A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

Introduction

Science is all about discovery and invention. Discoveries can come from slow hunches or even spontaneously. What isn’t normally considered is the possibility of the same discovery occurring by two different people. The concept of multiple discovery, otherwise known as simultaneous invention, suggests that scientific discoveries are typically made independently of one another but simultaneously by many scientists. Essentially, more than one scientist has independently discovered the same thing.

 

This anthology profiles 15 examples of multiple discoveries in various historical situations and books that we have read this semester. From the discovery of evolution to the discovery of a carbon nanotube, it is important to understand the many types of discoveries, the time frame, and the context in which each item was discovered. Furthermore, while these examples are offered, this anthology aims to aid in the understanding of how multiple discoveries contribute to the success of of the scientific field.

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A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

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

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Scientific Anthology: Epidemics

California: Hotbed of Innovation

Introduction

 

Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.

California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.

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California: Hotbed of Innovation

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

Explanation of PCR and Some Info about GMO’s

In Chapter 10, Weinberg writes about the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction, or the process used to duplicate DNA. While we talked a lot about it in class, I thought that some people still did not completely understand the process (myself included), so here is a post on Reddit which explains it well. In addition to that Reddit post, while I was researching I found many Q&A Reddit threads with scientists who were involved in GMO study. I felt that these threads were relevant to our discussion, since we talked about GMO’s in class earlier in the semester. The questions that the scientists are asked are very interesting and give a lot of insight into how these GMO companies function and understand their work. Here they are:

Monsato AMA

“Ask Me Anything About Transgenic (GMO) Crops!”

Explanation of PCR and Some Info about GMO’s

What Can We Use PCR For?

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.

What Can We Use PCR For (CLICK HERE)

What Can We Use PCR For?

Mullis and Erlich

In chapter 10, the controversy between Kary Mullis and Henry Erlich over the concept of PCR was described.  Kary Mullis apparently came up with the idea behind it all on his own but teamed up with Erlich to develop the concept.  However, they envisioned totally different futures for the new DNA testing.  Mullis worked tirelessly to develop what he knew would become a revolutionary system of testing DNA while Erlich and Cetus hardly paid him any mind.  But, once they saw the monetary potential of Mullis’ ideas, they jumped right aboard.  They rushed to publish the article on PCR before Mullis wanted it to be released, because they wanted to be the first ones to discover it and ultimately the first to make money off of it.  But, was Mullis really treated unfairly?  He eventually got the fame he wanted when he received a Nobel Prize for his work.  Cetus ended up making all the money off the technology, which was almost 300 million dollars, compared to the 10,000 dollar bonus they paid Mullis.  I think that when Mullis won the Nobel Prize, it was ultimately the scientific community confirming that he was the one who invented the concept of PCR and after that point he should have been compensated for all the money that Cetus made off of him.

Mullis and Erlich

Nobel Prize Credit?

They continue to maintain that Henry Erlich’s work in making PCR into what is probably one of the most useful–and widely used– biochemical tools, the genetic equivalent of a photocopying machine, has been under-credited. But Mullis emphatically disagrees: ‘Henry Erlich? He was just the lucky person in the lab down the corridor who got to use PCR to amplify stuff’ – Weinberg, p157

I found this argument between Erlich and Mullis very interesting, mostly because I do not see how Erlich in any way would share in the Nobel Prize. Also, it seems to be a unique case to begin with because not many industry scientists receive Nobel Prizes. But regardless, I agree with Mullis solely getting the recognition. It is true that his company gave him the platform on which he needed to fully implement his idea, the “slow hunch” (Steven Johnson) was entirely his. In order for Mullis to find his eureka moment in that car that day, he needed to have a problem to solve and mull over in his head (which he did). Erlich’s contribution was patented fairly, as it was used directly to make money for his company.

Erlich developed PCR technology and made it practical, but he had no say or contribution to the actual theory or idea of what PCR was and how it worked. In Steven Johnson’s terms, he simply built off the platform. It would be like the fish who built its home on a coral reef taking credit for the reef, or the animal that feeds and thrives on the habitation surrounding the reef ecosystem, taking credit for its food being there to begin with, effectively sharing the credit with the polyp skeletons. The only action that is attributed to this feeding animal is that of eating and thriving. This is similar to Erlich, he took a base and built and thrived upon it.

 

Nobel Prize Credit?

Taq Polymerase

Chapter 10 mentions briefly that a new polymerase was discovered in 1986 by Erlich, one that would revolutionize the already occurring revolution of PCR. Taq polymerase is from the bacteria Thermis aquaticus, and was used by geneticists because of its heat resistance, as it comes from a thermophilic bacterium. I found this to be a fascinating breakthrough because this polymerase immensely increased the efficiency of PCR and would open even more doors for more fields. Even today, another bacterium has been used for its polymerase, Pyrococcus furiosis, because it is even better at copying the DNA in the PCR process than taq polymerase, by resulting in less errors due to its proofreading abilities. Moreover, this finding shows the relationship between all science fields, as genetics required microbiology to reach new heights.

