Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another use for E. coli

Interesting item in SciDev.Net about using genetically modified E. coli to detect landmines.

The bacteria have the gene for an enzyme called luciferase (this is present in fireflies, for one), which naturally produces light in some bacteria and fireflies. When TNT is present, this gene is switched on, and the bacteria glow. This can happen within hours of the bacteria being introduced to the region under investigation. Plants can be modified in the same way, but take weeks or months to produce results.

The work is not yet commercially available - European Union regulations on genetically modified bacteria need to be observed.

There is a protein in the cell membrane that senses TNT, according to the item. The work was done at the University of Edinburgh, by Alistair Elfick at the Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

Luciferase has also been used in bioluminiscent imaging, to detect tumour cells, although I can't immediately find anything published about its application to landmines.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Is the name of a new site from the Royal Society. Being a twice former resident of Scotland, which also has a Royal Society, I can never resist adding "of London" to the name, so I will do so now - a new site from the Royal Society of London.

That Royal Society is 350 next year. The first library job I had after qualifying was at another Royal Society, the Royal Society of Medicine, in London. Its library had volumes of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, one of the first scientific journals, back to 1665, the first year of its publication. It was fascinating - Leeuwenhoek, Newton, Hooke, Herschel, as they wrote.

Well, this site gives you facsimile copies of landmark papers from the last 350 years, with commentaries, all on a nice timeline which also gives you some of the events in the wider world. So, Leeuwenhoek is there, along with the Boyle's account of the first blood transfusion (from one dog to another - I imagine the dogs' thoughts are not recorded!), and a paper by Watson and Crick which I didn't know about - more detail than the famous one in Nature. The most recent is one from 2008 by James Lovelock, "A geophysiologist's thoughts on geoengineering".

Trailblazing is at target="_blank".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Google in consumer news

On my days not at work I quite often listen to You and Yours (Radio 4). Today they were talking about Google. Today they also mentioned another story that they had covered.

Today it was this: if you search for the name of a well known florist that can deliver to your chosen recipient, among the sponsored links is the name of another one. The first is suing the second. I tried this with the example given (this blog only advertises when I want it to!), and it is indeed so. I have just tried searching for my usual daily newspaper, and it is the only sponsored link that appears. The same happens if I search for the maker of our car.

The other story (which I did not hear and which I can't find quickly on the You and Yours site or in the last couple of programmes on Listen Again) concerned an offensive image of Michelle Obama, which appeared at the top of the list of results. This is reported elsewhere on the BBC, and the report goes into the way that Google ranks results, which of course is all to do with popularity.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nasal spray and Burkholderia cepacia

Vicks has recalled some of its nasal sprays because of possible contamination with a soil bacterium, Burkholderia cepacia, which can cause problems to people with impaired immune systems or cystic fibrosis, and has caused hospital acquired infections.

There is news and details of the recalled products, including lot numbers, on WebMD - this includes details of the recalled products in the US, Germany and the UK. The story is also covered on PJ Online, and the MHRA alert is here.

For more on B. cepacia, try these:

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (USA)
Burkholderia cepacia complex MLST databases (multilocus sequence databases - allelic and isolate information)
Health Protection Agency

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Worms in space

My eye was caught yesterday by this article in the Guardian, describing the voyage into space (on the shuttle Atlantis) of some nematode worms from Bristol. Apparently some worms that were on board Columbia, when it broke up on re-entry in 2003 - the container which held them was discovered several weeks later.

According to the press pack for the mission (STS-129, which is also taking parts for the International Space Station), there are two experiments (known as CERISE). One will investigate the effect of microgravity on RNA interference, and the other (the one described in the Guardian) the effect of the space environment on protein phosphorylation and signal transduction in muscle fibres. A search of the NASA site ( for the word "nematode" will find some other experiments that have been carried out on C. elegans in space.

