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
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”→
Chapter 6 of Genentech sparked my curiosity about Interferons. I wanted to know why they are so important, what the do, and why Genentech wanted to work with them so badly. I did some research about Interferons in an encyclopedia, and found out a lot of useful information. Below is some of that information.
What are interferons:
Interferons are “a group of proteins known primarily for their role in inhibiting viral infections and in stimulating the entire immune system to fight disease.”
What are their medical uses:
Interferons “can inhibit cell division, which is one reason why they hold promise for stopping cancer growth. Recent studies have also found that one interferon may play an important role in the early biological processes of pregnancy.”
Also, “several interferon proteins have been approved as therapies for diseases like chronic hepatitis , genital warts, multiple sclerosis, and several cancers.”
Directly relating to Genentech:
The encyclopedia stated, ” biotechnological advances, making genetic engineering easier and faster, are making protein drugs like interferons more available for study and use. Using recombinant DNA technology, or gene splicing, genes that code for interferons are identified, cloned, and used for experimental studies and in making therapeutic quantities of protein. These modern DNA manipulation techniques have made possible the use of cell-signaling molecules like interferons as medicines.
In Chapter 3 of Genentech, Hughes discusses the company’s work with somatostatin. Immediately after reading, I was curious about somatostatin. I wanted to know what it was, what it was used for, and what would happen if our bodies didn’t produce it. I did some research, and found a pretty cool site called: http://www.yourhormones.info. This site breaks down each of the hormones that our body produces, and gives the basic information about what the hormone is, how and where in the body it’s made, and what happens if there is a surplus or deficiency of that hormone in the body. So, let’s get back to somatostatin! If you check out the site, you will find the following information:
What is it:
It is a hormone that regulates secretion of other hormones, regulates the activity of the gastrointestinal tract, and regulates the production of tumor cells.
Where is it produced in the body:
Somatostatin is produced in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, and in the hypothalamus. In the pancreas it controls the production of glucagon and insulin. In the gastrointestinal tract it controls production of gastrin and secretin. In the hypothalamus it controls the secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland.
Although rare, there could be too much secretion of growth hormone.
There would be an extreme reduction in secretion of other endocrine hormones. This could lead to ailments like diabetes or gallstones.
This photo of Somatostatin above was taken from Wikipedia.
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”→
Chapter 21 of Pointing from the Grave presents a quote which states that:
“3-4 percent of the American male population can be characterized as sociopathic; in prisons, this percentage rises to 20” (Weinberg p. 339).
This quote allowed me to realize that I have watched a lot of crime shows and movies, and heard the word sociopath thrown around a lot, but I never really knew the actual definition of it. I wanted to know what characteristics made up a sociopath, and from there be able to determine if I considered Frediani to be one or not. In my research of sociopaths, I found out that the ten characteristics that make them up are: charm, intelligence, lack of remorse, spontaneity, hatred of losing, incapability of love (real love), intense lying, poetical speech, lack of apology, and thinking that the things they say are truth even if they are not. By these characteristics, I would definitely classify Frediani as a sociopath, what do you guys think? Read a little more about sociopaths here, and let me know!
Chapter 18 of Pointing from the Grave continues with Frediani’s trail. Bartick begins questioning the DNA samples that were collected at the scene of the crime. He brings up the hair sample that was picked up by hand, and placed into an old dirty cigarette box. Clearly this is no proper way to handle DNA that can put somebody in prison for the rest of their life. So that got me thinking, “What is the proper way to handle a hair sample?” I went online and found the article that I attached below. It’s pretty interesting check it out. It discusses the ins and outs of collecting DNA samples at a crime scene, particularly hair. Go to the web link below an click on the section titled hair.
In Chapter 15 of Pointing From the Grave, Frediani is arrested for the murder of Helena. They bring him in for questioning, and that is when he is told that they found his DNA on Helena’s body. Regarding the DNA evidence, Frediani says,
“As for the DNA evidence, oh, I’m sure you’ve got some DNA evidence that probably points to me. Where you got it, how you got it, that’s a whole different matter” (Weinberg p.230).
Frediani is trying to imply that the DNA evidence that was found at the scene of the crime on Helena’s body was planted. I started to brainstorm and I wanted to know a little bit more about planted evidence. I found an article in the New York Times that I thought was interesting. It takes planting DNA to a whole new level, and describes how DNA can be fabricated, and a crime scene can practically “be built”. Check it out its pretty cool and the link is below.
Chapter 11 of Pointing From the Grave discusses the development of PCR, and how it was extremely helpful in coming up with new ways to use DNA. In this chapter Weinberg quotes Kary Mullis and says,
“I can’t keep up with the things people are doing with PCR” and “PCR is the word processor of biochemistry” (Weinberg quoting Kary Mullis pg. 175).
