Blog Archives

Fighting a Contagious Cancer (and the Guardian Facebook App)

Today’s Guardian has a profile of Elizabeth Murchison on the Grrl Scientist blog. Murchison’s TED Talk explains the work of her team trying to prevent the extinction of Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) due to a contagious facial cancer, spread by biting.

Scary stuff, with some – very – graphic images.

She mentions the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer. Their first thought was that the source of this cancer was similar – viral, but that is not the case. In fact, the cells are implanted into other devils through biting – where they colonise and run rampage.



Also this week, the Guardian released their Facebook app. You can ‘like’ it into your feeds, as well as the different streams (Science, environment, data, education and more).

With all the apps and fan pages out there, you too could turn your facebook into a feed reader.

Evolution of resistant Staphylococcus aureus

This is a lovely SlideShare presentation, if you’ll excuse the anthropomorphism of the bacterium!

LifeSaver Bottle: Michael Pritchard at TED

TED2010 is on right now in California, so it’s a good opportunity to look at some of their best talks of the past year. This one is short and inspirational – how to meet the UN’s Millenium Development Goal to Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water and sanitation – for just $8bn!

Michael Pritchard’s LifeSaver bottle is a solution to clean water needs. For just $150, it can filter even the dirtiest water, in remote areas, or following disasters such as the Haiti quakes. Spurred on by the problems following the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, see Pritchard demonstrate the technology at TED 2009:

There’s a nice little link there to cell theory and magnification, also.

This year, who is going to be worth watching? Check out the list of presenters here.

Grade 10 – Pathogens and Disease

Grade 10 Pathogens and Disease – IB Biology prep course

Stay tuned to the class page, found here: Pathogens and Disease

Complete all the notes on Essential Biology: Pathogens and Disease

Click4Biology notes:

Core content:

Further content:

Here is the Pathogenic or Non-Pathogenic? Quiz:

Check out some of these video clips on the immune system:

Not a video, but…

… a great site for visualising data.

Deadliest infections, from Information is Beautiful

Deadliest infections, from Information is Beautiful

I particularly like these posts:

How safe is the HPV vaccine? (in response to ridiculous scare-mongering news stories)

The Billion-dollar-gram (What is a billion, anyway?)

Surface area required to solar-power the world.

Pandemic II: Educational Flash Game

Pandemic II: Spread the World

Pandemic II: Spread the World

Thanks to the excellent NotExactlyRocketScience blog for posting the link to this game. Pandemic II is a complex flash game based on strategy, evolution (though more like design)  and the spread of disease. The premise is simple – take a pathogen (bacteria, virus or parasite), and watch its spread across the globe. Along the way you can alter the pathogen to change its properties, making it more infectious, more lethal or less noticeable. The aim of the game is to wipe out the population of the world.

It is easy to save using Firefox add-ons.

Check out the game here:

And the tutorials here:

Is it better than the addictive Magic Pen Game or Foldit?

Have a go!

Swine Flu (H1N1) Outbreak: Recombination and Media Responsibility

Students in my class take part in this discussion here.

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As we follow the story of the swine flu Influenza A(H1N1) outbreak on the news and the internet, we start to become overwhelmed with information. In all cases related to health, it is vital that we practice critical thinking and take the time to evaluate our sources of information. The more controversial or the higher the impact of a story, the more likely it is for people to be discussing and disseminating (spreading) misinformation. Misinformation can be due to simple misunderstanding, poor communication of facts or delusion and the intention of misleading others.

In this task, we will look at some of the resources related to the swine flu Influena A(H1N1)outbreak and evaluate their usefulness and reliability. We will see how this outbreak relates to syllabus areas of IB Biology and in particular look at the genetic aspect of the evolution of the pathogen.

Here we go – read and watch these resources and try to pick out information that will help you answer the questions below.

Short news clip with Dr. Joe Bresee from the Centre for Disease Control:

What do I need to know about Swine Flu? from NewScientist

Interactive world map of cases and a Swine Flu Timeline from the Guardian

What are the phases of the WHO’s pandemic alert?

The progress of the story (oldest to newest):

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu epidemic kills 16 in Mexico city

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu symptoms similar to human flu

PrisonPlanet, 26th April: “Swine flu a beta-test for a bioweapon, 27th April: “Is swine flu a bioterrorist virus?, 27th April: “Swine flu spreads the globe, genes could contribute to rapid spread, 29th April: “Swine flu from pigs only, not humans or birds

Guardian News, 29th April: “Governments must prepare for a pandemic

Guardian News, 29th April: “Global race to produce swine flu vaccine

BadScience, 29 April: “Swine flu and hype – a media illness (a risk is still a risk)

BBC News, 30 April: “WHO raises pandemic alert level

NewScientist, 2 May: “First genetic analysis of H1N1 shows potecy – and potential weakness

BadScience, 2 May: “How effective is Tamiflu, really, at stopping the aporkalypse?

Discussion questions:

1. Reading the articles from Wired, NewScientist and Nature, can you explain briefly how the new form of swine flu has spread to humans?How does this relate to our Biology syllabus?

2. Which of the sources used above do you consider most reliable? Where should we turn for the most reliable and up-to-date information on health issues?  Why?

3. What do you feel is the ethical (most responsible) way to report global diseases in the media? Why?

4. How could irresponsible journalism make the impacts of an outbreak or pandemic more serious? How would you balance the public demand for information with the possibility that giving out too much information might lead to harm?

Your task:

Take part in at least two of the discussion questions. Make use of the sources provided and show evidence of reading around the subject. Address the guiding questions and build on them with your own ideas, supported by research from reliable sources.Make a minimum of three posts in each of two discussions. Pay attention to netiquette.

Here are some quick reminders of the Biology in action:

Crossing over (recombination) animation

The influenza pandemic of 1918 – what might happen now?

XDRTB: Extremely Drug-Resistant TB

This came via TED Blogs, and is pretty harrowing. Don’t play the video if you are sensitive to images of human suffering.

The photographer, James Nachtway, has taken these photos on TB wards around the world, and his site highlights the problem: is an extraordinary effort to tell the story of extremely
drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and TB through powerful photographs
taken by James Nachtwey
.  XDR-TB, or extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis,
is a new and deadly mutation of tuberculosis. Similar in creation to
multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) but more extreme in its manifestation,
it arises when common tuberculosis goes untreated or standard TB drugs are
misused. James’ photographs represent these varying strains. Learn more about TB, MDR-TB and XDR-TB, and learn how you can take action to stop this deadly disease.

There is a great talk on TED from James Nachtway here, as he receives his TED Prize:

His movie, War Photographer, is great – and even has a section in Indonesia!

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