Monday, December 13, 2010

Genomics Project: Nathan Wolfe's Jungle Search For Viruses


HIV---Human immunodefiency virus, a virus that causes the immune system in humans to fail
bush meat---animals that are killed for subsistence purposes; usually refers to birds or monkeys
retrovirus---RNA viruses that infect animal cells; family includes AIDS
poxvirus---largerst known viruses; responsible for a wide range of diseases; develops within the cytoplasm of the infected cell


Nathan Wolfe is renowned for his work and advancements in the study of viruses. Wolfe attended both Harvard and Stanford. He is now an American virologist who works as a Biology professor at Stanford University. Ambitious in nature, Nathan Wolfe wants to reform the system of global disease control. He wants to use the tools that are currently at his disposal to create an early warning system that can forecast and contain new diseases before they kill millions. His is intrigued in cultures and societies that are in frequent contact with dead animals. Those people, he believes, are the most exposed to viruses and diseases. He wants to determine the rates that animal diseases are crossing over to humans. Wolfe is also very passionate about stopping the viruses from reaching urban blood banks, where diseases can be spread at alarming rates. Wolfe was even recently placed in the Rolling Stone "Top 100 Agents of Change". Change is exactly what Wolfe is trying to accomplish so viruses no longer become epidemics but rather mere flare ups seen only occasionally.


Nathan Wolfe has a very ambitious goal: to end the threat of pandemics. In this video, Wolfe addresses this goal with enthusiasm and pizazz, along with several ways to achieve it. Wolfe understands that most epidemics originate with animals, which is why he spends his time studying cultures that come into frequent contact with them. He visits countries like Cameroon and the Congo, where interaction with dead animals is high. It is in societies like these that see the first signs of disease, which is why Wolfe travels there to learn how to prevent it from spreading to the large urbanized areas. The blood from the animals comes into contact with the hunters, thus initiating the process of disease expansion. Because there is virtually no gobal disease monitoring system, once an outbreak gains momentum, it is nearly impossible to stop. Wolfe envisions a global network of disease monitoring that would be used for the benefit and growth of mankind, and to prevent the emergence of retroviruses similar to HIV and Ebola from ever surfacing again.

Interdependence in Nature:

Around the world, animals rely on one another for survival. Rodents and small herbivores depend on elephants to knock down trees, making vegetation more accessible. Small birds feed off the bacteria and bugs that live on the backs of hippos. Humans in many parts of the world, particularly Africa and Asia, rely on animals for sustenance. However these dependencies have their consequences. In many societies, like the ones in Cameroon and the Congo, people are in constant contact with dead animals. These people have very few possessions and are very poor by our standards. They hunt for survival, and as a consequence, their exposure to retroviruses, such as HIV, drastically increases. As seen in the video, the hunters that go out looking for food or "bush meat" are hardly concerned with obtaining a virus because of the few precautions they take. They frequently interact with dead animals, so it is hardly a surprise that new viruses emerge in these cultures. Nathan Wolfe recognizes that most viruses originate with animals, which is why it is necessary to solve the problem at the initial point of contact, rather than to solve it later on. Hunters in Africa can receive a virus and overtime it transfers from one person to another until it reaches a large urban area. If this happens, an epidemic would be nearly impossible to stop because the virus would have evolved drastically since its first carrier. How ever dangerous a virus outbreak might be, Wolfe understands that these impoverished societies cannot simply abandon their traditional ways of life. These people survive due to the hunting of these animals, and that will not change, which is why the way people approach the monitoring needs to. In a sense, it is a double edged sword. Poor villages like the ones in Africa hunt animals for food and for survival, yet in doing so they increase their risk of acquiring a harmful virus. Organisms rarely exist alone, and constantly depend on one another for many facets of life. The most severe problem is the emergence of new retroviruses like HIV, and this problem will only grow more serious as frequent interaction occurs.

Science, Technology & Society

It was through scientific research that scientists learned more about the effects of harmful retroviruses like HIV. Technological innovations have had a largely beneficial effect on societies around the globe, particularly ones that come into frequent contact with viruses. Viruses, if not monitored correctly, can spread like wildfire. They can spread fast and with lethal purpose if they reach densely populated areas. Viruses evolve and adapt quickly, which is why technology used to counteract viruses needs to be just as fast. Without advanced technology in poor areas like central Asia and parts of Africa, dangerous viruses like HIV may emerge again. Wolfe has acknowledged that most viruses originate with animals and are then transmitted to humans. Lethal diseases like influenza, yellow fever, Ebola, rabies, and HIV have all come from animals. He is leading a large worldwide effort to introduce technology in the areas where this contact is especially high. Nathan Wolfe has the ambitious goal of eventually establishing 20 stations to monitor the emergence of viruses around the world. These new stations would provide a worldwide forecast to monitor and contain new diseases before they kill thousands. The current system to monitor the development of viruses is in the Stone Age according to Wolfe, and he believes that by addressing this, the world can become much safer. Wolfe spent 10 years in central Africa working with local tribes and scientists to better understand the transfer of viruses from animals to humans. He also spent time educating the people on how to process data, acquire samples, and monitor harmful diseases. In the video it shows a picture of the dramatic transformation one of the science labs had over those years. It went from an empty room, inadequate to perform basic scientific operations, to a highly innovative lab filled with advanced technological equipment. Technology must lead the way in the fight against epidemics and in order to win the fight, new technology has to be established in the areas most severely affected. Advancements in science and technology have been purely beneficial in the struggle against viruses, and will provide the world with a safety net to prevent lethal diseases from becoming global epidemics.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

