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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Scientific Anthology: Epidemics

Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Introduction

As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.

 

“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).

The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.

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Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Scientific Anthology: Debunked Scientific Theories

Introduction

A scientific theory is a well-tested, comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by evidence and facts gathered over time (Oregon State). These theories are typically proposed by one scientist or researcher and then retested and reexamined over time by other scientists and researchers, who will either agree with and add onto the original theory or will find evidence against it and eventually debunk it.

Debunked scientific theories are these theories that were once widely accepted within the mainstream scientific community but nowadays are considered to be inaccurate descriptions of nature. Often times, these debunked scientific theories are only disproven when scientists and researchers work to retest the original theory and another theory emerges from this research to replace it as the norm. In this anthology, a series of famous debunked scientific theories, such as the Flat Earth Theory or the idea of Geocentrism, are given an in-depth look.

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Scientific Anthology: Debunked Scientific Theories

Basics on Interferons

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.

interferon

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Basics on Interferons

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions” -Weinberg p 349-350

I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.

On the other hand, a 2012  article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.

I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

Sickle Cell Disease

Chapter 3 discusses Mendel’s discovery of genes, and how his study is known as “genetics”. Mutations can occur with genes and effects can occur such as Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell can happen when one parent has the sickle cell trait and the other has an abnormal hemoglobin gene.If both parents are carriers there is a 1 and 4 chance that their child will have sickle cell. The disease is prevalent in populations in or from Africa, and the Middle East. These are major areas where malaria is prevalent. When someone has sickle cell their red blood cells become distorted into a sickle shape and provide low oxygen. There are many treatments for sickle cell such as blood transfusions and an array of pain medications. Unfortunately, no cure has been found. As a Ghanaian American with family members and friends who have sickle cell. I would like for many people to be aware of this disease and I hope some day someone is able to find a cure.

sickle_cell_anemia-01

Sickle Cell Disease

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

“Landsteiner, a shy man in his early thirties and an assistant professor of Pathology at the University of Vienna, had been drawn from medical practice and back into research out of frustration at the shortcomings of medicines in dealing with many illnesses” -Weinberg 51

Pathology- the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes (Google). Landsteiner is the man who discovered that humans have different blood types, and so for blood transfusions to be successful, their types must match.

I think Landsteiner is an example of Johnson’s slow hunch. At first look, it might look like Landsteiner just deciding to look at how blood differs and discovering blood types as serendipity, or just a happy chance or eureka moment. But at second look, Landsteiner needed his years of study and failures in the medicinal field to give him not only the idea or inspiration to look at a different problem, but also the materials and methods necessary. In other words, he trained and worked in the medicinal field and so was able to decide that that was what he didn’t want to do, and looked at a different problem/perspective with the same eyes and skills that he had used for years.

Landsteiner started out in the field of pathology, he experimented with body tissue to learn about preventing disease. But because what he was doing was not working (Johnson’s failure), he approached his problem (reversing disease) from a different perspective and found something even better- he learned another way to prevent disease.

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

Building Better Humans

While reading Chapter 7 of Biotechnology Unzipped I found it very interesting when the authors touched upon the ideas of “building better humans” referring to the use of gene therapy and genetic modification/alteration to either detect and prevent serious genetic illness or disease as well as genetic modification of genes to get a desired phenotype for one’s offspring. I thought that these ideas were very interesting and relate back to a lot of discussion I had in my Genetics course and the ethics of using gene therapy for these particular reasons. Specifically, I think it is strange how there are sometimes no boundaries on the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy and detection of genes and modification of genes should be used for detection of diseases and prevention of those diseases from being passed to later generations. While this is a benefit of gene therapy, this form of biotechnology can be taken advantage of when individuals desire certain traits in their offspring and thus genetically modify their gametes. These ideas directly relate to  the quote in the passage when it says

“It’s the start of a slippery slope. Once the techniques of gene modification have been developed, they are open to misuse, tempting those in power to alter genes for reasons other than eliminating disease” -Grace, p213.

I think this is a very powerful statement, because while biotechnology can be beneficial and leads to many medical advancements and preventative measures, there is a great deal of misuse in which this form of technology is not being used for the correct reasons it was invented for. Overall, I thought this quote was very powerful and really opens the mind to discussion on whether boundaries should be set in regards to the use of gene modification in humans.

Building Better Humans