“I’ve got an app for that”

•November 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

It’s hard to picture areas of our current world that have the technology for cell phones but yet are unable to receive treatment for devastating diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.  How about creating an “app” for that?

Researchers are experimenting with technology that will substitute cell phones for microscopes.  According to an article in Discover Magazine, the CellScope can snap magnified pictures of disease samples and transmit them to medical labs across the country or even around the world.  This technology literally enables a doctor “on call”.   The upgraded phone will be able to take magnified pictures of disease samples and transmit them to medical labs for examination.

…Such a simple solution to a vast problem. popup

Discover reports, “the goal is to use mobile communications networks as a cost-effective way for medical personnel to screen for hematologic and infectious diseases in areas that lack access to advanced micro­scopic equipment.”

Ozcan Research Group at U.C.L.A.

Adapted from the New York Times online

The snowcaps of Mount Kilimanjaro may define it no longer

•November 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The frosty peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro portrays a vivid image of picturesque beauty as well as a depiction of the frigid death of exasperated souls whose only dream was to reach the top.  These associations may take on a new meaning with today’s climate change.


Icy Remains by Thompson 2009

Recent field studies portrayed in ScienceNews states that Tanzania’s African peak has lost more than a quarter of the ice cover from 200 to 2007.  It is up for debate as to why melting is occurring: whether it’s  due to global warming or from the direct evaporation of ice  due to a climate “shift that starved the peak of precipitation.”

Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center in Columbus, estimates that at this rate of melting, ice fields will disappear from Kilimanjaro by 2022.

It’s hard to determine what future generations will think of these majestic mountaintops.  What’s left, remains in pictures.


Adapted from Mount Kenya Climbing

I fear for Mojo

•November 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

I would consider my cat, Mojo, as part of my family.  Like I am worried 0615092235about my immediate family contracting the H1N1 influenza, is it necessary that I have to worry about the flu being passed to my cat?

Initially, according to infectious disease experts, the answer was no.

Tuesday, National Public Radio reported that a 13-year-old cat caught the virus, probably from its human owners who presented flu-like symptoms.  The humans weren’t tested but the cat was, and tested positive.

Previously to this case, cats have been known to contract certain flu viruses. For example, big zoo animals in Thiland have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Should I fear the worst for Mojo? Probably if she’s exposed to my mother, who as I previously reported, tested positive for the virus.

Other species that tested positive for the swine flu virus, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, are pigs in Minnesota, Indiana, Alberta, swine herds in Argentina, Iceland, Singapore, Northern Ireland, Norway and Japan and turkeys in Turkeys in Canada and Chile.  They conclude to say that ferrets are particularly suseptable to the virus.

The viruses are most probably contracted from human contact.  To protect pets from the virus, it’s important to wash hands and distance animals from coughing and sneezing.


Panic for the Pandemic

•November 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

President Obama instilled a greater sense of fear among citizens after declaring the H1N1 influenza virus a national emergency.  I, for one, always resisted the growing fear of an upsurge of  a possible pandemic during my lifetime.  It’s still hard for me, however, to classify the virus as consistent to the plague of the middle ages, like many are  beginning to compare it to.B00528_H1N1_flu_blue_sml

Currently my mother, a pediatric nurse, is suffering from congestion, fits of coughing and inability to feel alert because of the dreaded influenza.  She insists that I get the vaccine but I, on the other hand, am worried about the side-effects that are associated with the vaccination.

So, should I get the vaccine?


Taken From CDC

PCR diagnostic test to detect novel H1N1 virus

Unless I leave school, it seems impossible. The scheduled vaccination was cancelled due to limited resources, which means that:

  1. it’s highly sought and therefore trustworthy?
  2. those considered to be at high risk may suffer deadly consequences from the shortage and,
  3. that maybe it’s positive and that my mother’s nagging won’t lead me to uncertain side-effects.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), target groups who should first receive the H1N1 vaccination include,

  1. pregnant women,
  2. people who care or live with children younger than 6 months,
  3. those in the healthcare field,
  4. people between 6 months and 24 years old
  5. and people ages 25 through 64 because of chronic disorders or compromised immune systems.

This includes both my mother and myself.

With the 1976 emergence of the swine flu, came the introduction of a vaccination that caused a neuromuscular disorder that lead to paralysis in some that received the vaccination; 25 people died from Guillain-Barré disorder and 500 others were diagnosed.

We can only hope that with evolution of technological advances, this year’s vaccine is safe.

CDC’s spokesperson, Tom Skinner, reports that the FDA has taken extra steps to protect the public, including the implementation of  the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (VAERS); a mechanism that allows the public to report and monitor adverse reactions to inoculations.

Skinner says the only expected side effects include soreness at the injection site and mild body aches, which are normal after receiving vaccinations.

An article in Forbes offers a contradicting viewpoint, from Yanzhong Andrew Huang, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University’s Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, who says it’s too early to tell what effects the vaccine will have.

Huang suggests that the swine influenza might also mutate later in the year making the vaccine incomparable.  “We’ve been told that the second viral wave might be more lethal, and that would make the vaccine less effective,” he says.

Essential it’s up to you to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.  However, according to an article in Science Daily, which focuses on the virus and pregnancy, 100 pregnant women have been hospitalized in intensive care united in the United States and 28 pregnant women have died.


Taken from CDC

A preliminary analysis of blood samples taken 21 days post-vaccination from a subgroup of 50 pregnant women participating in the trial shows the following:

  • In 25 women who received a single 15-microgram dose of the vaccine, the H1N1 flu vaccine elicited an immune response likely to be protective in 92 percent, or 23 of 25, of these women.
  • In 25 women who received a single 30-microgram dose of the vaccine, the H1N1 flu vaccine elicited an immune response likely to be protective in 96 percent, or 24 of 25, of these women.

