Early childhood exposures and a healthy life

I was busy over the weekend (and disgusted by the hot, nasty weather that will not die), so I don’t have a lot on tap for today. Luckily, though, there’s some interesting stuff elsewhere that’s already written up–thoughtfully saving me some of the trouble.

I discuss the link between infectious and “chronic” disease with some regularity on this site. I think it’s a fascinating area; perhaps oversold by some, perhaps over-criticized by others, but certainly a hot topic and an interesting direction for research in microbiology. This weekend’s New York Times had a new story that touched on the link. (More below…)

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Limits on biological information–where do we draw the line?

Chuck Darwin posed a very good question here that I’m spinning off into a new discussion.

The work Taubenberger and others are doing on the evolution of influenza a century ago is fascinating and could very well be pertinent to prediciting future influenza virus genetic drift/shift, host-virus interactions, etc. However, I ask myself if the benefits of this work for future public health, as well as for general scientific interest, is worth the risks when it comes to biosecurity. With reverse genetics methods introduced a few years ago, any influenza virus can be generated through relatively common, albeit cumbersome, molecular biological techniques. For someone with a solid background in molecular biology and the ability to read the average materials and methods section, it would only take the proper resources to generate any strain someone wanted.

This concern extends to other viruses. I have a real problem with the sequence of smallpox being determined and made publicly available, as, once again, tedious but straightforward cloning techniques are now available to, in theory, produce smallpox virus “from scratch”. In short, I am curious what everyone here thinks about these issues. Is the human “need to know”, a trait that is particulary strong in scientists, going a little too far in some facets of biology? Should the virology community be making a greater effort to discuss the ethical and security implications of their work? Self-regulation in the early stages of recombinant DNA technology was very impressive. Have we lost our way while technology speeds forward?

spudbeach already responded in this comment and Dior here; I’m putting my thoughts below the fold and welcome comments from everyone else.
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Sequencing pre-1918 influenza viruses

Somehow I missed this story in the June issue of Science:

…Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, D.C., said that RNA found in tissue samples from pneumonia patients who died in 1915 shows that the virus’s hemagglutinin–an all-important coat protein–is a subtype called H3. If confirmed, “that’s tremendously exciting,” says molecular biologist Ian Wilson of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California. Knowing the virus’s entire genetic makeup–which Taubenberger believes is possible–would shed fresh light on where the 1918 killer flu may have originated, Wilson says.

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Children’s books–the unofficial “ask a scienceblogger”

So, over at the World’s Fair, they’ve put together an unofficial ask a scienceblogger:

Are there any children’s books that are dear to you, either as a child or a parent, and especially ones that perhaps strike a chord with those from a science sensibility? Just curious really. And it doesn’t have to be a picture book, doesn’t even have to be a children’s book – just a book that, for whatever reason, worked for you.

So, I’m quite late to the party, but nevertheless I’ve listed some books below–some science, most not–that either I read as a kid, or I read with my kids now, or both.
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New story on Morgellons disease

Every couple of months, it seems, comes a new media story on Morgellons disease, a “mysterious ailment” in which

Most individuals with this disease report disturbing crawling, stinging, and biting sensations, as well as non-healing skin lesions, which are associated with highly unusual structures. These structures can be described as fiber-like or filamentous, and are the most striking feature of this disease. In addition, patients report the presence of seed-like granules and black speck-like material associated with their skin.

Sounds like something that’s right up my alley of interest, but I’ve not written anything on it yet. This isn’t because I’m not interested, but simply because there’s hardly anything in the biomedical literature about the disease–if it’s even a disease at all. Nevertheless, the Chicago Tribune has a new story on the topic, detailing some of the difficulties that come with deciding if it’s a real ailment at all, and if so, how to study it.
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