The 1918 Flu Pandemic

The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed more people than the Great War. Its cause was unknown at the time, but we now know it to be an H1N1 strain of the virus.

Here’s a brief history: The Flu Pandemic.

Llama antibodies may lead to new treatments for HIV

Antibodies found in llamas are smaller and denser than ours and may be better at getting at receptor sites that the HIV binds to. Five antibodies against HIV, which work in vitro, have been identified. There’s still the problem that our antibodies may react against the llama antibodies. Read about the newly discovered llama antibodies.

The image below compares a human antibody to a llama antibody.

llama-antibody

I’m surprised that this is controversial

Recent findings that two-thirds of all cancers are likely due to random chance have brought some surprising pushback. There’s an emotional reason for hoping that it’s all controllable, but that’s simply not likely. Cells mutate at random; the body’s defence systems clear out most of them; but by a second chance, some are missed. Get used to it. Eating your veggies won’t prevent all cancers. Read “On the importance of luck.”

What would you eat if you were hungry?

Probably anything you could catch, such as that uncivilized “bushmeat,” such as deer or rabbit or possum.

Read “Granny’s mean pot of bushmeat stew,” by Tara C. Smith of Aetiology.

What is squalene, anyway?

The short answer is given here, in the organic molecule directory, alkenes page:

Squalene is found in shark liver oil, and is also a major component of the lipids on the surface of human skin. Although it is not obvious from the way the structure above is drawn, squalene is a precursor for the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Through a complex series of enzymatically controlled reactions, squalene is converted into an intermediate called lanosterol, which undergoes a number of subsequent reactions to become cholesterol.

Here is what the molecule looks like. Every angle or terminus has a carbon atom, with enough hydrogen atoms to fill the unused bonds up to carbon’s complement of four per atom. A double line indicates a double bond.

squalene_01

Penicillin breeding experiments!

Scientists used their understanding of the MAT (mating) genes to induce penicillin mold to reproduce sexually, producing spores with new gene combinations. They hope to breed new strains that will kill antibiotic-resistant disease germs. And now that they have induced penicillin to breed, instead of merely producing identical spores, for the first time in a hundred years, they’ll try the same with other important fungi, such as those that produce other antibiotics.

Food safety: The struggle to pasteurize milk

Pop quiz: The scientist who discovered that pasteurizing milk prevented it from transmitting diseases was told that if it were important, someone else would have discovered it already. What sex was the scientist?

Alice Catherine Evans proved that unpasteurized milk spread disease, and improved the health of any nation that was listening.

It was an exceptionally stubborn microbiologist named Alice Catherine Evans who was the first scientist in the United States to definitively show that microbes in unpasteurized milk can sicken humans as well as animals. She went on to fight for the heat-treating of milk to protect the public and stands today as the mother of pasteurization in the United States. And the male heroes embodied in De Kruif’s book were hardly supportive. She was mocked, belittled and assured that if she was right, “someone much more outstanding” would have made the discovery long before.

De Kruif included her [in Men against Death] to both acknowledge her contribution and protest her treatment. “Such,” he noted sadly, “is the silliness of scientists.”

Still, by the time his book was published, Evans had won her battle to such an extent that she had already been elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists—a forerunner of the Society of Microbiologists—in 1928. And she had done that with significant support from male colleagues, willing to “honor one woman whose findings dramatically advanced their field of research and improved public health in this country,” wrote Maryland biologist and former National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell in a much later tribute of her own.

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