Scientific Anthology: Epidemics

Introduction

The term “epidemic” is something heard often in the news, in doctors offices, and in the world around today. However, most of the population do not have an idea of what the medical term means. The Center for Disease Control defines an epidemic as “the occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.”

This anthology will introduce twenty epidemics of the past that had a major impact mankind. From viruses to fatal bacterial strains, these diseases has caused major distress, panic amongst major populations. The and ideas topics of how these diseases were started, vehicles for transmission and how society has responded to the outbreaks will be examined and discussed.

Something that you’ll find interesting is how diseases are spread eerily similar. However, the the biotechnological methods of treatment to combat these deadly disease are even more intriguing.

We are going on a Nerdventure! – Dr. Christopher Thompson

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Image courtesy of Shuttershock

Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Epidemics”

Scientific Anthology: Epidemics

GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES

In Sally Smith Hughes book, Genentech, readers learn about a small genetic engineering company whose name became known after one biochemical invention. The use of biotechnology to invent a better system of creating pharmaceutical drugs for distribution had been a goal for many biotech companies. Genentech was the first company to pioneer recombinant DNA technology to manufacture a crucial hormone our body needs in order to regulate sugar intake. Before this innovation, insulin was collected from the pancreas of pigs and used to treat people with diabetes. By using biological machinery that naturally occurs in bacteria, scientist Herbert W. Boyer and Stanley Cohen were able to manipulate its biological software to produce human hormones. Once their breakthrough was known, Robert A. Swanson, a young entrepreneur, joined the team of scientist and created a business which is now Genentech. This was not Hughes first encounter with the company’s technology. Before publishing the history of this company, she published a novel with Boyer himself called Recombinant DNA Research at UCSF and Commercial Application at Genentech: Oral history Transcript, in 2001. Already being familiar with the technology, she was able to craft together the birth of Genentech by giving detailed descriptions of its co-founders, details of their innovations, and the business aspect that went into creating the company. This book is a great read for those interested in learning how biotechnology has evolved into one of the tools we now use to create better pharmaceuticals. Continue reading “GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES”

GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES

Recombinant DNA: Realword Applications, Benefits, and Concerns

Like most technological break throughs, recombinant DNA at first wasn’t completely welcomed to the science world and many people were skeptical about it’s role and benefits in real world. Although now we know about its purpose and significance of it, there are still some concerns about it. First, lets start with the “pros” of recombinant DNA. Used in plants, plant breeders and farmers use it to create stronger, more durable, plants that could survive better and give humans better results in health. Furthermore, scientists have been able to construct plant DNA to withstand harmful bug invaders and pests that usually disrupt plant growth. They also can be altered to provide humans with more amino acids, fatty acids, and essential vitamins. However, along with benefits come concerns. Lately, with the growing funding for coming from the private sector, which allows companies to expand their research and obtain patents on discovered technology, which can hamper the progress that other companies are working towards in the field of biotechnology. Even more concerning is the thought that tough plants with genes able to survive and fight off disease and viruses, could mutate and create other diseases and viruses that are able to withstand other drugs.

Recombinant DNA: Realword Applications, Benefits, and Concerns

POINTING FROM THE GRAVE: THE INVISIBLE HELIX THAT TRACKS YOUR EVERY MOVE

In Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA, readers get the first inside look to how the innovation of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) technology evolved to become a key aspect within forensic criminology. Following the story of young scientist, Helena Greenwood, Weinberg places the reader into a courtroom drama while giving accurate details about this cutting-edge technology. This was the first novel Weinberg had ever published with the topic of DNA. After publishing this novel in 2003, she went on to fully establish herself as a novelist by creating a trilogy known as the Moneypenny Diaries. Although Pointing From the Grave was the first criminology novel for this British novelist, she was able to successfully take complex scientific terminology and break it down to where her readers can fully understand it in a more simplistic manner; the need for a scientific background is not necessary. Weinberg is able to show the true story of Helena Greenwood’s sexual assault and murder by providing accurate forensic evidence and integrating different perspectives from those who knew the victim and suspect best. Continue reading “POINTING FROM THE GRAVE: THE INVISIBLE HELIX THAT TRACKS YOUR EVERY MOVE”

