TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Epidemics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Epidemics. Show all posts

Monday, October 13, 2014

Photos from an Epidemic


Images Source: Getty via Creepy Reality.

These are October photos from Liberia, scenes from the ebola epidemic from Getty Images (Hat tip: Creepy Reality):
It has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people across the world so far. Now, a series of photos has captured the grim reality of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, West Africa. The shocking images, taken by photographers John Moore and Mohammed Elshamy, show the brutal effects of the virus on victims and their loved ones. One features a woman crawling desperately toward the body of her sister as a burial team carries it away for cremation on Saturday [11 October 2014].



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cells That Reverse the Arrow of Evolutionary Time


Fission yeast aka Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Image Source: University of Tübingen.
 
Catastrophic failure or progressive decline? These are alternatives in cellular degeneration. For example, some cells, such as cancer cells, do not age. One commenter at Naked Science Forum notes: "some mutations which cause cancer are not actually causing excessive cell division but a mutation upon the gene which controls programmed cell death... so they don't die when they should and you thus end up with accumulation."

Similarly, researchers have found a type of yeast that does not age (that is, it does not show cellular damage and wear as cells divide over time), but rather, it gets younger as its cells divide. These particular yeast cells do die, but as a result of sudden, catastrophic failure at any given moment, rather than through a progressive decline.
Under favorable conditions, the microbe, a species of yeast called S. pombe, does not age the way other microbes do, the researchers said.

Typically, when single-celled organisms divide in half, one half acquires the majority of older, often damaged cell material, while the other half acquires mostly new cell material.

But in the new study, researchers found that under favorable, nonstressful growing conditions, S. pombe (a single-celled organism) divided in such a way that both halves acquired about equal parts of old cell material. "As both cells get only half of the damaged material, they are both younger than before," study researcher Iva Tolic-Nørrelykke, of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany, said in a statement.

What's more, previous research has shown that when cells divide and continuously pass on old cell material, the cells that get the old material start to divide more slowly — a sign of aging. This has been seen in microorganisms such E. coli and the yeast S. cerevisiae.

But in the new study, S. pombe cells showed no increase in the time it took for them to divide, the researchers said.

That's not to say that S. pombe cells don't die. Some cells did die in the study, but the deaths occurred suddenly, as a result of a catastrophic failure of a cellular process, rather than aging, the researchers said.

The researchers said they are not arguing that any given component of S. pombe cells are immortal. If a particular component of a cell is followed for a long enough time, the researchers believe the cell that harbors this component will eventually die. But "the probability of this death will be constant rather than increasing over time," the researchers wrote in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Current Biology.

During unfavorable, stressful conditions, S. pombe cells distribute old cell material unevenly, and the cells that inherited the old material eventually died, the study found. Also, during stressful conditions, S. pombe showed an increase in division time.

Although there's no way to know for sure why the researchers did not detect aging in S. pombe under favorable conditions, one likely explanation is that the cellular damage is being repaired at the same rate that it's being formed, said Eric Stewart, a microbiologist at Northeastern University in Boston, who was not involved in the study.

But just because the study researchers did not detect aging in favorable conditions doesn't meant that it's not occurring. "They're trying to show the absence of something," in this case, aging, Stewart said. "Showing the absence of something is a nearly impossible challenge," he said.

S. pombe growth under favorable conditions could potentially serve as a model of nonaging cell types, such as cancer cells, the researchers said.
On the logic of non-ageing cancer cells, I have seen reports that cancer cells are resistant to radiation. Researchers ask: did this condition arise in reaction to radioactive treatments? Or does cancer's radioresistance precede radiation treatments? The conventional wisdom is that cancer involves a genetic predisposition that is triggered by an external factor. Is cancer a body's misguided reaction against radiation, other pollutants in the environment, or viruses? I have seen reports that cancer cells burn sugar, unlike normal cells, which burn oxygen - which is an argument to stop eating sugar if I ever saw one. Is the way cancer works - or the way other non-ageing cells work - the grim key to immortality?

