Wednesday, October 24, 2007

OK..I am coming out of the closet...

Well....I have something to tell you! I am....well......I am confused about.....about my.....well...I am confused about where my right is! YES! I am one of those persons that do not know their left from their right! Tell me to turn body always wants to turn left! Tell me to turn left....well I will turn left! Sometimes I am totally convinced left is right! Does that make any sense? Is there a name for a condition like mine? Does that mean I have no right hemisphere? Well.....Bayblab you know! I am a leftie that knows nothing but left! It's like right does not exist....Seriously!

A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!!!!

I LOVE THE's full of those little gems! Take for example these tow sites about the art of the Mandala...

The Mandala is truly a work of patience! It is a representation of the many grains of sand! Look HERE first....and then HERE (choose Nanomandala at LACMA). I promise you the ride of your life - at nanoscale!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bacteria as tools....

After you watch this....go to this amazing site:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Tippi !!!

As much as I hate animal abuse and their abusers, I like to see animal-loving humans...almost makes me like the human race....Click HERE!

Mmmm....brain soup!

The microscopic world of protists is so diverse. From the cute and swift Paramecium caudatum to the diarrhea-causing Giardia lamblia. A colleague recently sent me an email with a story of the brain eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri....I had to investigate!

First, lets say that infection are rare but more common when heat waves are present....since these heat waves are likely to be longer and more prevalent, this story is of public interest. This interesting organism enters through the nose and makes its way to the central nervous system by crossing the olfactory neuroepithelium. From 1995 to 2004 only 23 infections have been documented but the recent death a of a 14 year-old boy sparked fear in Arizona.

When you look at the way this parasite travels, we find that the strategies are almost always the same: ENZYMES! How do you get into a cell...easy! First break the membrane with a specialized key known as a phospholipase (phospholipase A2). Then attack proteins with a specialized protease. By attacking the cellular cement holding the tissues together you end up liquifying them. The angry amoeba can then phagocytose the remaining fragments and voilà are history!

With only a few cases in the last decade chances are that you can die of many other things....and if you not even bother about this story, your relative risks are virtually "0"!

For a list of publications on the infective mechanisms click HERE

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I do not hate many things....but I do hate some things....I REALLY DO! I am sick and tired of animal cruelty. I am mad as hell! Tonight I came back home after teaching a late lab. Exhausted from a very busy day I sat down with a bowl of cereal at my kitchen table. The Oak Bay Newspaper is on the I start to look at it, without really reading. But then THIS STORY.

The goose had been shot in the bay at close range through the back with a Tru-flite, hunting-grade practice arrow. Unable to fly, the adult bird was paddling close to the bay’s western rocks when Waddell caught up with it. She picked up the compliant bird and tucked it beside her into the kayak.
So someone shot a Canada goose with an arrow at close range in Oak Bay...the animal must have been left for dead. Who the hell does a thing like that? Do we need to kill geese right here? Do we need it for food? NO! This was done by a sick person that needs to see what suffering is. Just for the kick of it! This is a totally gratuitous and cowardly thing to do. WHY? WHY? WHY? What are you trying to prove? So you got a bow...and an arrow...hey....what not try a big bird...RIGHT? Does a stupid gesture like that make YOU a better person? Are you helping anyone with this? What are you trying to prove???

There was the highly publicized case of Michael Vick and dog fighting an athlete! What a role model!

To all of you who are harming animals, and I am not talking about hunting for food, I am talking to those who take a sick pride in harming animals...YOU MAKE ME SICK...for all that is worth to you!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Deadly space bugs

It is known that microgravity (MG) affects the way cells react. For example, astronauts coming back to Earth after a long time spent under very low gravity show signs of bone resorption and muscle mass loss. Bacteria react to low gravity too. In a paper published in 2002, Dr. Cheryl Nickerson and her team (see reference and link to pdf file below) discovered that the expression of many genes is in fact affected by MG (Figure on right). As can be seen, some genes are expressedm or not under normal gravity (1xg) but this expression pattern can be almost completely reversed under MG (or LSMMG - Low Shear Modeled Micro Gravity). Because gene expression seems to be influenced by microgravity, the obvious experiment was now to determine if the virulence of bacteria is increased un der other words are microbes susceptible to become "superbugs" in space? The answer, sadly, seems to be YES! In another study, to be published in PNAS, Dickerson and fisrt author James Wilson show that some virulence genes are in fact turned on by microgravity. In a mere 12 days in september, during spaceflight STS-115, Salmonella tiphymurium became more virulent. According to the authors, the shape of bacteria did not change but they seem to form a biofilm which is more difficult to eliminate by the immune system. In fact, when these "spacebugs" were fed to mice, they show a 3-times increase in virulence. Space is definitively a weird place to be...even for bacteria! Astronauts beware...bring your Purell!

For audio of this story follow this link


1) James W. Wilson, Rajee Ramamurthy, Steffen Porwollik, Michael McClelland, Timothy Hammond, Pat Allen, C. Mark Ott, Duane L. Pierson, and Cheryl A. Nickerson. Microarray analysis identifies Salmonella genes belonging to the low-shear modeled microgravity regulon PNAS 2002 99: 13807-13812

2) Wilson et al. Space flight alters bacterial gene expression and virulence and reveals a role for global regulator Hfq. PNAS doi/10/1073/pnas.0707155104.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Are we evolving?

