Category Archives: General

The mystery in Cambodia

English: The rash of hands foot and mouth disease.
English: The rash of hands foot and mouth disease. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, there have been a rash of stories in the news covering a mysterious disease that has appeared in Cambodia, killing over 50 children in the last few months. Currently, there is evidence that this disease is caused by enterovirus 71, a causative agent of hand, foot, mouth disease. What is interesting is that these children are presenting with symptoms more severe than foot-and-mouth that include encephalitis, high fever, difficulty breathing, and eventual destruction of the alveoli of the lungs leading to death. This is an unusual presentation of enterovirus infection, as this usually causes a mild illness that does not result in hospitalization. However, EV71 has been known to cause neurological disease in the past and would explain the symptoms experienced by patients in this outbreak.

So why did this outbreak start? Why would a virus that normally causes a mild disease kill so many children? Continue reading The mystery in Cambodia

Advertisements

Guest Post!

I’m happy to say that this week an article I wrote was featured on the Gradhacker website. This is a great site with a wealth of resources for graduate students ranging from how to navigate conferences successfully to how to de-stress and maintain your sanity during graduate school.

So, if you wish to get some basic guidelines on how to transition from an undergraduate to a graduate wardrobe please check out my article Dressing for Battle: Academic Armaments over at Gradhacker.

New Training for the New Science

There has been a growing concern among scientists on how to train the next generation of researchers. This last month I came into contact with an article by Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall in Microbe magazine titled Reforming Science as well as the editorial Next-generation training in Nature. As a young researcher just beginning what I hope will be a lifelong career in the sciences this article hits on so many areas that need to be addressed. Three points in this article stood out to me and I wanted to address them from the perspective of someone who is just starting out and looking for training opportunities that will prepare me to work in the modern scientific field. These areas are the broadening of the scope of knowledge of new PhD trainees, a realignment of the culture to support quality of work over quantity, as well as the call to generate more flexible career pathways for young scientists in order to prevent attrition from the sciences. Continue reading New Training for the New Science

An ecosystem unto ourselves

Microbiome of Human Skin

Much has been in the news lately about the human microbiome and the implications this research has for our health. For those of you not familiar with the term microbiome, it is the sum of all normal, non-pathogenic bacteria that live on and inside our own bodies on a daily basis. These are very large and diverse populations, so much so that bacterial cells outnumber the cells of our own bodies ten-to-one and it is estimated that humans are host to literally thousands of species of bacteria. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of viruses that may live in us long term; referred to as a virome. It seems today that we are far more complex organisms than we ever imagined. But what does this complexity mean? Does it have implications in how we should treat disease or why we become sick in the first place? Continue reading An ecosystem unto ourselves

How do viruses move outside the cell?

In line with the recent article “Are viruses alive?” I would like to further explore the general nature of viruses. One question that I was recently asked was “does a virus move?” Being that viruses are not technically alive in the sense that we know it they also cannot move in a self-directed manner. This is in stark comparison to some other microbes such as Schistosoma cercariae, a parasitic worm, which is capable of burrowing through intact human skin and gaining access to the vascular system within 5 minutes (1). Thankfully viruses cannot do this, much to our benefit. Because of their very nature viruses cannot mechanically move in a self-directed manner and are subject to movement solely based upon environmental interactions. Essentially, they are not only hijackers who take over cellular processes for their own good, but environmental hitchhikers as well. Continue reading How do viruses move outside the cell?

Are Viruses Alive?

Česky: 3D virus chřipky English: 3D model of a...
3D model of an influenza virus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are viruses alive?

In a sense, viruses are molecular hijackers bent on subverting host defenses, taking over a host cell’s ability to control nucleic acid and protein processing functions, and making copies of themselves to go out and infect more cells. Viruses don’t divide like cells, don’t generate their own energy, and are fully dependent on host cells and their proteins to replicate.

Don’t let this simplicity fool you, viruses have very sophisticated means of taking over cells and turning them into factories for making even more viral copies.However, since they can’t accomplish many of the major of functions of life on their own outside of the host cell it has been debated for many years whether viruses are “alive.” Continue reading Are Viruses Alive?