POINTING FROM THE GRAVE: THE INVISIBLE HELIX THAT TRACKS YOUR EVERY MOVE

Last Thoughts

Seeing as this is the last opportunity to discuss Pointing From The Grave in the commonplace book, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on the book. Overall, I thought this was a really intriguing book, not only because of the plot and storyline, but also because Samantha Weinberg does an excellent job of describing and educating readers about scientific information we read during the book. For example, before this book I didn’t even know a PCR machine existed, and after chapter 9 I was pretty much all filled in about how and why this machine is vital for investigators analyzing DNA. I also thought the way she covered events in the court room was stellar and she painted a perfect picture in my head about Frediani and his behavior. This book is not only just a true crime novel, but also a historical timeline of events that cover the progression of court cases and the revolution of biotechnology in the justice system.

Last Thoughts

Doing Your Job vs. Doing What’s Right

Some unwanted qualities can come with the job of being a defense attorney– especially if the attorney believes his/her client is in fact guilty of the crime they are charged with. However, like we have seen so far in Pointing From The Grave, the difference between what the defendant did, and what the prosecutor can prove is the ultimate decider in criminal cases. Throughout the history of our justice system many high profile cases that have made their way to national television have solidified the notion that sometimes guilty people can get away with murder if their attorney proves beyond a reasonable doubt that his/her client didn’t do as they are charged. For example, in the O.J. Simpson case, his “dream team” of Lawyers at some point in the case probably realized that they were representing a man who probably committed the double murder he was being charged with. However, even though their defense wasn’t that strong, they found ways to make the prosecution’s attack on Simpson seem less credible than it was. How hard do you think it is for a lawyer to successfully draft up a defense for a client that for the most part actually committed the crime? Do you think there are an ethical boundaries that he/she must face if they chose to accept an example of such a case? At the end of the day, being a lawyer is still a job. People earn a living representing people and I think that if defense attorneys keep this “ethical dilemma” in their minds then they will not be able to do their job correctly.

Doing Your Job vs. Doing What’s Right

Not All Investigations Were Created Equal

 

Lately in class we have been talking police cover-ups and planted DNA at crime scenes to convict certain individuals, which poses the question, how would someone manage to do this? Moreover, if authorities are in control of all of the evidence present in a case, what are the chances that the police decide “speed up” a case progression by planting evidence, or convicting the wrong person? I recently read an article about tactics police sometimes use called “coaxing”, which is a tactic that tries to force a confession out of person, guilty or not. This method was brought to the public’s eyes after Stephen Avery (Netflix series Making A Murderer) was wrongfully convicted of a crime he never commit. Aside from disregarding some potentially case changing evidence that would have cleared Avery’s name, they forced his cousin into a confession without the presence of council. Unlike something like a murder, planting evidence usually doesn’t leave behind any traces of and is probably most unexpected thing a prosecutor/detective would be looking for. With our sophisticated methods of analyzing DNA and matching it to people, it would be extremely hard for a jury to believe something that the DNA evidence doesn’t directly point to, especially in a case like Helena’s where DNA evidence and 1 measly fingerprint were the only tangible evidence against Frediani. In this decade we have seen hundreds of overturned cases and people exonerated of their crimes because of the incredible technology we have at our disposal. However, sometimes I believe that too much faith is put into our justice system, and certain unfortunate individuals are caught in “wrong place, wrong time” moments and find themselves staring at life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Not All Investigations Were Created Equal

Jail, and then what?

Today in class we discussed Frediani’s behavior and life after he was released from prison, and how he completely turned around his life and got back on a productive and successful track. Now granted, this was over 20 years ago, so how hard would it be for someone like Frediani in 2016 get a job and follow a different road after a prison stint? All companies do some sort of background check on their employees, so getting a job would surely be a tough thing to do. Furthermore, imagine what kid of changes to society someone misses by spending a decade in prison? Smartphones, laptops, instagram, and so many other advancements are just some of the examples that former-prison inmates would need to adjust to once out of prison. Frediani only did a few years in prison and was a well-rounded citizen before his stint, so his release probably motivated him to get back the life he had. But for people who come from low-income backgrounds, and don’t have much experience in the workplace, do you think they are as lucky?

http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/shorts/life-after-prison/

Here’s a quick video about a man who has spent over 30  years in prison– and he talks about his return to society.