Taq Polymerase

Other Uses of PCR

After reading about Kary Mullins revolutionary discovery of PCR I was curious to know more about its other uses. I think that Kary Mullins is responsible for one of the most important discovery in science because it has more uses than just forensics. For example I discovered that “PCR was used to quantify the HIV in blood in the spring of 1985. By mid-1987, a viable test was available and PCR was used to study the impact of antiviral drugs and also to screen donor blood samples for HIV” (Cheriyedath). Seeing as how AIDS and HIV were becoming an epidemic during the time I consider PCR to be extremely influential in more than just the criminal field. However I also learned in the article that “In 1987, DNA from a strand of human hair was amplified using PCR and this confirmed the ability of PCR to amplify DNA present in degraded samples part of forensic evidence” (Cheriyedath). I think its really neat that Mullins was able to develop a technique which not only was able to help expand crime solving was also able to be used in other areas of science which is really awesome.

Source Website 

Other Uses of PCR

PCR as a Platform

Chapter 11 of Pointing from the Grave extensively discusses the benefits of PCR as a DNA technology advancement. Specifically, there is discussion of the widespread of the use of PCR worldwide demonstrating its contributions to the way in which small samples of DNA can be used. Prior the PCR, DNA samples that were too small could not be used as conclusive evidence. However, after PCR, DNA could be amplified in order to use small samples. This changed the world of forensic science, because samples that could not originally be used could now be used and could ultimately change a court case immediately. Upon reading Chapter 11, I found it very interesting that Weinberg referred to PCR as

                                    “the word processor of biochemistry” (p 175).

How could this relate to Johnson’s ideas of platforms in the novel Where Good Ideas Come From? Essentially, PCR set the stage for new developments in DNA to occur. Before PCR, it seemed as though things were at a halt – small samples could not be used. Once PCR was developed, it set the stage for new innovation for new uses. It began to serve as the foundation for court cases. Overall, after reading this chapter, I was able to relate the ideas of PCR to the way in which Johnson described platforms. It seems as though PCR is a platform because it is setting the stage for new advancements in DNA technology.

PCR as a Platform

PCR: Pretty Convenient Research

“‘Suddenly I knew how to do it,’ he recounts. ‘If i could locate a thousand sequences out of billions with one short piece of DNA, I could use another short piece to narrow the search. This one would be designed to bind to a sequence just down the chain from the first sequence I had found. It would scan over the thousand possibilities out of the first search to find just the one I wanted.'” -Weinberg 151

Mullis’ explanation of how the PCR could work seemed very complex to me at first. Not exactly a great chemistry student, I was rather confused about how the DNA was being tracked and replicated. However, I started thinking about this particular explanation as a research problem and it became much clearer to me.

Mullis mentioned that his goal was to “narrow the search” of a certain DNA sequence. He is able to do so by adding more of the DNA sequences to the original probe to make it even more specific what he was looking for; essentially, he refined his search. I performed a similar experiment here with research on Google:

First I searched the word “puppies”. The were over 89 million search results.

Puppies

So I narrowed down my search by adding more specificity as to what I was looking for. I typed “pitbull” in front of “puppies”, and my search was narrowed by about 76 million.

pitbull puppies

Finally, I cut the search results from the millions to the thousands by adding a third adjectival phrase to my search: “blue nose”

blue nose pitbull puppies

Just as Mullis reasoned that adding more sequences to his search would help him find exactly the DNA match he was looking for, I added adjectives to my Google search that lead me to exactly what I was looking for: a picture of this little sweetheart.

blue nose pitbull puppy

Photo courtesy of “Me and My Pet” 

PCR: Pretty Convenient Research

The Discovery of PCR

DNA PCR

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) was invented in 1985 by Kary B. Mullius. This process was developed the same year that Helena Greenwood’s court case. PCR was a revolutionary discovery for the study of DNA because what it does in a nutshell, is make a ton of DNA from any time tiny bit of DNA. It basically duplicates the strands of DNA to make more and more of it so that its a substantial amount of DNA to do an analysis with. Before this, if DNA samples were taking from a crime scene, if there wasn’t a substantial amount, than only a few test would most likely be able to be done. PCR now allows for an unlimited amount of retesting because more DNA sample can be made. This process is truly amazing!

As amazing as this process is, it actually takes quite some effort. The Molecular Genetics course has a lab portion that does a lot of PCR. It is a series of heating, centrifuging, cooling, adding enzymes, etc. Heat is used to break apart the strands of DNA to than have an enzyme called DNA polymerase travel along each strand making a complimentary strand. This process continues exponentially within the tiny test tube producing a subtle sample for testing.

Testing than is done on an electrophoresis gel, that will show whether a person is a match to the DNA or not. The picture shown above is an example of a gel.

The Discovery of PCR