… this proves to be hopeful.

In June, the swine flu was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization.  By late August, the organization claimed that there were more than 200 thousand cases of the flu and about two thousand deaths world-wide.

Currently the CDC reports that  Oct. 18 through Oct. 24, influenza activity continued to increase in the United States as reported in FluView.  Flu activity is now widespread in 48 states.

Nationally, visits to doctors for influenza-like-illness continue to increase steeply and are now higher than what is seen at the peak of many regular flu seasons.

And so, the question for me remains.  If the vaccine does in fact become available, would I be more likely to face possible death because I am part of the target group or paralysis that spurs from the implementation of an irregularly used vaccine?

In the spirt of fall

•November 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The time for trick-or-treaters has recently past and as ghosts and goblins are transformed to Frosty the Snowman and tree-topping angels, green grasses are shaded with fallen leaves.

But exactly why do fall leaves tumble to aide in hours of pile-jumping?


A common misconception lies within the name of the season; fall!  A breeze sweeps through the trees and wiggles loose leaves that have been dried by the cold.

According to a report by National Public Radio, the tree itself is in fact responsible for the dropping of the leaves.  They shed their leaves by using their own personal “scissors”.

Around this time of the year, the drop in temperature triggers a change in hormones in certain trees that are accustomed to dropping their leaves.  The hormone sends a chemical message to the leaf telling it that it’s time to fall.

According to Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a renowned botanist, once the message is received, abscission cells appear at the place where the leave stem meets the branch.  Within a few weeks, or days, a line of cells push the leaf from the branch and send it falling to cover the ground beneath it.

cells University of Wisconsin Plant Image Teaching Collection

The “scissor” cells are stained red.

In the spirit of Halloween, doesn’t it make you think; if trees have a mind of their own, what else does?

image-5DC6_49600055Optical Illusions

“It’s not E.T., but it’s E.T.’s home.” – William Borucki (NASA)

•November 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Someday it might be said that this was the beginning of the end of cosmic loneliness, said Dennis Overbye, a reporter for the New York Times. 


Kepler Spacecraft taken from Ball Aerospace and Technologies Group.

The “beginning,” according to Overbye, refers to the anticipated launch of Kepler, a spacecraft that is designed to determine if there is life on other planets.  

After numerous delays, the rocket is scheduled to lift off from Florida on Friday evening at 10:50 p.m.  Kepler’s mission is to try and discover planets that resemble our own.  In other words, life-supporting planets that orbit other starts.  

All other extrasolar planets that have been detected up until this point have been about the size of Jupiter.  To the naked eye Jupiter may appear small, however, Kepler will search for planets 30 to 600 times smaller than Jupiter.  

The Kepler satalite, named for the German astronomer who in 1609 published laws of planetary motion that now bear his name, is equipped with a 55-inch-diameter telescope and a 95-million-pixel digital camera that has a field of view about the size of two open palms.  

Kepler will use a method known as the transit method of planet finding, which is a measurement of a planet’s shadow.  A small fraction of light is blocked from a parent star  when a planet passes over it.  With this passing, the planet is transiting the star.  Repeated transits prove the existence of a planet.  The brightness change indicates the size of the planet and time intervals between transits indicate the size of the planets orbit as well as an estimation of the planets temperature.  All of these factors would tell astronomers if the planet is “Earth-like”.

According to NASA, the spacecraft is designed to continuously and simultaneously monitor brightness of 10,000 stars brighter than 14th the magnitude in the constellations Caygnus and Lyrae.  To detect a life-supporting planet, Kepler must be able to sense a drop in brightness of only 1/100 of a percent.  The equivalent is sensing a drop in brightness when

 a fly passes by a car’s headlight.  

The point of the mission is not to find a particular planet but to determine exactly how rare planets like earth really are.  

Who, or what, else is really out there? 




In a Lonely Cosmos, a Hunt for Worlds Like Ours


A Nutshell Description of the Kepler Mission



Kepler Spacecraft bus. 


Assembled Photometer.


Photometer installed on spacecraft. 

*All Photos from Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. 

Enter Cavemen…

•November 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Neanderthal was a species of human that existed with the modern human up until its extinction 30,000 years ago.  In the past, there has been speculation that the Neanderthal and the modern human may have interbred giving the modern human genes to outlast the grueling European ice age.  

New evidence from Germany disproves this theory.  Scientists report that they have reconstructed  the genome of the Neanderthal.  The analysis inferred that there is no significant trace of Neanderthal genes in modern humans.  

The Neanderthal genome is expected to shed light on human evolution in two ways.  First, when modern humans split from chimpanzees and  secondly changes in the human line after Homo Sapiens diverged from the Neanderthal.  

Furthermore, processing the Neanderthal genome could increase the possibility of bringing the extinct species back to life.  It would cost 30 million with current technology to complete this procedure.  

Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzi, Germany, with a team of scientists conducted most of the research.  They used a new DNA decoding machine that works by analyzing millions of very small fragments of DNA in parallel.  

Dr. Pääbo extracted the first set of Neanderthal DNA ten years ago.  Obtaining Neanderthal DNA is very difficult because most bones have no recoverable DNA and the ones that do are covered in closely related human DNA from scientists and curators handling the bones.  

_44961111_neander2_spl_226inA Neanderthal skull (left) paired next to a modern human skull.

John Reader/Science Photo Library/Photo Researchers, Inc.