Nominate your favorite science audio and video projects for Science Studio’s “Best Of” collection!
I love science multimedia, you love science multimedia, everyone loves science multimedia (or at least they do if they want to be friends with us). That’s right, YouTube videos, animations, radio, podcasts, professional or indy … it’s all fair game. And Science Studio will be choosing the best and brightest for their anthology later this year.
Anything published in 2012 is fair game, which sadly means that MY YouTube channel is not eligible (boo-hooooooo :( I know you wanted to nominate all my videos).
Go submit your favorites! Or your favourites*! They deserve it.
Is This the Future of Flu Vaccines?
See that picture up above? You’re looking at one of the most advanced weapons (to fight a microscopic enemy) the human race has ever created. It’s a nanoparticle (in gray) coated with synthetically produced coat proteins (HA, to be precise) from the influenza virus. Normally, flu mashes its coat proteins together like so:
The nanoparticles may be a major step toward a universal vaccine, which, of course, would be an awesome thing to have, save millions of lives, help us prevent a mass pandemic, etc.
Because flu viruses mutate, shuffle and swap their genes so frequently, the precise shape of the proteins that make up their spiky suit of armor is constantly being tweaked. It’s like how, from afar, a Sarahan sand dune might appear the same shape and height from day to day, but when you look closely, the precise contours of its windswept dimpled have been changed ever so slightly by erosion. On and on it changes, never the same twice.
Our immune system relies on sentry proteins called antibodies in order to recognize foreign invaders like flu based on their binding to those precise contours and shapes, like tiny chinks in the armor. The exact set of antibodies that killed last year’s flu are stored in your immune system’s memory, ready to keep you safe from that infection in the future. Because the flu virus shuffles and tweaks its shape from year to year, we are constantly playing catch-up, reacting to new armor every year. It’s like going home to find the lock changed, every day having to cut a new key.
If we could just make antibodies that bind to an unchanging part of the viral protein, like the trunks of those blue protein trees up there, we might be able to defend ourselves from future mutants with a single vaccination. But the virus keeps those parts hidden just enough to keep otherwise universal antibodies from attacking it.
That’s where this new research from Gary Nabel and his group might come in handy. By attaching the HA coat protein (again, the blue thing) from influenza to nanoparticles, their Achilles Heel is exposed and strong, universal antibodies are amplified and stored in your body’s defense bank. They built this nanoparticle vaccine from a 1999 strain’s HA protein, and it protected animals from a half-century’s worth of H1N1 viruses! It’s as close to universal as I’ve ever heard.
Point: humans. But, these are tricky bugs, and we shouldn’t get cocky, especially without human trials (yet). But we have brains, and they don’t. That’s really our best weapon, no?
Ed Yong has more at Nature News, and you can check out the original research in Nature.
You bet I do!
I know that feeling. How can you pick a favorite branch of science? WHY would you pick a favorite?
Well, I don’t have much first-hand knowledge about the inner workings of the 13-year-old mind (some things are beyond even science), but did you guys know I have a list of science book recommendations on my blog? I’ve recently updated it! Check ‘em out here.
It’s impossible to create a comprehensive list, but you can always tweet me or email me (itsokaytobesmart at gmail) if there’s something I should add or if you have a really special favorite Tumblr users can reply below?
Wee Yeasty Beasties
Fungi are like Rodney Dangerfields of the microbial world. Funny looking, often oddly round, and they get no respect.
I mean, their name suggests that they’d be rather enjoyable to hang out with*. A new survey of the human skin ecosystem has identified some of their diverse influence on human health and biology.
For as much attention as our microbiome gets these days (need a microbiome introduction? I made a video about it), the bacteria receive most of the publicity. But as the photo above shows, many regions of our bodies are teeming with yeast and other fungi (the blue dots are yeast on a human hair). Understanding their diversity is essential to figuring out who’s a good fungi and who’s a yeast beast.
Not only is it important to understand how these various species lead to medical annoyances like toenail infections, athlete’s foot, dandruff, diaper rash, and, of course, yeast infections, but also how they interact with or are held in check by our bacterial copilots. With as many as 60 to 80 different species living on your feet, who’s welcome and who’s a ticking time bomb for a locker-room itch-fest?
Read more at NPR or check out the original research in Nature.
*That’s a “fun guy” joke. I hope you got it. Not the fungus. The joke.