This mission is STS-129 and there is a launch blog here. There is lots more about C. elegans on the Caenorhabditis elegans WWW server maintained at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Later note : just discovered this NASA resource, "Ask a C. elegans expert", part of their Web of Life site.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Developing countries and the media

I shall allow myself the liberty of going slightly off the usual subjects. I was reading the very interesting Developments magazine, produced for DFID, on the train the other morning. One article which caught my eye described training film makers in Kenya to make films on environmental issues in a way that would catch the attention of Kenyan villagers or school children. These are short films, involving and made by local people, different from documentaries or conservation films made by people visiting the country. The project, funded by the Darwin Initiative, involves Dr David Harper of Leicester's Department of Biology.

The other thing on a related topic concerns TV coverage of developing countries, a report commissioned by the CBA-DFID Broadcast Media Scheme and the International Broadcasting Trust. It found: news coverage of developing countries is limited and may often involve voices from outside, not inside the country. People may not watch documentaries, but they may read novels that change their perception. TV dramas (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is mentioned) may be presented as rather "soft" and "Sunday night", but programmes like Long Way Down and Top Gear may present a rather more realistic and full portrayal of developing countries - I do remember being very taken with the Long Way Down programme that took Ewan Macgregor and Charlie Boorman through Ethiopia. There is more about the report here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Animals containing human material

The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a new study of this, reported on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. This caught my ear, as it includes consideration of animals that contain a gene sequence of human origin.

There is material about this study on the AMS website - a press release, some responses from partner organisations, and a fact sheet. The press release includes the scope of the study: "... to: examine the scientific, social, ethical, safety and regulatory aspects of research involving non-human embryos and animals containing human material".

Still here

Just have not been blogging. Until today. Will attempt to make this the first of many posts, not just a single posted excuse.

Monday, March 23, 2009

World TB Day

World TB Day is tomorrow, 24 March. More here, and there is also a blog. The theme carries on from last year and is "I am stopping TB".

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Malaria resources

Prompted by the coverage of malaria during the recent Comic Relief programmes, here are some useful looking resources largely found through Intute:

Malaria Foundation International – mission "to facilitate the development and implementation of solutions to the health, economic and social problems caused by malaria". Site includes links to the 2008 World Malaria Report and the WHO Global Malaria Action Plan, as well as foundation projects.

Malariasite – comprehensive site.

Malaria – Wellcome Foundation site, includes very short guides to the parasite, mosquitoes and the extent of the problem, and interactive life cycle of the malaria parasite.

Malaria Past and Present - Nobel Prize organisation site. Details of historical figures in the field (Alphonse Laveran, Ronald Ross, Paul Muller), and interactive mosquito game and parasite game.

Medicines for Malaria Venture –partnership between the public sector and the pharmaceutical industry, which aims to discover new effective and affordable drugs.

POSTNote – Tackling malaria in developing countries – UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology document examining progress towards the Millennium Goal of halting the spread of malaria by 2015.

European Malaria Vaccine Initiative – EU/European Commission body which contributes financially and technically to vaccine development.

SciDevNet – SciDev.Net provides news and information about science and the developing world.

Malaria: an online resource - from the Royal Perth Hospital, Australia. Diagnosis, treatment, prophylaxis, and photomicrographs of blood films ("teach and test").

Malaria – MedlinePlus interactive tutorial with PDF summary.

Roll Back Malaria Partnership – partnership between WHO, UNICEF, World Bank and UN Development Programme.

Insecticide treated malaria nets: a WHO position statement]

Malaria Consortium – organisation aiming to improve treatment and prevention of malaria. Provided support to Comic Relief 2009.

Incidence and statistics

Malaria Atlas Project – the project aims to map the extent of P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria.

World Malaria Report 2008 – WHO report detailing cases of malaria and deaths from the disease, and implementation of WHO measures against malaria. Site also includes profiles of endemic countries and a link to the WHO Global Health Atlas of infectious disease. The WHO also has a general malaria site.

UNICEF – statistics on prevention, treatment and incidence.

Genomic information

Plasmodium falciparum genome projects - Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Site includes links to genomic information on other Plasmodium parasites.

Anobase – the Anopheles database. Genomic and biological information particularly about Anopheles gambiae.

PlasmoDB – genomic and proteomic data about the various species of Plasmodium.

TIGR – Institute for Genomic Research – TIGR's parasites database includes sequencing information for P. vivax, P. falciparum and P. yoelii. Sequencing is ongoing.