Stories tagged Life Science


Defense against deadly doses of radiation

Radiation defense
Radiation defenseCourtesy Fibonacci
Whether by nuclear accident, radiation treatment, or a dirty bomb, exposure to formerly deadly doses of radiation now might be survivable. Cleveland Biolabs, Inc. (CBLI) has a compound called Protectan that has rescued mammals from lethal doses of radiation. The effectiveness of Protectans whether injected before or after radiation exposure indicates that these compounds have great potential as practical, as well as effective and non-toxic, biodefense measures.

Why is radiation deadly?

The lethality of high dose ionizing radiation is largely due to development of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS) caused by massive apoptosis in radiosensitive organs, including:

  • intestinal cells (leading to nausea)
  • hair follicles (leading to hair loss)
  • spermatocytes (leading to male infertility)
  • hematopoietic (HP) cells (leading to immunosuppression)

How antiradiation pharmaceuticals work

Cleveland Biolabs, Inc. is currently developing derivatives of microbial factors that are natural regulators of apoptosis. Click here for a more complete discussion of how Protactan's work as radiation antidotes.

  • Protectan CBLB502 is a rationally designed recombinant derivative of the bacterial protein, flagellin, which binds and activates the mammalian TLR5 cell surface receptor. Moreover, TLR5 is expressed on the endothelial cells of the small intestine lamina propria, the most radiosensitive part of the GI tract
  • CBLB600 Series Protectans are synthetic derivatives of mycoplasma lipopeptide, which promote activation of the anti-apoptotic NF-kappaB pathway associated with acute radiation syndrome

Here is a link to the research paper in Science titled
An Agonist of Toll-Like Receptor 5 Has Radioprotective Activity in Mouse and Primate Models
More research papers can be accessed at CBLI Publications


Bristlecone pines are actually much smaller than this: So the chopping should be pretty easy.
Bristlecone pines are actually much smaller than this: So the chopping should be pretty easy.Courtesy purplekey
The world has finally gotten sick of California’s bristlecone pine Methuselah, and offered up something better.

The bristlecone pines of the White Mountains in California are some of the oldest living objects in the world, with one individual, nicknamed “Methuselah,” having been aged at around 5,000 years. Now five thousand years is older than most people I know, but I don’t think that I’d go around calling those trees “super old” or anything. More along the lines of “kind of old,” and for decades we’ve had to put up with complaints over these kind-of-old trees (e.g. “Don’t cut it down! It’s kind of old!”) Since when has something being kind of old ever stopped us from destroying it?

Well, now Methuselah won’t even be able to play that card anymore, because its kind of old woody butt has been blown out of the water by a new old tree, an 8000-year-old Norway spruce, found, ironically, in Sweden. 8000 years—I think we can safely call that “pretty old.”

While an individual trunk of the spruce may only live about 600 years, the organism will put up a new one as soon as the old trunk dies, which has allowed some of the trees to survive since just about the end of the last ice age.
A cultivated dwarf spruce: This Norway spruce was made to be small, but the ancient stunted ones in Sweden probably look about the same.
A cultivated dwarf spruce: This Norway spruce was made to be small, but the ancient stunted ones in Sweden probably look about the same.Courtesy SEWilco

The carbon-dated pretty-old tree was found in a cluster of similarly aged Norway spruces in the mountains of western Sweden, in an area that has remained untouched by commercial logging. The harsh environmental conditions of the area have forced the trees to stay very small—only about a foot and a half tall—but last several decades have brought a warmer climate to the area, and the trees have “popped up like mushrooms,” making them much easier to find in the mountainous terrain. This will also make them more fun for me to chop down when an older tree is found.

According to this article, one of the trees is 9,550 years old. There's actually a cluster of about twenty spruce that are at least 8,000 years old.


OMG! So cute!!!: Let's see how cute this is in a couple years.
OMG! So cute!!!: Let's see how cute this is in a couple years.Courtesy indio
Remember little Knut? The baby polar bear rejected by his mother, and hand-reared by the Berlin Zoo? It was a controversial move by the zoo—many thought that it would have been better to let nature run its course (i.e., let little Knut bite it)—but it paid off in massive cuteness dividends. The world got to watch little Knut frolic through his darling childhood, and then tumble into his frightening adolescence. Now Knut is acting like a perfectly normal adult bear, which it turns out is really upsetting for people.

Knut, the Britney Spears of the Berlin Zoo, has been caught…Murdering fish!