reflections for Trimester 1

This is what I learned about macromolecules, cells, and cell division. I learned that proteins are made up of amino acids held together by peptide bonds.I learned that lipids are not polymers. I learned that carbohydrates have a chemical formula C6H12O6. I learned that enzymes have the ability to speed up reactions. I also learned about plasma membranes of cells and how some substances are allowed to pass through freely while others are not. The membrane is made of a phospholipid bilayer that regulates the passage of substances in and out of the cell. Within the membrane are organelles that control and regulate processes of the cell. Mitochondria deal with cellular respiration and produce ATP, lysosomes have digestive enzymes that break down food for the cell or even other organelles, and ribosomes produce protein. I also learned about cell division in meiosis and mitosis. Mitosis occurs when a cell duplicates its genetic material, forming two identical copies, and then proceeds to divide into two daughter cells. Meiosis however forms 4 haploid daughter cells, where mitosis creates only 2 diploid cells.
What I have found difficult is bonding. Hydrogen bonds, peptide bonds, and basically any type of bond is somewhat confusing for me. The bonds in lipids seem to be rather weird to me also.
Biological systems regulate in many ways. The whole process of mitosis involves several crucial checkpoints to make sure everything is dividing correctly and at the right time. There is a checkpoint at the end of the G1 phase before it goes into the S2 phase. This checkpoint is there in order to ensure that all the organelles and cytoplasm have divided and that their is enough for each cell to function independently. This is one of many ways that biological systems regulate.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

sections 6.2 and 6.3 reflection

This is what I learned about what the function of membranes is. I learned that the plasma membrane is composed of phospholipids. This plasma membrane is what holds the contents of a eukaryotic cell inside the cell. I learned that proteins are what allows the membranes to perform certain functions and these proteins also help cells communicate with one another. I also learned that membranes can permit certain substances and deny others access to the interior of the cell.
What I have found difficult about what I have studied are the contents in section 6.3. Some concepts I can understand but others such as hypertonic, hypotonic, and isotonic go right over my head. Also, I simply have no idea how to understand the pictures on pg. 120. After reading it several times, the whole idea seems to completely evade me.
Structure is related to function in cell membranes because membranes give the cell its rigid form and the membrane also serves as a regulator, allowing only certain substances inside the cell. This mean that the plasma membrane is very fluid and is constantly moving, allowing for substances to pass through in the first place. This membrane or boundary, holds many proteins that perform specific functions for the cell. Also, because the unique structure of the plasma membrane, the proteins that are lodged in the membrane are able to communicate with other cell's proteins.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Jello is essentially gelatin, which is processed collagen, which is a structural protein in animals

collagen is extracted from boiled bones and intestines of animals

the trapped liquid give gelatin its wiggle, but the protein allows for it to keep its shape

water is the biggest component in Jello

gelatin is made up of amino acids in a chain

Jello has little nutritional value

collagen makes up some of the protein in the human body

collagen is composed of three polypeptide chains that are held together by hydrogen bonds

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

introduction rough draft part 3


The purpose of our lab is to determine what different amounts of water does to the germination of a yellow dent corn seed (Zea mays indenta). Through the observation of 5 separate germination tests we will be able to tell what amount of water is optimum for proper germination of the seed. There will be a total of 4 variables in our experiments, 3 of which will remain constant throughout: soil, light, and temperature. Each day the seeds will be watered with the appropriate amount in order to tell us which daily amount is best for fastest germination. All the corn seeds used will be used from a commercial seed packet. If a yellow dent corn seed is exposed to 2 tablespoons of water per day, then it will germinate at a faster rate than any other amount of water.


Monday, August 30, 2010

corn-yellow dent seeds: germination

  • dent corn will germinate and emerge slowly and unevenly when the soil temperature is below 50F
  • enough moisture must be available in the soil for the seed to consume 30% of its total weight in water in order for germination to occur
  • the first part of the seed to emerge is the "radical"
  • the ideal growing point is usually 1-1.5 in. below the surface of the soil
  • if the soil is too wet then the seed could decay
  • soil should be between 70-85F for ideal germination