Darwin Day essay contest!

In honor of Darwin Day, Evil Monkey brings news of an essay contest being sponsored by the Alliance for Science:

2007 National High School Essay Contest

Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution? If you are a high school student in the United States, we want to hear your answer to that question. Send us an essay of not more than 1,000 words by March 31st.

There are cash prizes and more for winners; the details can be found here.

Mysterious illness fells honeybees

What’s killing honey bees?

Something is wiping out honey bees across North America and a team of researchers is rushing to find out what it is.

What’s being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has now been seen in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and way out in California. Some bee keepers have lost up to 80 percent of their colonies to the mysterious disorder.

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The Basics: you and your normal flora, Part II

So, I left off on Tuesday noting two things about our normal flora: 1) that in the big picture, we know hardly anything about them; and 2) that one reason we know so little about them is because we’ve never grown many of them in a laboratory setting–that is, we’ve never cultured them using our typical tools of the trade.

What’s one way to remedy this? Eliminate the need for culture, and take some cues from the microbial ecologists. More on this below.
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The Basics: you and your normal flora, Part I

I mentioned in the Introduction to Microbiology and Infectious Disease that many people don’t understand the difference between a commensal and a pathogenic organism. I also mentioned that I’d try to write something about microbial ecology. Since I just gave a lecture yesterday on normal human flora in health and disease, now seems as good a time as any to combine these two and discuss just what it means when microbiologists refer to “normal flora” or “commensal organisms,” and to talk about the microbial ecology of the human body in a series of posts on this topic.

First, though, a short note on terminology, as there are a number of other terms that are, essentially, interchangable. Sometimes you’ll see our normal flora referred to as “commensal” microbes, meaning that they may derive benefit from us but typically don’t cause us harm. In the literature, you’ll also come across the more science-y term “indigenous microbiota,” or perhaps “microbiome,” to refer to the same collection of organisms. I’m going to use “normal flora” throughout this series, just because it’s a personal preference. And so, without further ado, Part I begins after the jump…

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Not your typical high school fundraiser

“Sheesh, kids today” generally is a phrase said to malign the young’ins, who are typically characterized as slothful video game junkies. This stereotype ticked me off when I was a teenager (ah, back in the day…) and I’m sure some teenagers today feel the same way. So just to help combat that for “kids today,” I want to highlight this fundraiser started by two high schoolers, and being spread around on MySpace and other venues: Dollars for Darfur.

We started Dollars for Darfur because we got tired of waiting for others to change the world. Dollars for Darfur is a national high school fundraising effort to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Half of the money raised will fund humanitarian efforts for Darfuri refugees and the other half will fund the advocacy efforts of the Save Darfur Coalition. We believe high school students can help end this genocide.

You can help us spread the word. We are using Facebook and MySpace to organize fundraising events at high schools around the country. We hope you and your friends will join us in showing the people of Darfur that we care.

Nick Anderson & Ana Slavin
Northfield Mount Hermon School

If you have high school-age kids, you might want to mention it and see if their school is involved. I’m going to check at my local district as well.

HIV’s Kitzmiller v. Dover?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about HIV/AIDS denial on here. To be honest, the whole area has just burned me out a bit; it gets tiresome to even discuss issues with people who so fundamentally deny the basic tenets of microbiology and infectious disease epidemiology. But in my absence, there’s been quite a bit going on, much of it collected here at the AIDStruth website. However, I have to draw your attention to a notable story today.

The first is like something out of “Law and Order.” An HIV-positive man is appealing his conviction in Australia of endangering the lives of three women via unprotected sex:

South African-born Andre Chad Parenzee, 34, infected one of the women, a mother of two, but the other two tested negative to the virus. He had told the three of them that he had cancer.

He was convicted in 2004; he’s appealing the case, and HIV deniers are playing a role in the defense, by denying the existence of HIV itself, and saying it’s just fine to have unprotected sex with someone who tests positive for HIV:
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National Wear Red Day tomorrow

Heart disease is still often considered a disease of men. Ask the average joe on the street, and they’ll probably tell you that men die of heart attacks, and women die of breast cancer. Of course, this is incorrect. In fact, heart disease is the leading killer of women in America: 1 in 3 women dies of heart disease. To make women more aware of the danger of heart disease, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and partner organizations are sponsoring a national campaign called The Heart Truth. The campaign’s goal is to give women a personal and urgent wakeup call about their risk of heart disease.

You may have previously seen the “red dress” pins that go along with this awareness campaign, which has been fairly successful so far:
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Streptococcus costs young mother her arms and legs

I’ve mentioned a few times the work of Ignaz Semmelweis in preventing “childbed fever” in new mothers. To recap:

Semmelweis was a physician in Vienna in the 1840s, with an interested in “childbed fever,” a leading cause of mortality in women who’d given birth. During this time, he noticed that the mortality rate from this disease in a hospital division where medical students delivered babies was 16%, while in a division where midwives delivered them was ~2%. It was also known that childbed fever was rare when women gave birth at home. Semmelweis thought there was something the med students were doing that served to raise the rates of childbed fever in those divisions.

In 1847, Semmelweis’ friend, another physician, died due to a wound acquired while performing an autopsy. Semmelweis examined the tissues of his friend, and noticed the pathology there was similar to those in women who’d died of childbed fever. According to history, this led to his “eureka” moment: medical students performed autopsies, and midwives did not. The students must be bringing some contagious agent from the autopsy room back to the delivery room.

This contagious agent was later found to be the group A streptococcus, Streptococcus pyogenes. Since the early 1990s, this bacterium has regained notoriety due to its ability to cause what the media has dubbed “flesh-eating disease” (or to those who speak medical-ese, necrotizing fasciitis). In a strange and tragic story, it seems that streptococcus has struck again in a young mother, sparing her life but costing her arms and legs:
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