Snake Oil and Skepticism: Some recent examples.

Snake Oil and Skepticism: Some recent examples.

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I would like to introduce a new contributor to Mostly Science, a Mr. Bryce Harper. Bryce is a student of the humanities and if you are interested you can check out his blog here. Full disclosure, Bryce wrote this article and I edited it, adding only a minimal amount of additional text. Hope you enjoy.

 

There are so many ways to be fooled. No human ever walked the earth without falling victim to gullibility. As we grow older and further develop what is known as our theory of mind, first coined by Premack and Woodruff in 1978, we tend to grow out of our evolutionary gullibility. But for one reason or another large groups of us still fall prey to this ever lurking provocateur of deception.

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Multi-drug resistant TB: Treatment today, hope for tomorrow.

Multi-drug resistant TB: Treatment today, hope for tomorrow.

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I would like to introduce Smaranda Fillip, a colleague of mine who is studying towards her MD at my old alma mater, the University of Queensland, in addition to studying in New Orleans as part of a joint medical school program. She wrote the bulk of this succinct informative introduction to multi-drug resistant tuberculosis along with myself (in a mostly editorial context).

 

Tuberculosis (TB) is the second most common cause of death related to an infectious disease agent. It is caused by the bacterial pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Progress has been made, and the rates of TB are declining; however the numbers are still staggering. In 2013, 9 million people became ill with TB and of those, 1.5 million died from the disease. In addition, 480,000 people became infected with either acquired or primary multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Most cases occur in underdeveloped regions including African and Asian nations, India and Eastern Europe. MDR-TB affects not only the countries that have to carry the burden of disease, but it impacts the global community, as we strive to meet the 2015 millennium developmental goals.

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Picture of the Week: Shiga-like toxin

Picture of the Week: Shiga-like toxin

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Recently the University of Queensland ran the annual Molecular Design Contest, where students use pymol or related software to create a stunning image of a macromolecule of their choice. This is a contest I helped set up during my Masters degree at UQ, and I am happy to see it’s continuation by the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and the UQ Molecular Biotech Students Club. A huge congratulations to Vivek Narotam, a B.Sc student in the Faculty of Science who won this year’s competition with his rendering of a shiga-like toxin molecule (also known as verotoxin).

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Optogenetics: An understanding and mastery of brain function

Optogenetics: An understanding and mastery of brain function

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Written by William Godfrey and Christopher Weir.

 

Before we get into the article, I would first like to welcome the newest addition to our writing team here at Mostly Science, William Godfrey. Will and I are both alumni of the University of Queensland, which is where he went to the T.C. Berne School of Law and graduated with an L.L.B. After being unable to resist the intrigue of science, he made the bold decision to head back to UQ this year to begin a Bachelor of Biomedical Science with a view to engaging in neuroscience research (specifically, optogenetics). With that, I would like to leave you to enjoy Will’s first article.

For those who are unaware, the relatively new field of optogenetics can be simply described as using light to control neurons that have been genetically engineered to respond to certain wavelengths of light. The technique was developed based on a re-evaluation of how the brain functions and in this new paradigm the brain is not just an organ in the traditional sense, but a combination of sophisticated electrical circuitry combined with computational power. If this sounds enticing and exciting, then you can see why optogenetics was selected as the Method of the Year (2010) by the prestigious journal Nature Methods.

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3 Minute Thesis Talk: Molecular Methods Against Malaria

3 Minute Thesis Talk: Molecular Methods Against Malaria

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Today I competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition, which first started at the University of Queensland. Essentially, doctoral candidates have three minutes to inform a public audience what their research is all about. If that sounds easy, remember, a Ph.D thesis is typically 80 000 words of technical writing, which is not always so easy to condense down into something easy to swallow, especially for a non-expert. With that said, I thought my talk, which was titled “Molecular Methods Against Malaria”, would make a nice story for others, so enjoy.

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Opinion: Cancer is Hard, But Let’s Not Turn to Woo.

Opinion: Cancer is Hard, But Let’s Not Turn to Woo.

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Cancer. The word alone invokes deep emotions in many people. For some, fear, for others, anger. This is completely understandable. During my biomedical science degree I worked in nursing with a predominant focus on patients with various stages and types of cancer. Some made it and others were not so fortunate. I was even quite emotional seeing the plight of these patients, but maintained my resolve to give them the best care I possibly could. It wasn’t just me either; each patient had a large team of nurses, doctors and specialists who worked with them, investing their expertise to help every person they saw. However, the emotions of fear and anger were very real and very present. These emotions, for some, can lead to bad choices (often out of desperation). It is this that I want to focus on in this opinion piece.

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Theileria parasites

Theileria parasites

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Parasites, in all their forms, artfully exploit their unwitting host. Theileria is similar to Plasmodium but infects cattle and is spread by ticks rather than mosquitoes.

Here, a white blood cell infected with Theileria (labelled green) is dividing into two daughter cells and the parasite has adopted a cunning disguise to get itself copied in the process. By covering itself in one of the host’s own proteins Theileria is pulled to opposite ends of the cell by the spindle (stained red) along with the dividing host DNA (stained blue). When the daughter cells split both will be infected and the parasite quickly spreads throughout the blood in this way. Scientists hope that understanding exactly how these tiny tricksters operate will inspire new ways to stop them. (Written by Emma Stoye)

Image courtesy: Dirk Dobbelaere, University of Bern, Switzerland (published on PLoS Biology here)

Brought to my attention by Susan on the World Federation of Parasitologists official Facebook page, check it out for all things parasite-related!

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A structural example of Influenza virus mutation

A structural example of Influenza virus mutation

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This is the atomic resolution top-down structure of the neuraminidase protein found on the surface of the Influenza virus (individual spheres represent individual atoms). Neuraminidase is the protein, along with haemagglutinin which allows for the nomenclature of naming strains of Influenza (i.e. H1N1). These are key proteins used by the virus to establish and maintain infections, and also mutate at a rapid rate which is why you need a new flu vaccine every year (P.S. it is flu season, get vaccinated!). In this image of neuraminidase, the yellow spheres make up amino acids within the protein sequence that are commonly mutated, whilst the other colours depict those amino acids that are conserved. As you can see, there is a lot of yellow here, and so there is very little conservation of amino acids in this protein between strains, which presents a challenge to drug and vaccine design.

 

Image courtesy of Professor Peter Colman , Division head of Structural Biology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

 

 

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Logical Fallacy Question Time

Logical Fallacy Question Time

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Recently a reader asked us the below question-

 

“I would like to know what fallacy this is: It cannot be proven that there are not other life forms living in the caves of Mars, therefore I cannot believe that there is no life on Mars.”

 

This is known as the “Argument from Ignorance” (in Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam) or “Appeal to Ignorance” and is a type of informal logical fallacy. I actually listed this as one of the most common logical fallacies in my opinion in a previous article. I will go into a little more detail here and also share some other examples that others and I have come across. But first we can break down the example you provided.

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Thoughts out loud: Anti-intellectualism and the issue of Vaccination

Thoughts out loud: Anti-intellectualism and the issue of Vaccination

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Recently I was asked by a friend in Indonesia why there seems to be a growing rejection of science-based medical marvels such as vaccination in my own highly developed country of Australia. This is actually something that concerns me greatly, as both an educator and someone involved in medical research applicable to vaccine development. Below I give a recount of my reply, which are merely my thoughts on the matter, and should be seen as me “thinking out loud”. No doubt, in the future, I shall revisit this issue with more scholastic rigor.

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