Researcher Paul Davies - author of The Goldilocks Enigma - wrote a 2012 report for The Guardian to ask if cancer is actually a way that a multi-cellular organism can regress to the single-celled organism model, where cells do not seem to age. Thus, he postulates, cancer essentially reverses the normal course of evolution from single cell to multicellular organism, even as the disease reverses the clock on cell death processes. But the question remains: why does cancer do this? What purpose is an evolutionary reversal trying to serve? Davies and an Australian physicist, Charles Lineweaver, maintain that cancer de-evolves a sufferer of the disease at the cellular level. The disease serves to activate increasingly archaic genes in a body as it spreads. Lineweaver claims that cancer is a "default cellular safe mode." From The Guardian report:
In the frantic search for an elusive "cure", few researchers stand back and ask a very basic question: why does cancer exist? What is its place in the grand story of life? Astonishingly, in spite of decades of research, there is no agreed theory of cancer, no explanation for why, inside almost all healthy cells, there lurks a highly efficient cancer subroutine that can be activated by a variety of agents – radiation, chemicals, inflammation and infection.
Cancer, it seems, is embedded in the basic machinery of life, a type of default state that can be triggered by some kind of insult. That suggests it is not a modern aberration but has deep evolutionary roots, a suspicion confirmed by the fact that it is not confined to humans but is widespread among mammals, fish, reptiles and even plants. Scientists have identified genes implicated in cancer that are thought to be hundreds of millions of years old. Clearly, we will fully understand cancer only in the context of biological history.
Two relevant evolutionary transitions stand out. The first occurred over 2 billion years ago, when large, complex cells emerged containing mitochondria – tiny factories that supply energy to the cell. Biologists think mitochondria are the remnants of ancient bacteria. Tellingly, they undergo systematic changes as cancer develops, profoundly altering their chemical and physical properties.
For most of Earth's history, life was confined to single-celled organisms. Over time, however, a new possibility arose. Earth's atmosphere became polluted by a highly toxic and reactive chemical – oxygen – created as a waste product of photosynthesis. Cells evolved ingenious strategies to either avoid the accumulating oxygen or to combat oxidative damage in their innards. But some organisms turned a vice into a virtue and found a way to exploit oxygen as a potent new source of energy. In modern organisms, it is mitochondria that harness this dangerous substance to power the cell.
With the appearance of energised oxygen-guzzling cells, the way lay open for the second major transition relevant to cancer – the emergence of multicellular organisms. This required a drastic change in the basic logic of life. Single cells have one imperative – to go on replicating. In that sense, they are immortal. But in multicelled organisms, ordinary cells have outsourced their immortality to specialised germ cells – sperm and eggs – whose job is to carry genes into future generations. The price that the ordinary cells pay for this contract is death; most replicate for a while, but all are programmed to commit suicide when their use-by date is up, a process known as apoptosis. And apoptosis is also managed by mitochondria.
Cancer involves a breakdown of the covenant between germ cells and the rest. Malignant cells disable apoptosis and make a bid for their own immortality, forming tumours as they start to overpopulate their niches. In this sense, cancer has long been recognised as a throwback to a "selfish cell" era. But recent advances in research permit us to embellish this picture. For example, cancer cells thrive in low-oxygen (even zero-oxygen) conditions, reverting to an earlier, albeit less efficient, form of metabolism known as fermentation.
Biologists are familiar with the fact that organisms may harbour ancient traits that reflect their ancestral past, such as the atavistic tails or supernumerary nipples some people are born with. Evolution necessarily builds on earlier genomes. Sometimes older genetic pathways are not discarded, just silenced. Atavisms result when something disrupts the silencing mechanism.
Charles Lineweaver, of the Australian National University, and I have proposed a theory of cancer based on its ancient evolutionary roots. We think that as cancer progresses in the body it reverses, in a speeded-up manner, the arrow of evolutionary time. Increasing deregulation prompts cancer cells to revert to ever earlier genetic pathways that recapitulate successively earlier ancestral life styles. We predict that the various hallmarks of cancer progression will systematically correlate with the activation of progressively older ancestral genes. The most advanced and malignant cancers recreate aspects of life on Earth before a billion years ago.
Ancient genes remain functional only if they continue to fulfill a biological purpose. In early-stage embryo development, when the basic body plan is laid down (also in low-oxygen conditions, incidentally) ancestral genes help guide developmental processes before being switched off. Every human, for example, possesses tails and gills for a time in the womb. Significantly, researchers have recently identified examples of early-stage embryonic genes being reawakened in cancer.
The deep links between evolutionary biology, developmental biology and cancer have huge implications for therapy, and also provide an unexpected reason to study cancer. By unravelling the details of cancer initiation and progression, scientists can open a window on the past through which we can gain tantalising glimpses of life in a bygone age.
You can see a further article for online from Lineweaver in Physics World at http://www.physicsworld.com/cws/download/jul2013. This is a special issue made free to the public, which deals with the physics of cancer.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fountain of Youth 18: Harvard Scientists Reverse Ageing - At A Price


Image Source: Guardian.

Harvard scientists have successfully reversed ageing in mice and are now turning to apply the treatment to humans. The only problem is that their approach involves turning off the mechanism in our bodies that prevents cancer. Remember, though, this post, which outlined a potential cure for cancer through the Smallpox vaccine? It's all connected. The Guardian:
The Harvard group focused on a process called telomere shortening. Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, which carry our DNA. At the ends of each chromosome is a protective cap called a telomere. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are snipped shorter, until eventually they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state called "senescence". The process is behind much of the wear and tear associated with ageing.

At Harvard, they bred genetically manipulated mice that lacked an enzyme called telomerase that stops telomeres getting shorter. Without the enzyme, the mice aged prematurely and suffered ailments, including a poor sense of smell, smaller brain size, infertility and damaged intestines and spleens. But when DePinho gave the mice injections to reactivate the enzyme, it repaired the damaged tissues and reversed the signs of ageing.

"These were severely aged animals, but after a month of treatment they showed a substantial restoration, including the growth of new neurons in their brains," said DePinho.

Repeating the trick in humans will be more difficult. Mice make telomerase throughout their lives, but the enzyme is switched off in adult humans, an evolutionary compromise that stops cells growing out of control and turning into cancer. Raising levels of telomerase in people might slow the ageing process, but it makes the risk of cancer soar.

DePinho said the treatment might be safe in humans if it were given periodically and only to younger people who do not have tiny clumps of cancer cells already living, unnoticed, in their bodies.

David Kipling, who studies ageing at Cardiff University, said: "The goal for human tissue 'rejuvenation' would be to remove senescent cells, or else compensate for the deleterious effects they have on tissues and organs. Although this is a fascinating study, it must be remembered that mice are not little men, particularly with regard to their telomeres, and it remains unclear whether a similar telomerase reactivation in adult humans would lead to the removal of senescent cells."

Lynne Cox, a biochemist at Oxford University, said the study was "extremely important" and "provides proof of principle that short-term treatment to restore telomerase in adults already showing age-related tissue degeneration can rejuvenate aged tissues and restore physiological function."

DePinho said none of Harvard's mice developed cancer after the treatment. The team is now investigating whether it extends the lifespan of mice or enables them to live healthier lives into old age.



Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Time Warps: Bubonic Plague


Image Source: Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images via The National Post.

Last week, Californian campgrounds were closed when a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague:
Campgrounds at a California national park have been closed after officials found a plague-infested squirrel. The squirrel was trapped earlier this month and found to be infected with the bacteria that causes plague — also known as the Black Death that is estimated to have wiped out up to 50% of the European population in the 14th and 15th centuries. The plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, mostly found in rats and fleas that feed off them.
“Plague is a very serious illness, but is treatable with commonly available antibiotics. The earlier a patient seeks medical care and receives treatment that is appropriate for plague, the better their chances are of a full recovery, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on its website.
“It is important for the public to know that there have only been four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal,” said L.A. County health officer Dr. Jonathan Fielding in a statement.
The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-1925. In 2012, a Portland Oregon man contracted bubonic plague when he took a mouse out of his cat's mouth. HuffPo included photos of his afflicted limbs (caution - graphic images below the jump):
The welder's once-strong hands have been withered by the cell-killing infection and darkened to the color of charcoal. Doctors are waiting to see if they can save a portion of his fingers, but the outlook is grim for the man who needs them for his livelihood.
"I don't think I can do my job," Gaylord said in a phone interview from a Bend, Ore., hospital. "I'm going to lose all my fingers on both hands. I don't know about my thumbs. The toes – I might lose all them, too."
Gaylord, who turns 60 next month, contracted a rare case of the plague trying to take a mouse from the jaws of a choking cat at his home in Prineville, in rural Oregon.
He faces a difficult recovery now that he's out of intensive care. His family is trying to raise money to get him into a new house, because the manufactured home he was living in has a leaky roof, a moldy bathroom and mice – dangerous living conditions for a man with a weakened immune system.
"We didn't even know the plague was around anymore," said his sister, Diana Gaylord. "We thought that was an ancient, ancient disease."
The bacterium that causes the plague is carried by fleas, which can infect people and animals. The disease that killed millions in the Middle Ages is extremely rare in current times – an average of seven cases occur in the U.S. each year.
Gaylord's illness began after he saw a stray cat – who he'd named Charlie – with a dead mouse jammed in the back of his throat. The cat appeared to be choking, so Gaylord and a friend attempted to dislodge the mouse.
The friend also contracted the disease, but she was treated successfully before it progressed. In another 2012 case, a 7-year-old Colorado girl contracted the plague after burying a dead squirrel. Also in 2012, the FDA approved a new 2012 antibiotic, Levaquin, known generically as levofloxacin, and made by Johnson & Johnson, to treat the plague.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nazi Back Yard Legacy


Image Source: Der Spiegel via SOTT.

Recently, a friend was complaining about raccoons overturning trash cans in the back yard. I was surprised, because my friend is visiting family in Germany and raccoons are a North American species. Many outlets have reported that the raccoon presence in Germany is due to a little-known history of the Depression and the Second World War. The story goes that in 1934, leading Nazi Hermann Goering released a breeding pair outside Kassel, near Frankfurt:
Goering ordered the release of a breeding pair of raccoons when he was the Third Reich’s chief forester in 1934, to give hunters something to shoot. More got out in 1945 when an Allied bomb hit a farm where they were being reared for their pelts.
The Telegraph mentions further:
[A]t the request of the Reich Forestry Service, ... [Goering] authorised a pair to be released into the German countryside both to “enrich local fauna” and for sport. In the event, the hunted outlasted both the hunters and Hitler: with no natural predators, there are now 500,000 to a million raccoons in Germany, resulting in a decline in songbird numbers due to their fondness for eggs, and millions of pounds worth of damage to property. The animals have since spread to France, Eastern Europe and Russia.
The L A Times corrects this story, stating that the 1934 release is true, while the Goering connection is false; raccoons were actually introduced to Germany under controlled conditions in the 1920s for their pelts:
The Nazi reference springs in part from an account of the raccoon's origins in Germany that zoologists and wildlife biologists like Ehlert say is a myth.

The story has it that one of Hitler's closest advisors, military leader Hermann Goering, personally ordered the release of imported raccoons into Germany's forests, either to foster biodiversity — in utter contrast to the Nazis' evil ideology of human racial purity — or to increase the number of game animals for Germany's avid hunters.

Ehlert said a forestry official did release two pairs of raccoons from the United States into the wild in 1934 to promote diversity of fauna, though Goering had nothing to do with it. Then, during World War II, a bomb destroyed a farm near Berlin where raccoons were being raised for their pelts, allowing about 20 of the critters to escape.

These two dozen ancestors essentially gave rise to today's raccoon population in Germany, which is impossible to tally exactly but which Hohmann estimates is edging toward the 1 million mark.
The initial German releases were compounded when departing NATO soldiers turned loose their raccoon mascots in France in the 1960s. Like many stories in the media these days, the Goering connection is so compelling that it is reported even though it's not true. The false story becomes the generally-accepted truth. If anything, the real Nazi legacy here comes from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. And the spread of raccoons, like the spread of the cane toad in Australia, is an ongoing corner of ecological history, the environmental dimension of human affairs.

Hermann Goering (1893-1946), WWI flying ace, founder of the Gestapo, and WWII Nazi commander of Hitler's air force. He was the first Nazi authority at the scene when the Reichstag burnt down in 1933. But the raccoons in German back gardens are not part of his legacy. Image Source: Heinrich Hoffman via Life via dA.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Smallpox Afterlife


Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox (1969). Image Source: CDC (ID #15226).

Caption for the above photograph: "This is a statue of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox. It is part of the CDC’s Global Health Odyssey (GHO) collection of artifacts. A uniquely carved wooden figure, it is adorned with layers of meaningful objects such as a monkey skull, cowrie shells, and nails. Donated in 1995 by Ilze and Rafe Henderson, it was created by a traditional healer who made approximately 50 Shaponas as commemorative objects for the CDC, WHO, and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication."

Officially, smallpox was eradicated in 1979. One of the most feared of illnesses, it still exists in disease research centres in the United States and Russia. The disease was eradicated through a global mass vaccination campaign in the 1960s and 1970s. To see photos of the disease symptoms, and of the gruesome occasional reactions to the vaccinations, go to the Centers for Disease Control site (here). The images are not for the faint-hearted.

The last people who naturally contracted two variations of smallpox both survived and are still alive. One was Rahima Banu Begum, who had the last known case of naturally occurring Variola major smallpox in 1975, on Bhola Island in the Bangladesh district of Barisal. In a 2009 interview, she stated that she is still treated poorly by villagers and family members because she once had the disease. The other is Ali Maow Maalin, a Somalian cook who contracted the last case of naturally occurring Variola minor smallpox in 1977. Interviewed most recently in 2006, he now works for the World Health Organization to promote vaccination campaigns.

Smallpox and humans have a long history. The virus emerged around 10,000 BCE. Wiki notes some of the virus's modern history: the disease devastated Native American populations with the arrival of European colonists in the 16th century; with no previous exposure, they died at the rate of 80 to 90 per cent. Sometimes, Europeans infamously spread smallpox to Native Americans on purpose, although historians debate the degree to which this occurred. Smallpox killed about 400,000 Europeans annually at the end of the 18th century. It killed between 300 million and 500 million people in the 20th century.

Vaccination against the disease also had a long history. Intentional exposure of healthy people to another's smallpox scabs was practiced as far back as 1,000 BCE in India; this exposure might cause death, but usually brought on a mild form of the disease, which one might survive, thereafter becoming immune. The smallpox vaccine was the world's very first vaccine to be developed, by Edward Jenner in 1796, through his use of the milder cowpox virus. Similar treatments had preceded Jenner's work as early as the 1770s. The term 'vaccine' comes from the Latin vacca for cow.

The development of a stable vaccine in the 1960s led to the World Health Organization's innoculation campaign between 1967 and 1977. After a fatal 1978 accident at a UK repository, only two repositories of the disease remained: the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Koltsovo, Russia.

Since then, smallpox lurks in hideous sleeping afterlife, always promising to reemerge as the ultimate bio-threat. When one considers that smallpox was humanity's constant companion for some twelve millennia and has only been at bay for a mere 33 years, it is easy to see why it is still a cause for worry. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the possibility that weaponized artificial smallpox could be created as bioengineering gathers pace. But another thread appears through all the fears of pandemics, the politics, the foreign policy and secrecy: the smallpox vaccine offers a potential cure for some cancers

Below the jump, see some points about smallpox which have come to light since 1990.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Malaria Studied in 20 Million Year Old Fly

Image Source: Parasites and Vectors.

From Twitter: "Whoa! 20 million year old fly in amber was carrying malaria, and sucking bat blood" (Hat tip: Bug Girl).  This fly, encased in amber, lived in the mid-Tertiary period, a violent time running from the extinction of the dinosaurs, to the beginning of mammals, to the onset of the beginning of the most recent Ice Age. This period featured one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever to occur on the planet (it took place in Colorado).  The Tertiary period was initially classified in the 18th century by Italian geologist Giovanni Arduino as the period of the Biblical Flood.  The tweet refers to an article at Parasites and Vectors, concerning research into the form of malaria carried by this fly.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Millennial Mysteries: Dead Birds, Dead Birds, Dead Birds ...

Dead birds found on Feb. 20 at the University of Texas at Arlington. Image Source: The Shorthorn.

Curiouser and curiouser.  This week, three reports are circulating about dead birds: one from Maryland, one from Pennsylvania, and one from Texas.  Unlike earlier cases, two of these incidents now involve ritualistic aspects, just in time for Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flu Scare at Auckland Airport

Image Source: NBR.

Following up from this post, there is an ongoing Flu scare at Auckland airport right now:

A major health response is under way after an Air New Zealand plane landed at Auckland Airport with children with flu-like symptoms on-board. A group of 73 children arrived into Auckland off NZ90 from Narita, Tokyo, at 9.20am this morning with the symptoms. Air New Zealand is following public health procedures and has advised the Auckland Regional Public Health Service. The Boeing 777-200 has 274 passengers on-board, and no-one has been allowed to exit the aircraft.             
                  
Medical staff are now on board the plane.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Millennial Horrors: Flu Research Moratorium in Effect


Image Source: WHO via Charcoal Handwriting.

I had already seen reports on this floating around in academic discussions, but recent news on controversial research on the deadly Bird Influenza H5N1 has become mainstream.  Slate notes that scientists have tweaked the virus so that it can jump between mammals. This was done to understand the virus better and prepare a vaccine, but it's not like nature and Bioterrorists needed help with the human contagion aspect of the disease. Ian Lipkin, Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, stated that, “publishing this information would give people a roadmap to creating Frankenstein viruses.”

Epidemiologists were worried enough by this research that the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity successfully demanded that all research in this direction stop publication for two months so that the scientific community can discuss its hazards. H1N1 broke out into a global pandemic in 2009 that was contained through mass vaccinations, although 14,286 people died. It was the second H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic in history (the virus actually combined several strains, including a Bird and two Swine Flu strains); it was not as lethal as its predecessor: the first H1N1 global pandemic was the 1918 Flu pandemic, which killed between 50 and 100 million people, or 3 to 6 per cent of the world population at the time. The 1918 pandemic killed 25 million people in its first 25 weeks. This type of Flu tends to affect healthy, younger adults most severely.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Millennial Horrors: Frantic Efforts to Quell Epidemics in South Korea

Live pigs being buried in South Korea, 2011. Image Source: MfA Blog.

In terms of staring at the word 'Apocalypse' and watching it suddenly and quietly take on new depth of meaning, this report is worse than the dead birds and fish in January (my updated blog post on that story is here).  Thanks to a Seoul-based friend of mine, who just told me about the horrific attempts in South Korea to quell simultaneous outbreaks of hoof and mouth disease (which began on November 28 with infected pigs in the city of Andong in North Gyeongsang province) and bird flu.  Most of the country's livestock - some 3 million animals and roughly 5 million birds - have been buried alive in rapidly dug pits in the past three weeks.