Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reconstructing Rome

I found this site yesterday and wanted to pass it along since it's so cool! A group from the University of Washington's Computer & Science Engineering Department is generating 3D reconstruction images of famous landmarks and cities using all the on-line images associated with a given landmark posted on Flickr.com. You can read more about the details of how they did this and see the reconstruction videos here: http://grail.cs.washington.edu/rome/

I wonder if my own picture taken above of the Trevi fountain (which is also posted on Flickr) was one of the 1,936 pictures used in their reconstruction...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You're Glowing

image by Kobayashi et al.

A recent observation by Japanese scientists gives new meaning to the words "you're glowing". Along with fireflies and jellyfish, humans emit small quantities of light, about 1000 times lower than what our eyes can detect. Place a human in front of a super-sensitive photon-detecting camera in the dark, however, and watch him glow! When imaging five healthy males for 20 minute intervals every 3 hours, researchers determined that the levels of "glowing" fluctuated throughout the day, peaking by 4 PM. The face exhibited the most amount of glow. The cause of glowing is likely due to the byproduct of chemical reactions taking place in our bodies involving free radicals, with glow fluctuations reflecting changes in our metabolism during the day.

Reference: Kobayashi M, Kikuchi D, Okamura H. (2009) Imaging of ultraweak spontaneous photon emission from human body displaying diurnal rhythm. PLoS ONE 4(7): e6256.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006256

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Aloe Vera- Not Only for Cuts and Sunburns

photo by randomidea

A friend of mine was telling me about an article he read recently describing the health benefits of drinking aloe vera juice, particularly in aiding digestive issues. When we think of aloe vera, we usually think about using it to treat minor cuts, scrapes and burns- not cleansing our colons. Drinking aloe vera juice regularly helps repair damaged gut tissues and gently breaks down and washes out unabsorbed food particles in our colons. As an anti-inflammatory agent, aloe vera soothes digestive tract irritations, ulcers, colitis and acid reflux. It also encourages the release of pepsin, a gastric enzyme which degrades food proteins into amino acids. Although the initial phase of drinking aloe vera juice may cause diarrhea or stomach cramps during the "cleansing process" as toxins and build-up are removed, symptoms typically go away within a few days followed by increased intestinal function and relief from whatever was troubling you to begin with. So if you are suffering from irritable bowel symptom (IBS), heartburn, constipation, ulcers, or any other digestive issue, it's worth trying out aloe vera juice!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine on the Way

With the swine flu now declared a pandemic, several drug companies are actively working toward developing a vaccine. Last week, GlaxoSmithKline stated that it will soon begin large-scale vaccine production; Sanofi-Aventis is also developing one and Novartis has an experimental vaccine already, but it has not been tested in humans.

The WHO estimates that 2.4 billion doses of swine flu vaccine should be available in about 1 year. The challenge will be making sure the vaccine is evenly distributed throughout the world. Currently, the aim is to provide 10% of the global vaccine supply to poor and developing countries- this is especially important since individuals with preexisting health conditions (prevalent in developing countries) will be more susceptible to swine flu. Whether this will actually happen is up for debate since in past pandemics, most vaccines have remained in the countries where they were developed.

Source: Maria Cheng, "Drugmakers rush to produce a swine flu vaccine", The Associated Press, June 12, 2009.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swine Flu Pandemic Has Started

photo by Eneas

The swine flu has now been declared a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) officials. A pandemic is any epidemic or infection that spreads through a large population ("pan" = all, "demos" = people). This is the first flu pandemic since the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 , when an estimated 1 million people died worldwide. Although the swine flu virus is rapidly spreading, it doesn't mean that the virus itself is more lethal or virulent; it's actually not much more severe than the seasonal flu, but the main difference is that since previous exposure to the virus has not occurred, we have little to no preexisting immunity to the virus and no vaccines to effectively combat infection. The pandemic declaration, however, will definitely speed the production of a swine flu vaccine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bacteria- They've Got You Covered

photo by IRRI Images

Bacteria literally have us covered, inside and out. NIH researchers have found that the healthy human epidermis is home to about 1000 species of bacteria, or an estimated 100 billion individual bacteria total. Various regions of skin from 10 volunteers (5 female, 5 male) were swabbed to collect bacterial samples for analysis. The study found that moist areas housed 10 times more bacteria than dry areas. The human forearm alone showed the greatest bacterial diversity with 44 species detected, while the oily area behind the ear had only 15 species. Interestingly, similar species were found in the same areas on each individual, indicating that bacterial species have their own niche on our skin as well as pointing to a mutualistic relationship between "us" and "them".

Source: Karen Kaplan, "1000 Species of Bacteria Found on Healthy Humans", Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's H1N1, Anyway?

The recent swine flu virus has been characterized as “H1N1” and if you remember a few years ago, the bird flu was caused by an “H5N1” virus. So what do the H and N mean, and why the different numbers? All influenza viruses have the proteins hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) on their surfaces, or outer coating. Hemagglutinin is involved in virus binding to host cells, aiding in the initial step of virus entry into the cells it infects. Once a virus gains access to a cell, it uses the host cell’s machinery to replicate itself, leading to the production of more infectious viruses. Newly replicated viruses need to be released from the host cell so they can continue with more rounds of infection, so neuraminidase acts as an enzyme which helps in this release process. In fact, neuraminidase inhibitors, such as Relenza and Tamiflu, are often used to treat flu.

The protein structure of both H and N differ from one influenza virus strain to another, so the numbering system corresponds to the form or version of the protein on a given virus. In humans, three H and two N subtypes are found, indicating that the swine flu virus carries subtype 1 of the H protein and subtype 1 of the N protein on its surface. By determining the subtypes of H and N on a given virus, we can anticipate its virulence and potential impact by comparing it to viruses we have seen in the past with the same or similar protein makeup.