Professor 2.0

Professor 2.0.

Page added to my blog after being contacted by a tenured professor at Virginia Tech about how to enter the crowded world of social networks to increase public knowledge of their research and increase its impact.

Imaging Cancer Tissue One Chemical At A Time

Since listening to a Gordon Research Conference talk several years ago, I have been simply amazed by the applications developing with use of the mass spectrometer. Imagine being able to ‘see’ a specimen or tissue without use of any lenses or cameras. Not only ‘see’ it but also know the chemical makeup of each point at high resolution.

A new study published online for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains the application of mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) to cancer tissue. Researchers at the Imperial College London have described a process to make this more applicable in a clinical setting without waiting weeks for a histological assessment by a specialist. This new technique will move cancer histology from the analog to digital age by identifying the actual chemicals within a sample instead of relying on structure.

Reference

Chemo-informatic strategy for imaging mass spectrometry-based hyperspectral profiling of lipid signatures in colorectal cancer. Veselkob et al. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1310524111

First Order of Business When Rich: One Microscope Per Child

animated GIF bacteria, animated GIF, microbiology
Azospirillum brasilense cells swimming in an oxygen gradient. Magnified 40X

It is really sad humans (that seem so determined to destroy this planet) show little regard to the majority of species, most of which are invisible to the naked eye. Most people go through life without knowing the splendor of Mother Nature in all its glory.

It’s hard to believe now the accepted knowledge of society before invention of the microscope around 1590 by Zacharias Janssen (disputed). Everyone had  to rely on their own eyes, while exquisite in their own right, but these are only reliable down to the size of a human hair width. Imagine a world where flies and maggots were thought to spontaneously generate from items such as rotting meat. This was the common knowledge and understanding. After human observation was enhanced by wonderful inventions such as the compound microscope, only then could the true understanding of all things small or distant be studied in acceptable depth.

Imagine if you will looking through a microscope for the first time. You have been told, and believe, you live in a clean world in which if you can’t see it, it does not exist. With true curiosity and virgin eyes, you place a drop of water on a small glass slide and focus upon it with a microscope. Small particles that appear to be moving as if they were swimming come into view. Suddenly, your whole world changes. At the intersection of ignorance and knowledge, powerful things happen.

Today, microscopes have evolved and improved to the point where we can visualize hydrogen bonds in molecules at the atomic scale. The invention of the electron microscope helped usher in the field of virology just as Antonie van Leeuwenhoek did so much for microbiology with his improvements to the light microscope. The gifted van Leeuwenhoek discovered red blood cells, cell vacuoles, and bacteria (among other things). Thanks to him, the use of a microscope became a useful technique in various types of research.

It is said that ignorance is bliss. However, I believe ignorance is…ignorance. The less a person knows and understands, the smaller their world and the less their ability to imagine and perceive new ideas. Seeing is believing and what better way to see beyond your means than with a microscope.

Now, imagine giving this enormous ability to see the unexplainable to the most curious and imaginative of us, children. Their innate curiosity and unobstructed ability to use their imagination makes the power of the microscope exponentially greater. Giving a child this portal to the unseen opens their eyes to endless possibilities, probing questions, and the ability to answer the questions themselves.

I support the One Laptop Per Child movement. Opening up the entire world of information to a child can open up new possibilities and lead to a better life. The laptop opens the world to the child, but a microscope opens the child’s world in which they live. The knowledge gained is not flat and two dimensional; it is in real 3D.

Yeah, when I’m rich, One Microscope Per Child is my first action.

A Look Back (and not just about science)

I have never been one to look back the past year and reflect. It goes against my ADD personality, but this past year was really the best and worst of times…

The year started in style: the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando on the concierge level in our pajamas dancing to the music in the lobby 6 stories below (we couldn’t sleep if we wanted due to the incredibly loud music). Life was good; I was a Science Writer. Little did I know in graduate school that this would be my dream job. How was I lucky enough to land it right out of the gate? We were rich (by our standards), my wife was preparing to quit her job as an underpaid, under-appreciated kindergarten teacher in the local public school district. Life was good.

For the first time in my life, I felt whole. I was providing for my family, contributing to the dissemination of scientific discovery to all that would listen (or read), and I was happy (especially taking pictures of deer outside my office window almost weekly to show my four year old daughter). I was even finding new creative ways to reach a broader audience through teaching myself 3D graphic/illustration software for the visual learners like me. Showing science was not a book of facts, but instead a beautiful creative glimpse at Mother Nature in all her glory.

The cards fell mid-August when I was told my position was being eliminated (post here). By mid-September, I was an over-qualified (yet under-qualified) stay at home dad with a Ph.D. I was broken and still am. Even though I have found one (maybe two hopefully) part time gigs to bring in some income, but my wife now must suffer through another year of purgatory-resembling bureaucracy teaching kids while pregnant (Yay!). It’s not fair to her or my family.

What a year, 2013. Good riddance.

Never underestimate clever bacteria: bacterial persistance

If there is anything I try to convey to anyone who will listen: never underestimate the intelligence of bacteria. A new case-in-point was published in the journal Infection and Immunity (Abstract only- Paywall) from researchers in Buffalo, New York to back up my claim. Former knowledge from two pathogens that cause strep throat, ear infections, and colds suggested they did not survive long outside the human body. However, a new study about Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae suggests we were wrong and the bacteria were right.

Previous studies used unnatural conditions; i) cells grown in broth media and ii) free-living cells. These both are not encountered by bacteria which invade a human host. S. pyogenes and S. pneumoniae both infect humans as biofilms; very resistant, closely-connected bacterial communities. The present study used biofilm bacteria to test how long these bacteria could survive outside the body and still infect mice.

To drive the message home, researchers tested a day-care center for S. pyogenes and S. pneumoniae living on surfaces and capable of causing infection. Results indicate these bacteria were found at high levels and viable even after surfaces were cleaned before sampling.

Let me re-iterate: bacteria know survival. Don’t underestimate their ability to evade our most clever defenses and come out on top while we lay in bed recovering.