy at the grocery store probably contains bacteria that can make you sick.

But safe handling and proper cooking can reduce the risk.

A startling 83% of the chickens tested in a recent Consumer Reports investigation were contaminated with one or both of the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease -- salmonella and campylobacter.

That is up from 49% in 2003, when the group last reported on contamination in chickens.

However, the results are similar to the contamination found in 1997, when almost three-fourths of the broilers Consumer Reports tested were positive for salmonella or campylobacter.

In their new report, "Dirty Birds," investigators with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, concluded that paying more for a chicken does not increase your chances of getting one free of illness-causing bacteria.

"Overall, chickens labeled as organic or raised without antibiotics and costing $3 to $5 per pound were more likely to harbor salmonella than were conventionally produced broilers that cost more like $1 a pound," they wrote.

Jean Halloran of Consumers Union tells WebMD that fewer than one if five birds tested (17%) were free of both pathogens, the lowest percentage of clean birds recorded since the group began testing chickens eight years ago.

Antibiotic Resistance High
Investigators for the independent consumer group tested 525 whole broiler chickens from leading brands like Perdue, Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, and Foster Farms, as well as organic and other brands raised without antibiotics.

The chickens were purchased at supermarkets, mass retailers, gourmet shops, and natural food stores in 23 states last spring.

Among the findings:
  • 15% of chickens tested were contaminated with salmonella, compared to the 12% reported by Consumers Union in 2003.
  • 81% harbored campylobacter, up from 42% in 2003. This bug is the main identified cause of bacterial diarrhea illness in the world.
  • 13% of chickens were contaminated with both bacteria, up from 5% in 2003.
  • 84% of the salmonella organisms analyzed and 67% of the campylobacter were resistant to one or more antibiotics. In the 2003 report, 34% of the salmonella and 90% of campylobacter were resistant.

"The problem of antibiotic resistance is related to both the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed to promote growth and the widespread use in humans," Halloran says.

Major brands tested did not show better results than smaller brands, overall, based on tests of 78 chickens from each brand.

Among major brands, salmonella contamination ranged from a low of 3% in Foster Farms chickens to a high of 17% in chickens processed by Perdue.

But Perdue had the lowest level of campylobacter-contaminated chickens, with 74%; Tyson had the highest, at 89%.

Chicken Producers Respond
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires chicken producers to test for salmonella, but not campylobacter. The agency will begin collecting data on campylobacter soon, but it is not clear if it will set federal limits or require routine testing.

Halloran says it is clear routine testing is needed.

"81% [campylobacter] contamination is intolerable, in our view," she says.

Richard L. Lobb, a chicken industry spokesman, agrees that 81% would be unacceptable, but he argues that far fewer chickens are contaminated with the bacteria.

Lobb is director of communications for the National Chicken Council. He cites a recent, larger study by USDA researchers, in conjunction with the 10 major chicken processors, which found campylobacter bacteria in 26% of the processed chickens tested.

"How they could get from 26% to 81% just blows my mind," Lobb tells WebMD.
He adds that the chicken industry does not oppose testing for campylobacter, and says chicken is both a safe and healthy food.

"Consumer Reports says what every cook already knows -- that fresh poultry may carry naturally occurring bacteria and should be properly handled and cooked," says Lobb.

"The Consumer Reports story, as far as we know, contains nothing new and should not be cause for alarm to anyone," he says.

What Can You Do?
All agree proper handling and cooking can greatly reduce and even eliminate the risk of illness from chickens harboring salmonella or campylobacter bacteria.

That means always cooking chicken thoroughly, to the point where there are no red juices.
"Chicken needs to be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit," Halloran says. "The best thing to do is test it with a meat thermometer. And if you are in a restaurant and you cut into chicken that doesn't look done, send it back."

Other suggestions for reducing risk include:

  • At the grocery store, make chicken one of the last things you pick up before heading to the check-out line.
  • Store and thaw chicken in the refrigerator, making sure its juices are contained and cannot contaminate other foods. Placing it on a plate, in a bowl, or inside a plastic bag is a good way to do this.
  • When preparing chicken, wash your hands with soap and water after contact, and immediately clean cutting boards, knives, and anything else the chicken touches in hot, soapy water.
  • Never return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw without washing the plate first.
    Washing chicken and removing its skin before cooking does not ensure it is free of bacteria.

"Consumers now have to realize that most chickens contain disease-causing bacteria, and that means they have to act appropriately," Halloran says. "They can't take chances.""

[Acknowledgement: WebMD]

"Consumers now have to realize that most chickens contain disease-causing bacteria, and that means they have to act appropriately," Halloran says. "They can't take chances."

And I agree with him.