Jail, and then what?

Questioning Trial Protocol

There have been many posts in the question forum pertaining to the courts decision to restrict the jury from learning about Helena’s death while the trial was going on, and I thought that I would address both sides of the argument of whether or not the Jury had the right of knowing. If you can picture yourself as one of the jurors, how would you react towards Frediani knowing that the woman he is on trial for sexually assaulting has just been found murdered? I think if the jurors found out about Helena’s death, then any of their existing impressions upon Frediani may have been more explicit. Naturally you would feel bad hearing about such a crime, and when the man potentially responsible for a similar crime is on defense in front of you, your emotions may take over. On the other hand, if the defense and prosecution must share all evidence with each other, the judge, and the jury, why shouldn’t the jury be informed about the victim’s murder if all other parties are aware?

https://www.wicourts.gov/services/juror/docs/deliberate.pdf

Not too relevant to my post in particular, but here are the Wisconsin state guidelines for jury deliberations. It highlights how jurors are supposed to dissect evidence and think about the different pieces of evidence involved in the case. Also, it discusses how the importance of evidence is arrived at, and how jurors “judge” how strong certain parts of the prosecution and defense arguments are. It’s important to note how juries are formed from everyday citizens in our country and are expected to learn how to judge law in a certain period of time, nonetheless determine a person’s fate.

Questioning Trial Protocol

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Looking at our world’s most compelling innovations, theories, and discoveries, it seems as if brilliant minds of those like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Charles Darwin could produce ingenious insight in the blink of an eye.  Author Steve Johnson however, believes that the components of our surrounding environment play a vital role in how we arrive at these “eureka moments” of enlightenment. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson documents the roots of innovation and creativity, while exploring the factors that play a role in determining how we ultimately arrive at ideas. Johnson uses seven different elements of thinking to outline our thought process; The Adjacent Possible, Liquid Networks, The Slow Hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, and Platforms. Slow hunches, densely populated areas, liquid networks, platforms are important themes our group noted as critical for the growth of innovation. Through Steven Johnson’s use of  biological metaphors, scientific research, and innovative stories we are able to read where great ideas come from. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Significance of Fingerprints in Criminal Cases

“A single print found under the lip of the teapot .. after studying it using a microscope, he found sixteen separate points of comparison, all of which matched.” .. “He (Frediani) cannot believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence” – pg. 56

What constitutes significant evidence in a criminal case like this? I had to read this quote twice to make sure I was reading correctly that Frediani didn’t think his own unique fingerprint– on a teapot inside the house of the woman he is accused of sexually assaulting, would convict him of a crime. Honestly, I think this is one of the best pieces of evidence that Chaput and his team could have taken from that crime scene. Fingerprints are unique to individuals, meaning that no two people have the same fingerprint. Frediani’s fingerprint in Helena’s house is a nail in the coffin for at least burglary, and should prolong a further investigation into this incident. Highlighting the circumstances, here you have a man (Frediani) who is already a sex offender and has been convicted for public indecency and stalking in the past, who is the only suspect in this sexual assault case. With the addition of his fingerprint being found on a teapot inside the victims home, I don’t think you can classify this finger print as “flimsy evidence”.

Significance of Fingerprints in Criminal Cases

DNA and Ethics

The National DNA Database is one of the best options at the disposal of law enforcement to identify criminals. On the other hand, many people believe that it invades personal privacy because it was originally created to build a group of criminal profiles, and now it seems to have become a database for all citizens and non criminals alike. In our generation of technological savvy information systems and software, it is pretty easy to find out who exactly someone is based on their DNA and genetic information. I personally have no issue with law enforcement being able to access my DNA, but some believe that the access to this information can reveal ethnicity and disease susceptibility. Our DNA is literally everywhere, your skin cells are all over everything you touch and your saliva cells are on everything you drink or eat from. Therefore, I think it seems as if even without this DNA database, if someone wanted to get access to your DNA, or find out more about you, they would be able to anyway regardless. Furthermore, isn’t it a positive thing if the police know how to identify you? DNA analysis has helped identify missing people and human remains, so I think the pros outweigh the cons in terms of questioning whether a DNA database is ethical in our country.

DNA and Ethics