It seems that Knut has been catching live carp out of his moat (carp are really where it’s at these days), and killing them in front of visitors. Critics say that the fish should never have been put in the enclosure in the first place, but the zoo has pointed out that they were only there to eat algae in the moat. Whatever the reason, the carp were “senselessly murdered,” as one German news website reported the story. It’s not an easy life, Knut, and the fact that you’ve now got a younger, cuter, less screwed up cub out there, gunning for your spotlight won’t make it any easier.

That’s right, there’s a new fluffy little pile of cute out there now, making Knut look more and more like a hideous, fishy-smelling monster every day (Britney Spears can totally sympathize). Last week the Nuremberg Zoo debuted little Flocke, a loveable, huggable little puffball, who will never grow into one of the world’s largest predators, and would certainly never do anything as awful as fish murder.

Here’s a video of little Flocke, doing what she does best.


Measles rash: This young boy has a 3 day old rash caused by the measles virus.
Measles rash: This young boy has a 3 day old rash caused by the measles virus.Courtesy CDC PHIL #1152

Recently, twelve people were diagnosed with measles in San Diego, another nine in Pima County Arizona. In Salzburg, Austria 180 people have been infected during a recent outbreak. Thankfully there haven’t been any deaths from these latest outbreaks.

People in Nigeria’s northern Katsina state have not been as lucky. At the moment they are facing a measles epidemic which has killed nearly two hundred children in the past three months, and infected thousands.

What’s going on?
It seams that parents, for a variety of reasons, are fearful of giving their children vaccinations. For nearly everyone, the measles vaccination is safe and effective and if you want more information about the vaccine click here. Measles outbreaks aren’t very common in the U.S., fewer than 100 per year. But in the pre-vaccine era, 3-4 million measles cases occurred every year in the US. This resulted in approximately 450 deaths, 28,000 hospitalizations and 1,000 children with chronic disabilities from measles encephalitis each year. These two outbreaks in the US serve as a reminder that unvaccinated people remain at risk for measles and that measles spreads rapidly without proper controls.

According to the WHO, around the world measles still kills 250,000 people each year. Most of these deaths occur in undeveloped nations where people don’t have access to vaccinations and healthcare. But it appears the problem in both Austria and Nigeria are unvaccinated children. In Nigeria many parents are afraid to vaccinate as reported in the VOA:

Katsina state's director of disease control, Halliru Idris, tells VOA that the outbreak is mostly affecting young people who have not been immunized. "I can tell you that over 95 percent of all the children that have measles are those whose parents have not allowed them to receive immunization," he said.
A handful of radical Islamic clerics instigated a boycott of infant vaccinations in northern Nigeria in 2003 and 2004, alleging that immunization was a western ploy to render Muslim girls infertile. Though the dispute has been resolved, parents still tend to avoid immunization.

In Austria officials fear that school administrators at the private school where the outbreak began advised parents against vaccinating their students. An investigation is ongoing.

So what should we do?
In Iowa the public health response to one imported measles case cost approximately $150,000. Should parents who choose not to vaccinate their children be responsible for these expenses? How do we balance personal choice and the good of the community?


March 29 - April 4 are Nano Days at The Science Museum and other museums areound the country. To celebrate, here's a selection of recent nanotechnology stories in the news:

Japanese doctors are trying to build nano-scale robots to build custom-designed medicines,one molecule at a time.

Pharmaceutical companies are using nanotechnology to deliver more effective anti-cancer drugs.

Researchers at MIT are trying to develop an electric car with a battery using nanowires.

Engineers in California are looking for ways to use nanomaterials to store hydrogen, which may someday power pollution-free cars.

Scientists are using nanotechnology to develop more efficient solar panels.


In Alamosa, Colorado the water is not safe to drink. It's contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. Although Salmonella outbreaks are pretty common, it is pretty rare to find it in a municipal water source. As of 11 a.m. Monday the 24th, 217 cases of Salmonella were reported, with 68 confirmed cases. For more information about this outbreak see the following links:
Colorado Department of Health
National Public Radio

I drink tap water and will continue to do so, it's safe and better for the environment. Where do you get your drinking water from and why?


Researchers at Veredus Laboratories and STMicroelectronics developed VereFlu™, a small and automated diagnostic test that rapidly detects all major influenza types.

Why is this significant?
Current rapid tests can detect:

  • only influenza A viruses
  • both influenza A and B viruses, but doesn't distinguish between the two types
  • both influenza A and B and distinguish between the two

None of the rapid tests provide any information about influenza A subtypes. VereFlu™ is highly sensitive, accurate and it can identify and differentiate human strains of Influenza A and its subtypes and B viruses, including the Avian Flu strain H5N1, in a single test. A test like this currently needs to be done in specialized labs and can take days or weeks for results.

