Friday, July 29, 2011

The Waste of Human Potential

Every day, within the human world, there is the regrettable and apparently inexorable waste of human potential.  Every day, countless numbers of individuals die from the starvation not because there is a scarcity of food, but because they do not have access to the abundance that does exist.  Everyday large numbers of humans die from diseases and conditions that are preventable, treatable and, in some cases, curable, only because they lack the resources to gain access to the wondrous medical advances that exist in the larger world.  Every day, tens of millions of children are denied access to meaningful educational resources; the net effect of this reality is that these children will never realize the wondrous gifts that they possess.  Instead, they will be relegated to a future in which their primary behavior will be directed towards survival in a world that apparently rejects their possible contributions to the larger society.  Every day, millions upon millions of human beings are without a place of shelter to which they can retreat from the relentless onslaught of their daily lives.  Every day, the natural environment worsens as human societies continue to pursue reckless and short-sided policies that suggest a grim future for the species.

Contemporary humans are living a tragedy that is wholly preventable.  There is no legitimate reason why any individual cannot have access to all the necessities required for a meaningful life.  There is no reasonable explanation for the barbaric conditions in which so many live.  There is no rational discourse that can abide the miserable fate of so many of the human kind other than the belief that only a few of us are deserving and the rest are the castoffs in the pursuit of wealth and power.

The pathetic aspect of the human condition is that we can be the architects of a very different world – a world that can not only sustain human life, but also enrich the lives of all of us, everywhere. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Entirely New Breed of Bacteria

It has been well established that the fundamental building blocks for life are proteins, fats, carbohydrates and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA).  The elements that are required to assemble these constituents are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and phosphorus.  In addition there are trace metallic elements that are required for metabolic activity through the agency of enzymes, oxygen transport and other biological functions; examples of these are iron, zinc and molybdenum.  These are usually present in trace amounts and function as necessary co-factors in a host of enzyme activities.  There have been many reported instances of substitutions in regard to these co-factors; examples include the substitution of tungsten for molybdenum and cadmium for zinc.  There has also been reported the substitution of copper for iron as an oxygen carrier in some arthropods and mollusks.
Doctor Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues at the NASA Astrobiology Institute have recently made quite an astounding discovery.  They discovered a bacterium, strain GFAJ-1, isolated from Mono Lake in California  that is capable of growing in the presence of Arsenic (As).  Furthermore, they were able to show in the laboratory that As was incorporated into the structure of nucleic acids and proteins. As is a chemical analog of phosphorus (P); it resides directly below P on the periodic table.  Its similarity to P in terms of its chemical properties explains why it is a deadly poison for complex multi-cellular organisms such as humans.
This is quite a significant discovery; it dramatizes just how adaptable living organisms can be.  Furthermore, it may broaden our perspective regarding the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Hope for Those Suffering from Type 1 Diabetes

Unlike adult-onset diabetes, type 1 diabetes occurs early in life and is considered to be an autoimmune disease where the body's own immune system becomes mobilized against the insulin-producing cells that reside in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.  This is an extremely devastating illness, since the resulting dramatic loss of insulin results in high levels of glucose in the blood – a condition known as hyperglycemia.  Although insulin treatments can control this condition, excess glucose circulating in the blood system reacts with tissues throughout the body and leads to devastating side effects over time including blindness, kidney dysfunction, heart disease and the enhanced likelihood of amputations on account of poor circulation.


There is, however, encouraging news on the horizon.  Results from a clinical trial conducted by Doctor Denise Faustman and her colleagues from the Immunology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital indicate that a medication, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) used routinely as part of the treatment regimen for bladder cancer and as vaccination against tuberculosis could significantly improve the treatment for type 1 diabetes.  BCG is produced from a strain of the weakened live bovine tuberculosis bacillus.


In regards to the mode of action of this medication, it appears that it targets the immunoreactive cells responsible for the death of insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.  It seems that BCG stimulates the production of tumor necrosis factor produced used by certain cells in the immune system's repertoire to kill abnormal immune cells that invade healthy tissue.   In addition, those patients treated with high doses of BCG showed evidence of insulin production - a significant finding.  Faustman indicated that ,"Not only did we observe and measure the death of these self-targeting immune cells, but we also saw evidence of restoration of insulin production even in patients who've had type 1 diabetes for more than a decade."