Going Viral Against Cancer

We have heard of viruses causing cancer (HPV) or even cancers that act like viruses (devil facial tumor virus).

But now there is a virus that can fight cancer! An engineered herpevirus provokes an immune response against cancer. And after a long hard road, it has been approved to treat certain types of cancer by the FDA!

Read about it over at Nature!

Killer T cells (orange) are recruited to attack malignant cells (mauve) in the viral-based cancer therapy T-VEC.

Killer T cells (orange) are recruited to attack malignant cells (mauve) in the viral-based cancer therapy T-VEC.

Why the Elephant Didn’t get Cancer:

Follow my logic here: cancer occurs due to mutations in your cells. Elephants have A LOT more cells than people do. Therefore, elephants should have more cancer than people.

But they don’t. In fact, elephants have one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in the animal kingdom.

And scientist (at Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah School of Medicine, and Primary Children’s Hospital) have figured out the answer.

p53 heatshock proteins, known in some circles as the “Guardian of the Genome” (soon to be a Marvel movie I’m sure), are one of the key tumor suppressing genes. Humans have 2 genes for p53 proteins. Elephants have 38.

Read about it over at Slate!



Riding a Bike for Antibiotic Resistance Awareness

In 6 months, my friend Wesley Loftie-Eaton will cycle from Nairobi (Kenya) to Cape Town (South Africa). This epic trip is not only for the sake of adventure, but to raise awareness on antibiotic resistance and promote research in Africa. The first three blogs are already up and they are titled “Why cycling?“, “Why Antibiotic Action?” and “Why science in Africa?”.
A successful mission depends on promotion, so like, share, donate, subscribe, etc., to help Wesley in this important campaign.

His blog is here, go check it out!



23andMe will resume (some) genetic health testing


(Flickr: Nathan Nelson)

Via the New York Times, it looks like the home genotyping company 23andMe is getting the go-ahead from the US Food and Drug Administration to give customers medical information linked to their personal genetics. But not just any medical information:

The new health-related information 23andMe will provide is called carrier status. That relates to whether people have genetic mutations that could lead to a disease in their offspring, presuming the other parent has a mutation in the same gene and the child inherits both mutated genes. There will be information on 36 diseases, including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs.

Continue reading

What’s lurking on your glabella

Figure 1 from Grice and Segre (2011), showing the distribution of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mites on our skin and where glands and hair follicles originate.

Figure 1 from Grice and Segre (2011), showing the distribution of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mites on our skin and where glands and hair follicles originate.

Our skin is an amazing organ – it keeps our guts in and intruders out. We have an average of 1.8 m2 and this area contains many distinct regions that vary in pH, temperature, moisture, exposure, etc. Your forearm is dry, your cheeks are oily and your elbow crease is considered “moist”. Hair follicles, pores, glands, nails – if we think of our bodies as planets, there are a lot of different habitats. And it turns out our habitats are home to many, many things.

Oh et al. (2014) analyzed 263 samples from 15 human beings at 18 habitats (anatomical skin sites). They were interested in the biogeography of skin – and how it varies between people and across habitats. Do all forearms look alike? Do all “dry” habitats have similar function? It was already known that there are large scale microbial diversity patterns in the skin microbiome. For example, oily sites contain relatively low taxonomic diversity, perhaps because these sites are most selective when it comes to who is able to live there. At the other end of the diversity spectrum are dry sites, which tend to have high diversity.

Continue reading

Life, um, finds a way—except when it doesn’t

This week the LA Review of Books has my review of Unnatural Selection, a nifty new book in which ecological toxicologist Emily Monosson describes how living things evolve their way around the things we humans do to try and contain them.

… the introduction of the insecticide DDT rapidly led to the evolution of resistant mosquitoes, houseflies, and, yes, bedbugs. Decades of farming with the herbicide glyphosate, better known under the brand name Roundup, have led to the evolution of resistance in dozens of weed species. One after another, Monosson ticks off cases, dividing them into chapters corresponding roughly to biological classification. She goes beyond these headline examples to describe lesser-known triumphs of “resistance evolution,” such as viruses evading human immune responses and inadequate vaccination, cancer cells overcoming chemotherapy, and fish that survive water polluted by biochemical toxins.

This hits some of the same themes as that recent review about using evolutionary biology to solve major problems in the coming century, though I might have liked it if Unnatural Selection spent a bit more time discussing the cases when life doesn’t find a way—the myriad reasons we’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. But I highly recommend the book for the folks in your life who may not realize how personal evolutionary biology can be.

THE Darwin Fish.

Looks like this guy:

Is the cartoon version of this guy:

Cuvier’s Bichir

It walks. It breathes air. And apparently it can adapt to terrestrial life relatively “easily”.

The scientists raised groups of bichir on land for eight months to find out how they would differ from bichir raised in the water. They found that the land-raised fish lifted their heads higher, held their fins closer to their bodies, took faster steps, undulated their tails less frequently and had fins that slipped less often than bichir raised in water. The land-raised fish also underwent changes in their skeletons and musculature that probably paved the way for their changes in behavior. All in all, these alterations helped bichir move more effectively on land.


There’s a video too!