From the company’s press release:

“VereFlu™ will enable healthcare professionals to effectively monitor mutations of flu viruses and quickly identify the main strain of the season,” said Dr Rosemary Tan, Chief Executive Officer of Veredus Laboratories. “This unique capability can significantly increase the effectiveness of flu vaccination and reduce public health risks associated with the emergence of a new flu virus.”

An exciting collaboration
VereFlu™ is the market’s first test which has integrated two powerful molecular biological applications into a new test the size of a fingernail. Combining Veredus Laboratories’ expertise in developing diagnostic tests and STMicroelectornics expertise in ST’s microfluidic lab-on-chip technology has created this new product. The two companies are planning to work together to develop additional diagnostic tests. They have set up a new venture in Singapore called Bio-Application Lab.

This new test sounds really cool and it got me wondering about how it works. I will contact the company and add to the post if I find out!

  1. Common, but on the decline
    Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older -- or one out of five adolescents and adults -- have had genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 or type 2. Over the past decade, the percentage of Americans with genital herpes has decreased, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. It's more common in women (about one out of four women) than men (almost one out of eight).
  2. Symptoms
    Most people who have genital herpes don't know it because they've never had any symptoms or don't recognize them. But often, when a person becomes infected for the first time, symptoms appear in two to 10 days. Early signs include a tingling feeling or itching in the genital area, or pain in the buttocks or down the leg. Blisters typically appear on or around the genitals or rectum. You can still infect a partner if sores aren't visible.
  3. New research
    Some clinical trials are testing drugs aimed at disrupting genes or enzymes that the virus needs to survive. Several vaccines are in various stages of development, as well as gels or creams that a woman could insert into the vagina before sex to prevent infection in herself and her partner.
  4. Pregnancy
    If a woman has her first episode of genital herpes while she's pregnant, she can pass the virus to her unborn child and may deliver a premature baby. Half of the babies infected with herpes either die or suffer nerve damage. If a pregnant woman has an outbreak and it is not the first one, her baby's risk of being infected during delivery is very low.
  5. Donating blood
    People with herpes can donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, individuals taking antiviral medication (acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir) will need to wait 48 hours after their last dose before donating blood. The American Red Cross says those currently experiencing an outbreak of genital herpes should not donate blood.

Nicole Is a STD dating site for people with herpes, HIV, HPV and other STDS.


Red blood cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum: This thin film Giemsa stained micrograph reveals ring-forms, and gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum.
Red blood cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum: This thin film Giemsa stained micrograph reveals ring-forms, and gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum.Courtesy cdc

  • Malaria is both preventable and curable.
  • A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds.
  • More than one million people die of malaria every year, mostly infants, young children and pregnant women and most of them in Africa.

A recent article in the NY Times discussed if it is possible to eliminate malaria. They need more money, better health systems and a vaccine. Some experts feel the big push to eradicate malaria is counterproductive or even dangerous. Dr. Arata Kochi, the W.H.O. malaria chief stated in the article that, “… enough money, current tools like nets, medicines and DDT could drive down malaria cases 90 percent. But eliminating the last 10 percent is a tremendous task and very expensive.” He doesn’t want people to have false hope.

A new vaccine
In spite of the debate, research is progressing to reach the goal of eliminating malaria. The Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) is home to one of the largest malaria research programs in the United States. SBRI's Malaria Program is focused on vaccine discovery for malaria during pregnancy, severe malaria in children and liver-stage malaria. SBRI scientists are working on a vaccine that uses genetic engineering to render malaria parasites harmless. According to an article in the Seattle Times SBRI is looking for volunteers to be bitten by malaria-infected mosquitoes to aid in the quest for new vaccines and drugs. Scientists will analyze blood from the human volunteers to learn more about the body's immune response to the disease.

What do we do?
Economists believe that malaria is responsible for a ‘growth penalty’ of up to 1.3% per year in some African countries. When compounded over the years, this penalty leads to substantial differences in GDP between countries with and without malaria and severely restrains the economic growth of the entire region. Malaria costs Africa $12 billion every year in lost productivity alone.

What do you think? Where should we be putting our resources?

  • Developing a vaccine (the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation alone has spent $258 million
  • More money to distribute long-lasting insecticidal nets (each net costs $5-7)
  • Mosquito control with indoor residual spraying like DDT (costs nearly $4 per person)
  • Getting effective drug treatments to the infected (effective therapy costs $2.40 for a round of treatment)