Friday, December 08, 2006

Some Mornings the World is Great

...even without caffeine. Consider these interesting articles:

Here is a news report from 2004
http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/041111_giant_virus.html
about an organism(?) that has some of the characteristics of viruses and cells. It's hard enough sometimes to distinguish between something that is alive and not alive, but now comes an organism called mimivirus that really gums things up because like regular viruses it seems to not carry out metabolism, and yet it has a number of the universal genes characteristic of cells. Also it has both DNA and RNA, along with some of the machinery for protein synthesis.

I found that report while reading this article about a computer simulation of a real virus called the tobacco mosaic virus.

http://www.livescience.com/technology/060327_computer_virus.html

The simulation is designed to test our understanding of how virus particles interact with their environment and attach to cells.

And in turn I got to that story from reading about llama antibodies which actually are missing some parts common to most other organisms:

http://www.livescience.com/technology/061205_llama_blood.html

These simpler antibodies are useful because they can easily be manipulated to produce molecules that can serve as biosensors to detect chemical and biological attacks. What I like about this story is that it is a good reminder of the serendipity of science. The scientists who first studied llama antibodies certainly did not study them with an eye to making biosensors, but rather from a basic science point of view-just curiosity. A lot of science is like that-scientists asking basic questions about how something works. Often these discoveries are accidental and only later does someone make the connection to a possible application.

In other science I am really interested that Russia wants to join the United States in its effort to return to the moon even if it is mainly by providing technology to us:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061207/ap_on_sc/russia_moon

You might think, technology? Are we not the world's technology leaders? In many areas yes, but the Soviets produced a very reliable system of space transport without the complexity of the shuttle and I think we can learn a lot from their engineering approach.

People often think that nature is all about competition, but scientists know that nature has stunning examples of cooperation such as the one reported here

http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/061207_fish_cooperation.html

involving two species of fish the moray eel and the grouper that cooperate when hunting. The actual cooperation appears to be learned according to the article, but the issue is not so clear cut.

Not all the science news this morning is great. It is sobering to realize that the Ebola virus is killing many of the the world's remaining wild Gorillas

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061207/sc_nm/ebola_gorillas_dc.

The authors note that the virus combined with poaching may be enough to cause Gorillas to go extinct. It would be sad if this important link to our evolutionary past and a wonderful creature would be lost, another victim of the current mass extinction event triggered by human activity.

Finally another article on the relationship between HIV and malaria points out that these two diseases reinforce each other in Africa.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061207/sc_nm/aids_malaria_dc

HIV renders people more susceptible to malaria and malaria infection increases the load, or number of virus particles, in the bloodstream of persons with both diseases. This increases the potential for spread of the HIV virus. Plus, HIV infection makes people more likely to get infected by the malaria parasite.

Bad news in the short run, but good news because now we really understand that we need a broad scale attack on both these killers if Africa is going to develop economically.
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