These quotes made me begin questioning the different uses for PCR. I found an article that discusses how PCR can be used to diagnose genetic disease, conduct genetic fingerprinting, detect infections in the environment, develop personalized medicine, and take part in several other forms of research. Check it out it’s pretty interesting.
Chapter 8 of Pointing From the Grave allows readers to continue to question what causes a person to commit murder. Is it their difficult background and upbringing, or is it their surroundings? I was very intrigued by this question so I decided to look into it a bit further. In my research, I found an article called Serial Killers: Nature vs. Nurture. The author of this article discusses, the differences between serial killers and murders, and discusses topics such as motives, the impulses and desires of killing, and how different surroundings and backgrounds lead individuals to kill. It’t a pretty interesting article, check it out! The link is below:
From our favorite crimes shows, to our favorite detective novels or movies, one thing that always remains constant, is that a crime scene needs to be handled with immense care and delicacy. In Chapter 6, Helena is brutality murdered, and the scene of the crime is being observed. The book goes into detail describing how Helena’s hands were bagged. It describes her body positioning and various other details about the crime scene that could possibly lead to clues about Helena’s attacker. I began doing a little bit of research about crime scene investigation, and one of the first articles that I found was fairly interesting. It was written by a detective office in West Palm Beach, Florida, and it discusses the importance of body positioning, collecting samples with care, and the need for photographs. Check out the article, it’s pretty cool!
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”→
One of the most controversial topics in Pointing From the Grave, so far, has been determining whether or not the fingerprint found on the teapot is enough to incriminate Frediani. Three samples were collected: the fingerprint on the teapot, the semen, and pubic hairs. Now that the fingerprint came out to a match and qualified Frediani to be a suspect, and the samples of semen were sent to a lab, the only evidence that can be tested is the pubic hairs. However, Frediani’s attorney claims that the pubic hairs could belong to anyone including, Helena herself, her husband, or any guest that has ever slept in their bed. Through the DNA analyzing technology that we have developed we are able to analyze the DNA in hair strands. However, I did more research about the process of DNA testing using hair samples. To my surprise, hair samples do not actually provide the most accurate sample of DNA. In fact, the article claims that hair samples are the “most overestimated and misrepresented DNA samples”(Hughes). I have attached the article below. Check it out it!
Chapter 4 of Pointing From the Grave continues the idea of fingerprinting, and matching DNA samples to incriminate a suspect in a case. Helena’s husband receives a call to their home saying that the fingerprint sample found on the teapot outside of window has matched a criminal who has sexually abused women before. Police were able to obtain a warrant for this man’s arrest all because his fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime. This is just one of many different ways that DNA can help in criminal cases. I began to do some more research about DNA analyzing, and testing samples to match them to a suspect. I found a pretty cool article. I definitely think you guys should take a look if you get a chance. It’s about the different steps of analyzing DNA and what it can tell us about biology and genetics.The link is below. Hope you enjoy!
One of the biggest contributions to both DNA and Chapter 3 of Pointing From the Grave is Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants. Through his studies Mendel was able to learn more about how offspring inherent different genes from their parents, and about the dominance and recessiveness of different genes. The most fascinating part of Mendel’s story in my opinion is that he did not receive any response or any recognition when he presented his discoveries. It took the dawn of a new century for Mendel’s work to be understood for its greatness. This chapter got me thinking a lot about Mendel and I wanted to learn more about his advancement of genetics. Attached below is a Ted Talk that I think you guys may enjoy. After watching this video I understood Mendel’s work in a whole new light, and definitely a more visual light. Check it out!
One part of forensic science that has always interested me the most is fingerprinting and fingerprint lifting. Fingerprints are so intriguing because no one’s fingerprints are the same. Fingerprints are kind of like our own little id cards, that can leave a trail of where we were and what we did. After reading Chapter 2 of Pointing From the Grave, I spent a lot of time thinking about how detectives lift fingerprints. We have seen this process in our favorite crime shows and movies, but most of us don’t know the specifics of how its done. Check out the article I have linked below. It talks about the materials needed and steps to fingerprinting. It’s pretty cool take a look!
In Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave the only thing I kept thinking to myself was why didn’t they test the semen stains on Helena’s pillowcase. I am sure the technology now is a lot more useful and developed than the technology during the time of Helena’s assault, but it still would have been more concrete evidence than a simple description of the intruder’s looks. This wonder led me to look up how Semen tests are conducted, and what they tell us about the person who left them. Check out this site I found. It talks about the different types of test that can be run on semen samples, and about the biological information that semen imparts on us. The link is below!
After reading Johnson’s chapter about Quadrants, I decided to look into the idea of Quadrants a little bit more. I looked up “quadrants of innovation” on google, and after checking a few different links I stumbled upon a New York Times article that was written by Steven Johnson. The link is below.
In the article Johnson talks about how he “analyzed 300 of the most influential innovations in science, commerce and technology — from the discovery of vacuums to the vacuum tube to the vacuum cleaner — and put the innovators of each breakthrough into one of four quadrants”. He connects his science research to communism and capitalism. It’s actually pretty interesting. Check it out!
