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I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the fluorescent green pigs produced by Taiwanese scientists. It’s a relatively simple technique, all one has to do is: transfect a plasmid containing the GFP and (maybe) am antibiotic resistance selector into very early embryonic stem cells, select using the antibiotic1 and the GFP, (That’s the easy part, the real trick is dealing with altered cells after transfection due to the funky, black box biology of stem cells) and allow to grow to term through implantation. This would give the uniform green “glow” that characterizes every cell of the animal.

As the article states, this has the potential of tracking how stem cells (used for therapy) can proliferate through an existing organ structure and the organism. In my mind, it also has the potential to better understand early development through the use of GFP mutants (CFP, YFP); though that is speculation on my part.

But I digress, sometimes my biology geek nature gets the best of me, the real reason I started this post was to nit-pick and complain once again over the sorry state of scientific literacy in the field of Journalism. In the article from the BBC, they make a mistake that even a freshman biology student would not make:

Because the pig’s genetic material is green, it is easy to spot.

Now, the pig’s “genetic material” is not green, it is the product of the genetic material, the protein.

Also, I do not think (though I could be wrong) that this part is correct:

So if, for instance, some of its stem cells are injected into another animal, scientists can track how they develop without the need for a biopsy or invasive test.

I don’t see how if stem cells were injected to repair a kidney or heart muscle how they would track their proliferation without some kind of invasive technique; the excitation wavelength and the resulting fluorescence would be blocked by the layers of the epidermis.


1 This, at least, is how I have created stably-transfected mammalian cells with GFP-tagged proteins.

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Victor Davis Hanson has a very good “Letter to the Europeans” up which captures the feelings that many on the right have towards The Continent. As he says in the piece, we cons don’t hate Europe, we are frustrated at their suicidal course. And this is not a racial thing, but a frustration over watching a great civilization turn away from what made it great in favor of what makes it feel good in the short term; much like watching an accomplished man abandon his greatness for the temporary thrill of the bottle.

A very good read.

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The Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyhete, has just released electron microscopic images of the H5N1 strain of the avian virus. I present them here without commentary (unless someone wants to step up and translate Swedish for me), here is the slide show

No real reason to post this other than sometimes science images are simply cool.

Update This Breitbart article on the Swedish Newspaper article says that the viral particles are the “string of blue balls attacking and destroying healthy pink cells.” but looking at the photos (without the benefit of a translation) it seems to me that the viral particles are the greenish-yellow clusters attacking the pinkish healthy cells with the bluish invaginations being the newly lysed cells.

Update II Thanks to everyone who pointed out that I linked to the wrong article. This is what you get when you get all excited about an article in a foreign language you do not understand at all.

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For a long time now I have been meaning to post my thoughts on what I see as overhyping the avian flu situation. Luckily, a reader of Instapundit beat me to it and summed up nicely a lot of my thoughts.

As a medical researcher, I want to make a gentle but sincere plea to the blogosphere to calm down this flu hysteria just a bit. The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to “superinfection” by bacterial illnesses – in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty. Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century – these are currently vastly improved as well. Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the “elderly” today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before. Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis. Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No – my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.

This MD hit almost all of the doubts I had: much better (and more sanitary) medical practices and supplies, the wide-spread use of antibiotics, and better general health of the populace.

But, this made me examine why there is this hysteria, and I think two points need to be raised about this. Researchers and medical doctors who study these diseases become convinced that their disease of interest is much more of a threat than any others. Be it pride, tunnel-vision, or a subconscious desire to attract more publicity or grant money to their area of research, these medical professionals have a general bias towards their particular virus or bacteria. Personally, in the two dozen virologists I have spoken too, I have seen this general propensity. I am not arguing they are wrong or corrupt, just that their dire warnings need to be considered in context.

Another factor to this hysteria concerns the general public and their view of viruses. Today the most talked about and intimidating virus, to laypeople, on the planet is HIV. A virus that people know has been around for at least two decades, is growing in total number of infections, and seems to mutate so fast that therapies become eventually useless against it and infected persons whither and die. But the comparison between HIV and avian flu is a flawed one.

When a virus, any virus, infects the body a “battle” is started between the virus transforming the infected person’s biomatter into duplicates of itself and the bodies’ immune system creating and mobilizing enough of the correct antibodies to combat it. If the virus wins, the immune system is decimated, secondary infections take over, and death is likely; if the body wins, the virus is generally defeated, and an immunity to that virus is set up. Avian flu falls into this model but HIV does not. The insidious nature of HIV is that it can survive the immune assault (by “hiding out” in the eyeballs) and has a high mutation rate, so the body is never rid of it.

This is where all the concern about the avian flu going through so many mutations to make it both transferable from human to human and airborne. Combine with that the previously detailed persistent nature of HIV, and you have a mental model of viral infection in the common person’s mind that leads to hysteria.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that everything will be perfectly fine, I am not that Pollyannaish, there will be infections. But, either most will recover, or few deaths will happen in segments of the population who are immune-compromised (the already ill, the elderly, the very young) or who do not have adequate access to antibiotics (the very poor). But our society has advanced to a point that these deaths will be few and far between.

If you want to talk about how to reduce even those few deaths, that is something to discuss, but we should stop the over hyping of this microorganism.

Update from Razib: Welcome Corner readers, and thanks for the link John.

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Ronald Bailey, in an article over at reason, points out one unintentional consequence of Bush’s funding restrictions:

The National Institutes of Health spent $24.3 million dollars on human embryonic stem-cell research last year. Critics of President Bush’s policy of limiting federal funding to only those stem-cell lines derived before August 2001 worry that this amount—relative to NIH’s annual $30 billion budget—is not enough. Persuaded of the importance of this research, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in May to lift President Bush’s funding restrictions. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced this summer that he supported that legislation. The Senate is poised to vote on the issue later this fall.

But do stem-cell researchers really need the feds? Already there is nearly $4 billion in private and state monies committed to stem-cell research over the next decade, with another three-quarters of a billion dollars under active consideration.

I find it amazing and heartening that the non-Federal sector has stepped up and committed 16.4 times that what the Feds have (assuming $243 million over a decade from NIH) and makes me wonder what other areas might be better served by a switch to non-NIH funds for some areas.

Look, I’m no utopian Libertarian, I know there are areas of research (and specific parts of some general areas) which won’t be funded privately because they don’t show any promise of profit anytime soon. And I know that a lot of this funding comes from other government bodies ; but I think there are areas that now suckle off of Uncle Sam’s breast who need to be kicked out of the Treasury nest and find their own funding. This would free up a lot of cash for more “pure” research projects, and advance our nation’s general knowledge of science.

Just my thoughts.

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The always enjoyable Victor Davis Hanson has a good piece in the online WSJ today talking about the out-of-control diversity problem on college campuses. Go read.

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The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution