Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is Antibacterial Soap Creating Superbugs?

Bacteria are among the most amazing organisms found on earth. They can evolve extremely fast, which allows more diversity and a better chance of survival. In recent studies biologists are finding that because of the nature of bacterial evolution, antibacterial soap is more harmful than beneficial. The purpose of antibacterial soap is to kill the bacteria, however, there are the few bacteria which are not affected by it and survive to reproduce further. Scientists think that the antibacterial craze is overdone. Joe Schwarcz a director at McGill University says “You don’t want to use a jackhammer to kill an ant when stepping on it will do”. He means why use antibacterial soap and run the risk of creating a resistant colony when you can use normal soap. Humans have survived centuries with only soap, why change now to a more risky substance. According to Natural Life Magazine the FDA is planning on banning antibacterial soap altogether. It is also stated in the Natural Life Magazine that antibacterial soap kills all bacteria including the good bacteria. This causes a threat because with the good bacteria gone there is no competition for the bad resistant bacteria. Therefore this could potentially create a domination species of bacteria. Eventually these bacteria could become resistant to most of the drugs we use and cause a colony of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Another aspect of antibacterial soap is that it is too sterile. Humans are a very delicate species and live in very sterile conditions. In order to have a good immune system we must come in contact with bacteria, so that our immune systems can make antibodies. A baby for instance needs this contact with bacteria in order to have any immune system at all.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sickle Cell Disease "Cure"

More than 70,000 Americans suffer from sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disorder that can be very painful and has no cure.
Fortunately doctors may be on the verge of discovering new treatments.
The hospital is a painfully common place for Juanita Gougis and Dave Auberry.
They have sickle cell anemia, and pain is just part of it.
In Dave's case it affected his growth. For Juanita it meant countless days away from school and social events.
Blood transfusions and surgery can reduce the risk of stroke and other complications, but there is no cure yet.
Dr. Yutaka Niihara may change that.
He made a surprising discovery when he was doing research on sickle cell.
"We did not want to believe it because it just seemed so simple," Dr. Niihara said.
The researchers found that when they applied glutamine, a common amino acid and nutritional supplement, to sickled cells in the lab it caused them to open up and become the normal ball-like shape.
"What this treatment does, is we are adding substance that is going to increase anti-oxidant in red blood cell and this seems to prevent all the damages that's caused by sickling," explained Dr. Niihara.
When Nihara and his team began to administer a strong form of glutamine to patients, the results were astonishing.
"We had about 85 percent success. One child had kidney dysfunction which is not uncommon for sickle cell patients. After starting on this medication, the kidney function start to normalize and this was really a fascinating story for me because this was one case where things actually reversed," he said.
Juanita and Dave volunteered for the study.
"It's better to try something that could possibly give me less frequent crises. Even if it doesn't work for me, it might work for the next person that has sickle cell," Dave said.
Dave's crises went down from once a month to once every three months.
Juanita, who used to go to the the hospital for treatment six times a year, only went once in the last year and a half.
Researchers hope to one day start the treatment in infancy in order to prevent organ damage.

Sickle Cell Disease is an evolutionary response to Malaria. If we can stop sickle cells from forming, will malaria be a greater threat?

Sickle Cell disease has supposedly been around for 70,000-150,000 years.
"Available calculations suggest that this gene has developed between 3000 and 6000 generations, approximately 70000-150000 years ago", (
In all the regions where this disease originated, there is an endemic of malaria.

Malaria is a disease caused by protozoan parasites and are transferred between individuals by a vector (mosquitoes). Malaria has many affects on individuals, however since we have covered most of this in class; I will go over the general sociological and economic effects (Same with Sickle Cell Anemia).

Malaria infects about 400-900 million and kills 3 million of these a year and the vast majority infected are under 5 years of age. The death rate could double in twenty years if conditions remain the same ( In Sub-Sahara Africa, 85-90% of fatalities from Malaria occur.

Malaria has also been a cause of poverty in many Sub-Saharan countries, it is estimated to cost $12 Billion US Dollars per year.

Since Sickle Cell Disease is a result of a recessive trait, those which are homozygous recessive have a high chance of death. People who are homozygous dominant, will be affected by malaria. The true advantage is to be heterozygous. Heterozygous individuals have a dominant trait, and a recessive trait, which lets them become immune to malaria and still able to live. This is where the problems with this treatment begin, will more people die from Malaria because we cure sickle cell anemia?

Some doctors say that the trade off is better for those with sickle cell disease to take Glutamine because Malaria can be prevented by other methods such as Mosquito nets or Jesuits Bark.

Personally, I find that anything that will save lives is a good thing.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Evolution and Destruction of the Vancouver Island Marmot
To this day it is still unknown when the first marmot ancestor arrived on Vancouver Island. Some researchers believe they migrated here during the Illinoian glacial period 100 000 years ago, and others believe 10 000 years ago during the Cordilleran glacial period. During these ice ages the sea levels greatly declined and produced a pathway for the marmots to travel to the island. The marmots that traveled to the island became trapped when the glaciers melted and replenished the sea levels. This occurrence is what began the evolution of the Vancouver Island marmot.

Scientists described the first Vancouver Island marmot in 1911. They are herbivores that feed on over fifty species of grasses and wild flowers. They live in burrows they build that will have a number of exits. They are known to hibernate in these dens from Sept-April, as a family, and will block the exits with mud and grass. The marmots mate soon after waking, and produce three or four pups around July. Their average life span is roughly ten years old, and in this lifetime they can produce anywhere from twelve to fifteen pups. Roughly one third of young marmots will move away to start a new colony, consisting of at least two marmots.
-There has been a recent discovery of marmot bones in 6 caves in British Columbia, and the research of these bones began in 1988. One cave in Strathcona Park held the bones of 74 marmots. It was determined by analysis that these bones were 26 000 years old. Bones of thirteen Vancouver Island marmots were discovered in a small cave in an isolated mountain range near Clayquot Sound, just west of Port Alberni. It is believed that these bones were the remains of the animals hunted for food in these areas.

The population of marmots on the island is currently about 121 marmots on the island total, and because of this they are considered one of the most endangered animals in Canada. There are two small colonies on Mt. Washington, but unfortunately at least 5 larger colonies on the island have become extinct. There is land throughout the island that is available for these marmots, but they are having a difficult time reaching it. This is because of the mass amounts of clear-cut areas that marmots will not cross because of the possibility of being spotted by predators. It has been found that female marmots in these areas located close to clear-cuts produce less offspring, and with the numbers so low this decrease in offspring is quite devastating. The lack of ability to move from habitat to habitat has had a huge impact of the population, and causes a decrease in genetic drift. Scientists believe that captive breeding and reintroducing will assist in getting this animal off of the endangered list. Marmots are being held for breeding at the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, and there is talk of opening a special breeding center on Vancouver Island.

Since clear cutting is the major destructor of this marmot species, I for one believe that we should explore alternate options to this logging technique. It affects a number of species, where as, other less drastic options would not demolish these habitats in this extreme manner. It is the pure selfishness of human beings that urges us to ignore these facts! Instead, we concentrate on what many believe is more important; money and a strong economy. I am convinced that with the diverse options available, including selective logging and alternate planning strategies these major logging companies could still make themselves money, while sparing the lives of wild species. In turn, this would keep environmentalists, and animal activists off their back, providing a win-win situation. We have all seen the attention activists can bring to situations and specific companies. If you were running one of these companies wouldn’t you want to avoid any bad publicity that could seriously damage the reputation of your company? Wouldn’t you want to avoid making it look like its being ran by money hungry corporate thugs?

The biggest influence on the population numbers is the clear cutting that is leading to many tragedies in wildlife eco-systems, but scientists are also looking for other possible problems. Some research is being done on marmot fecal and blood matter to test for Yersina and other potential pathogens. There is not very much known about the reproductive systems, but more is currently being learnt at the breeding facilities.
Through my research of the Vancouver Island marmot I learnt that at these zoos, where the breeding is taken place, marmots are being fed rabbit pellets, yams, broccoli, beets, spinach and carrots. This sound nice for the marmots but what I would like to know is how this will affect the marmots when they are returned to the wild. I also learned that they enjoy eating dandelions. I strongly believe that animals being bred with the intention of being returned to their natural habitat should be kept in habitats as similar to he ones they will be returning to. This includes feeding them foods that they can access on their own, in the wild.

not so perfect

      I've often thought of how miraculous evolution really is, how amazing it is to find such infinitely complex structures that have been derived from billions of years of natural selection, how all of these "perfect" structures somehow or other originated from a single celled ancestor. Take, for instance, the human eye. Human eyes, and in fact most vertebrate eyes, are pretty incredible don't you think? We can see a broad range of colours, we have an acute sense of depth perception, and in fact primates are believed to have lost much of their sense of smell and hearing due to an increased reliance on our keen eyesight. Our eyes seem perfectly evolved to give us full colour, clear and true vision.
     I was intrigued when I picked up a recent issue of New Scientist that in their article, Evolution's Greatest Mistakes, Claire Ainsworth and Michael Le Page argue that the halls of human evolution are actually full of bloopers, and big "mistakes". Surprisingly, a good case of an evolutionary "oops" is the vertebrate eye. Contratry to my initial thoughts, our eyesight is actually quite far from perfect. According to Ainsworth and Le Page, "vertebrate eyes" have a huge flaw: "the retina, is wired up back-to-front, with the light-sensitive cells behind the nerves and blood vessels that support it". Apparently this distorts our vision and causes a substantial "blind spot in each eye". Although there is a small spot in the center of the retina that is not obstructed by these blood vessels, called the fovea, we still only have a small dot of full colour, detailed, in focus vision and a large out-of-focus periphery.
     Graham Lawton explores the concept of the imperfect eye in his article, Mind Tricks. Far from my assumption of clear and true vision, he calls our vision merely "sporadic input". Lawton reveals that what we see as a "seamless visual experience" is noneother than the patchwork collage of "fixations", or short bursts of vision, which are gathered in between the small darting movements of our eyes "called saccades". Apparently each time we move our eyes they cease to pick up visual information for that fraction of a second. Since we flick our eyes on average three times each second there is a lot we are not picking up. Most of us will never be able to see this blind spot, because it happens so quickly that we do not "see" it. However, if you want to test this theory Lawton suggests that you watch "your eyes close-up in the mirror and flick your focus back and forth from one pupil to another. However hard you try you cannot see your eyes move - even though somebody watching you can."
     The worst of it is that while your visual cortex isn't looking your brain is filling in the gaps with what it thinks you should be seeing. This likely explains why when the police interrogate five different eye witnesses, they tend to get five very different stories of what was or was not seen.
     So the question is why on earth would natural selection favour misassembled retinas, a mere peekhole of clear vision, and a line of sight that clocks off three times per second? The truth is probably that although the structure of the eye is not as perfect as it could be it is pretty useful at fulfilling it's evolutionary purpose: proliferation of the species by allowing us to quickly identify food and danger which in turn enables us to survive long enough to reproduce.


Ainsworth, C., & Le Page, M. (2007, August 11). Evolution's Greatest Mistakes. New Scientist, 36 - 39.

Lawton, G. (2007, September 22). Mind Tricks: Six ways to explore your brain. New Scientist, 35 - 41.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The "Scientific" Reliability of Natural Selection

Although Europe has taking the initiative of banning the teaching of Creationism, it is important to look at how the North American school system takes a similar approach. In science classes the theory of evolution is presented as the primary explanation for life on Earth without much emphasis on creationism of intelligent design. Interestingly, it appears that criticism for Darwin's theory is becoming a more popular topic in the psychological field. Several of these arguments I feel, should be made more apparent in the typical schooling environment.
During the development of Social Darwinism, several of Darwin's theories came under attack from psychologists around the world. According to Karl Popper, a science is only valid if it can be disproven. This principle of falsifiability provides the largest criticism of evolution; that the "fact" cannot be challenged. It is virtually impossible to refute Darwin's arguments, however this does not necessarily demonstrate scientific reliability. In addition, it has been implied that the reliability of many of the stories that founded Darwin's theory are questionable. The reliability of the peppered moth, Darwin's finches, fossil record and probiotic soup have all been attacked.
Clearly, Darwin's theory cannot be entirely proven as we would expect from a "scientific" theory that has entirely transformed our world view. It's validity does not meet the standards we would expect from other scientific hypotheses although there is substantial supporting evidence. It is possible to view Darwin's theory as a philosophical assumption rather than an actual science. In this case, how are we to say that it should take priority over the teaching of other philosophical theories such as creationism?


Study of ID means fair debate in schools - December 30, 2003By Curtis L. Brickley J

class discussions, PSYC 210 UVIC

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bacterial Spores

When certain bacterium(Bacillus,Clostridium) are exposed to environmental changes, or a lack of food source,often times they will enter a state of change in order to protect themselves from damage. Once a cell notices these changes it begins to make a copy of its chromosome and replicate. In a sense the bacteria will "mummify" itself into what are called spores or endospores. These spores are incredibly difficult to destroy and are usually not affected by changes in heat, pressure, pH, lack of nutrient or even radiation! This has a lot to do with how the spore is formed, containing very hard multi layered coats for protection, thick layers of peptidoglycan and the ability to be dormant for long periods. It is possible that some bacteria could have even been revived after lying dormant for millions of years! This is truly an incredible survival technique, maybe researchers could use the same technologies to keep people with disease in a dormant state until a cure is found?
However, not all bacteria have the ability to spore but most that live in soil do and can be very harmful when contracted. These endospores can cause many serious diseases in humans. Anaerobic sporing bacteria can cause such diseases as botulism (Clostridium botulinum), gas gangrene (Clostridium perfringens), tetanus (Clostridium tetani), and acute food poisoning (Clostridium perfringens). Aerobic bacteria such as the well known anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) can also cause significant health issues.
One of widely unknown features of the spore is how it actually returns to a living bacterial state. So far researchers believe that the spore can only awaken from its dormancy once the conditions surrounding it are returned to the levels that were present when the bacterium was thriving. In the past it has been widely unknown how the spore actually breaks out of its dormant state but a new study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have proven many great insights. They have studied Bacillus atrophaeus spores and revealed that when the spore is awakening the spore coat will actually breakdown and a new bacterium will emerge!! Scary! almost a little too much like the Alien movies!
Although hard to fathom, hopefully these new studies will allow us to more clearly understand bacterial spores in order to better treat infections and to aide in protecting ourselves from future disease.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Creationism in Europe

For over 100 years now, there have been heated debates of Evolution vs. Creationism. A debate which has a way of seeping into our daily lives, and now, once again, into our school systems.On October 5Th, the Council of Europe, responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights, declared an end to the teaching of Creationism in schools, stating "if we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights." This, to me, seems a bit harsh.

The main argument presented, was that Creationism is a theory, not a science, and as such, should not be taught in classrooms. But then why do we refer to it as the "theory" of evolution...

Now, I'm not saying that I strongly believe one way or another, but I do believe it is irresponsible of the European government to ban the referencing to this proposed view. I think that we all have the right to be made aware of all the possibilities, however controversial they might be, so we can make our own, educated decision about the world we live in. There is amazing evidence of evolution. It is happening around us as we speak. But I think it is still important to provide ALL the facts, especially in a high school setting, where students are at a stage where they are in the process of deciding in what they do and do not agree with.

I also found it interesting how quickly our societies view on the matter has changed in such a short time span. For example, look back to the 1925 John Scopes "monkey" trial, when a Tennessee high school biology teacher was prosecuted for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Now, we've made so many advances in the theory of evolution, with the help of the fossil record and molecular biology, that the opinions of most have changed tremendously.
I guess all I am saying is that, like anything else we are taught in school, we should be presented with all the arguments so that we can make an informed decision for ourselves.
Take a look:

Monday, October 8, 2007

They are talking about us!!!

The Bayblab dudes are a very nice bunch. Interesting guys and interested in science and everything in between....and they are talking about us!!! Visit them here:

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Irreducible Complexity

While looking through this blog, I stumbled upon a link to an Intelligent Design Discussion. Where I learned about an interesting idea, that raises some potential problems with traditional Darwinian evolution. The webpage has an essay written by Biochemist Dr. Michael Behe, who marvels at the complexity of human life and purposes the question, how can, “Darwinian natural selection account for the amazing complexity that exists at the molecular level.” He then says, “Darwin himself set the standard when he acknowledged, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." ” He then goes on to introduce the idea of “irreducible complexity,” which is a biological structure or system which would be a difficult to build with successive modifications, because if you take away one of the parts of the system, the structure ceases to function and is useless. It would then become a vestigial structure, and natural selection would slowly eliminate it. One of the structures which Behe mentions is the flagella of bacteria. The motor flagellum consists of about 40 different parts, but if you took away any one of those parts it wouldn’t function, and would actually become a disadvantage. This raises the question, how could the flagellum (or any other irreducibly complex structure) be formed by successive and slight modifications. I find the concept of irreducible complexity very interesting and wonder why I have never heard of it before.

On the website Behe presents his argument and then there is a response by Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, who presents some potential problems with Behe’s argument. Curiously enough there is no response given by Behe on the webpage, but I wondered how Behe might respond to Miller’s argument, or if he even had a response. I asked around and found a whole heap of websites surrounding the idea of “irreducible complexity”. Some supported the idea and some refuted it.

I found that one of the main arguments that people had against Behe’s idea was that he hadn’t published any papers in scientific journals regarding the subject, and hadn’t presented the idea for peer-review, which is a common method of testing and critiquing a scientific idea. The frustrating thing, is that he has submitted essays on this topic to science journals, and they will not publish them because of their “controversial nature,” and they admit that they are “aware of the close-mindedness of the scientific community.” Isn’t science about discovering what is true and being open to new ideas?!? Isn’t science supposed to be open to theories which may contradict the current scientific beliefs? Think about Galileo. Are we supposed to accept everything we learn about Darwinian evolution, without thinking critically and having an open-mind. I sympathize with Behe. I find it absurd that a scientific journal can admit to the close-mindedness of a science, when we learn that science is supposed to be about new discovery and finding the truth.

I find Behe’s theory about Irreducible Complex structures very interesting. He doesn’t mention God or religion, and he doesn’t appear to disagree that man is decendent from single-celled life, just that it couldn't have occured through "successive, slight modifications," as Darwin put it. I am very discouraged by the apparent intolerance of the scientific community towards any ideas which present arguments against traditional evolution. I encourage everyone to look into it, and post some discussion about his ideas.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Evolution Cannot Prove Everything

The theory of evolution has been adapted a lot since Darwin wrote his "Orgin of Species". His theory was based on very careful observations of plants and animals and fossil records. It is hard to argue with many of his statements because we can see many examples of evolution happening within our own lifetime. These changes happen in things like viruses and bacteria a lot, as we know when they mutate to become drug resistant, etc. A lot of observations from nature imply that plants and animals adapt to the surroundings they are forced to live in.

For example, white polar bears are white to help them blend in to the snow and ice in their environment. African people have darker skin because over centuries it changed so they could live safely in more direct sunlight. North Europeans have blue eyes and light skin so they can absorb more sunlight and receive the Vitamin D they need to be healthy.

These adaptations also apply to the plant world. Plants can even be meat eating if they grow in places with little light and need to get their nutrients from other places than the sun.

No one argues with observed adaptations. No one argues with the evidence of "micro-evolution" that happens around us all the time.

However, I think that Darwin's theories and those of most secular evolutionists can only explain these observations from the context of their own belief systems. Darwin was a humanist. He thought a higher power, or God, had nothing to do with the changes in the physical world--that is, if there was a God at all.

I am not saying that I believe a traditional Christian view of God creating the earth in 6 days and all that kind of stuff, but that I see real gaps with some of the basic assumptions of Darwin's theories that have never been adequately proven.

For example, if you say that a human originally came from a single celled organism, whether plant or animal, where did that original organism come from? Also, if nature is totally set up as survival of the fittest, why are there still weaker species still on the earth with stronger ones?

Also, how can you adequately explain the level of biodiversity that exists in a single area? Natural selection would have eliminated most of it in favor of a few strong species.

Also, there has never been a real discovery of the "missing link" between animal (ape) and human discovered. There have been many reports, but nothing real.

I believe that your personal beliefs greatly influence how you interpret the data you see. Three people can see the same piece of news information and get three different interpretations of the same facts.

I see adaptations in everything, but significant evolutionary jumps, not.

I know these views are likely to spark some debate, but isn't that what this blog is about? If you want, check out the following sites to add some more fuel to the fire.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Biological Monuments

While cruising the World-Wide-Web for a blog worthy topic, I stumbled across an article from the Associated Press I found quite interesting. CBC reports National Garden Clubs, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes a love of gardening in the United States and overseas, will plant a tree cloned from President Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home on Long Island. It will join several other trees cloned from the estates of past American presidents, creating a tree tribute to dead American powerhouses.

Initially I rolled my eyes at the thought of science, yet again, breaking the bounds of Mother Nature. Who are we to clone the most majestic natural specimen for the pleasure of some American loyalists? I am a true traditionalist when it comes to the planet and at times I don’t think science should be budding its nose into something that has worked just fine for millennia. Keep the tree where the tree stands! What guarantee do they have that these cloned wanna-be trees won’t be susceptible to diseases? Or worse, introduce a disease that will devastate a garden, forest or entire ecosystem. Will these replicas be just as genetically sound as the originals? How will this intruder affect the environment its put in?

After considerable thought and internal debate however, I am of the opinion that this cloning thing - if done right - could be a huge advantage to ecosystems that have been, or are becoming debilitated by humans heavy hand. Will science evolve enough to save entire ecosystems? What about a rain forest? Or a boreal forest? Can this genetically manipulated flora be adapted to allow BC pine trees a resistance to the devastating effects of the Pine Beetle? Can such manipulation progress to a point where coral can be altered to survive in a warmer ocean? If so, this could signify monumental benefits to the planets ecosystems.

I still think science tends to cross ethical lines but I love my planet and I would like to see it continue to thrive for my nephew’s sake. I find it only fair that he gets to explore the diversity this planet has to offer, despite our abuses of the environment.

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