“Platform building is, by definition, a kind of exercise in emergent behavior” (Johnson, p182).
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of platform innovations is Google. Google began as an idea for a search engine back at Stanford University. Two college students were looking for a way to bring endless amounts of information to people using an online search engine, so Google “emerged”. The Google search engine was the base foundation, or “platform” that set the ground for the large amounts of information that one can find today online. In fact Google even led to more search engines. As people saw that the innovation of Google was successful they wanted to gain some of the glory. So, they adapted the idea of Google and turned it into new search engines.
Chapter 6 was all about exaptation, and how it can lead to new or unexpected innovation. While I was reading, I picked up on a section that discussed the media environment. This led me to begin thinking about the idea that everyone is an innovator. Every time we post a thought or status on Facebook, or any form of social media for that matter, we are publishing an idea. As people see that idea they may comment on it with their ideas, or share it with their friends. Their friends then do the same, and so on. You are left with a never ending cycle of of adapting ideas. A simple idea that we published has now caused other people to think differently about it.
“A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons-thousands of them-fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops into your consciousness.” (Johnson, p.45)
I found the idea of networks to be quite interesting. We as humans explore the adjacent possible connections in our surroundings. That is how we reach new innovation. If somebody says something to us that we find interesting, we may go research it. That research may lead to another connection about that topic, and before we know it, we will have a full network of ideas that leads me to a new innovation. It is a kind of hard to believe it, but this Commonplace Book itself is a network leading to new innovations. We all post things we find interesting, and that leads others to do further research and come up with new ideas about those interesting things.
After reading the introduction of Johnson’s book, I began to question why some environments allow for better innovation. I started wondering whether or not competition strikes more innovation in environments. I immediately started to think about school, college in particularly. College students in different majors are all competing to get the best GPAs, do well on tests, and eventually graduate and find work in their field of study. However, in the process of fighting to be the best students work to out do each other and make themselves stand out. This extra effort to stand out leads to new questions, new ideas, and perhaps even new innovation. Below is a quote from Forbes Magazine that I found interesting and wanted to share.
“Human beings survived and evolved because they cooperated to compete against the elements, says Buchholz. In the working world, competition often creates cooperation, be it in team projects or in a company-wide effort to beat out the opposition” -Forbes Magazine
Chapter 5 of Where Good Ideas Come From concentrates on the idea that error leads to new innovation. After reading the story about De Forest and his accidental innovation, I began to ponder how important mistakes are to innovation. I did some research about mistakes and innovation and I found this short but very insightful powerpoint online. If you get a chance check it out the link is below. It talks about the ways that mistakes lead to innovation. Perhaps our parents and teachers have been right this whole time. We do learn from our mistakes.
“The secret to organizational inspiration is to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine” (Johnson, p.127)
In order to give our hunches and innovations a chance to grow and develop, organization is key. We must create an environment, such as an open database of hunches, where our hunches can mix in an organized fashion with other people’s hunches, and lead to new innovation. This connects with the idea of a Commonplace book. If Darwin didn’t write down his discoveries, his hunches never would have developed into the knowledge we have about evolution today. This commonplace book forum that we are posting in right now is an example of one of these organized environments.
“So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.” (Johnson, p83)
Often times we lose track of our hunches and even forget them. Hunches are like a seed, they need to be planted, tended to, and harvested. We need to write our hunches down so that we do not lose them and kill them before they even had a chance to grow. This reminds me of keeping a journal. If you want to remember special occasions for instance, you could keep a journal of all the special occasions of which you have celebrated. Once written down, years could go by and you would still be able to remember those occasions. We make the biggest connection of writing down hunches when we think of Darwin. He kept a log of all of his evolutionary discoveries. We know what we do about evolution today because of his hunches.
“François Jacob captured this in his evolution as a “tinkerer”, not an engineer; our bodies are also works of bricolage, old parts strung together to form something radically new.” (Johnson, p29)
I found this particularly interesting because it is intriguing to think of our bodies as a bunch of parts strung together for a purpose. Each piece of our body is essential, and works towards the productivity of the human body as a whole. Right away I thought of the body systems. Our body is made up of a group of different systems and they all work together to keep us functioning properly and healthily. Below I attached a very cheesy body systems rap video. I haven’t seen it since my freshman year bio class in high school. Although childish, it talks about all the body systems and what they are for. Watch it you may get a laugh out of it.
“Scientists are obtaining genetic samples from isolated populations to preserve a record of human diversity and evolution before these rare groups disappear into history.” (Grace, p200)
Gene patenting is a very controversial topic that has even caused a supreme court case. After reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped, I was curious to do a little more digging in to the whole gene patenting case. I found a short video that is against gene patenting, and a short article that is pro gene patenting. I will attach them below, check them out if you have time it’s interesting stuff.