Bacteria evolve right before our eyes. Hospital acquired diseases are a very good example. Overexpose bacteria to some antibiotic, toxins, metals etc...they will change in a matter of days, adapting to their new environment. Unicellular organisms have absolute freedom to change because their own evolution, as individuals, can only benefit the population. If they fail to adapt, some individuals will be eliminated BUT those who are successful will become the ancestors of a resistant colony.

Why is it that this principle can not be applied to our own cells? Simply put, because the fate of our own cells is interconnected, a small change in the genome could mean disaster for the other ones. The reason why our own cells do not evolve in our lifetime (under normal circumstances) is discussed in an article by Pepper et al., soon to be published in PLoS computational biology. An article on the Nature website (september 21, 2007)explain why evolution within our own cells is unlikely and not desirable. Our tissues simply DO NOT evolve!

It is known that epithelial tissues have a rather high turnover...old cells are replaced on a constant basis. The speed at which they grow could suggest that these cells are more prone to mutations. This is not the case. As Philip Ball explains in its news feature (Nature): "Why a person doesn't evolve in one lifetime" epithelial cells take a long walk on the way to differentiation. Epithelial stem cells divide just a little before they commit to their final state. Mutations can occur within these cells but since they do not compete against each other because these mutations make differentiation of these stem cells more difficult.

On the other hand, the immune system is made to evolve, it has to adapt to new pathogens every single day but there is a price we pay for this: a higher incidence for cancer!

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Too funny or too pathetic...hummm...good question!

Lynn (AKA Babybluezephyr) wrote this in her blog:

"So I get a friend request from someone today that is a teacher at camosun, and is wanting to start a group for everyone in the class. Which in itself is pathetic."
I think I just might be the "pathetic one"...the culprit. Why ??? Well let me tell you that I teach at Camosun and that,on the 24th of August, I sent a request to my students to join a group that I created in Facebook. Why in the world an instructor like me would like to get students to join a Facebook group ? Because I need friends ?'s true that I just moved from Québec and that I left my very good friends behind...but no, it is not the reason. Because I want to be a cool instructor ? Well, I want to reach students but mostly, I want them to work together. The group I created in Facebook (for BIOL 124) is a study group that, I hope, the students will use to solve problems and understand that Web 2.0 tools are there to be used for learning and not just because to show funny pictures and talk about drinking habits - of course I exagerate a bit here. Are my intentions pathetic? Are they that funny? Well maybe for some...

Yesterday, I talked with one of my colleagues that is also a blogger. He wrote this:
Facebook is not where they go to learn. It’s where they go to socialize, relax and throw virtual food at each other.
After talking to him and reading his post I almost regret having created this Facebook group. I understand that students might not want me in their space but still many students replied to my request. When I think about it, with such a perspective, when I was 20-26 I just might have found a request to facebook pathetic....but maybe not....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Health Canada and the FDA have to regulate chicken soup!

Chicken soup....YUM. Especially my wifes chicken soup...sublime and soothing after a day of ski. Some of you were told by your grandmothers...."chicken soup is good when you have a cold". This amazing meal has health virtues that have been published in very serious journals...CHEST for instance. A quick search on Pubmed with the keywords "chicken" and "soup" gave me 77 hits...hey...not bad at all!!! Some of those studies use qui sophisticated instruments, jusst look at this one:

Measurement of the radical scavenging activity of chicken jelly soup, a part of the medicated diet, 'Yakuzen', made from gelatin gel food 'Nikogori', using chemiluminescence and electron spin resonance methods.International journal of molecular medicine. 2006 18(1): 107-111

Another publication offers a list of conditiions treated with chicken soup or soup made with other fowl. As an example here is a table from an article published in CHEST: Fred Rosner, MD (1980)Therapeutic efficacy of chicken soup. Chest, 78(4): 672-674.

Furthermore, it seems that using certain parts of chicken or fowl can have adverse effects:

Now...what do you (as a serious scientist) think of this abstract???

"A case is reported in which a previously healthy individual, having received an inadequate course of chicken soup in treatment of mild pneumococcal pneumonia, experienced a severe relapse, refractory to all medical treatment and eventually requiring thoracotomy. The pharmacology of chicken soup is reviewed and the dangers of abrupt termination of therapy are stressed"

Caroline, NL et Schwartz, H. 1975. Chicken soup rebound and relapse of pneumonia: report of a case. Chest, 67 (2) 215-216.

Finally, for your own pleasure here is a study of "sipping soup through a straw" and its effects on nasal mucus velocity...that's a gem!

Saketkhoo et al. 1978. Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest, 74(4) 408-410

Here is my very last am I suppose to pronounce the first authors name? Is it...SAK-ATCHOO???

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What are the odds?

Some people are sooo lucky! Just try to calculate the odds of this considering

1) Windspeed
2) Air moisture
3) Rotation of the Earth
4) Geographical position of the house
5) What happened a few million years back...
6) Angle of entry in atmosphere...etc...

I think you can sleep tight tonight...the odds are slim that you are going to get killed by a meteorite in your sleep...but it's still plausible...
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Look hands!

I just hope that people using the games with this GADGET have enough brain cells left!

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Can math and PCR save the elephants?

Ivory trade from elephant tusks is still going on despite its ban in 1989. Last year it is estimated that 3,000 elephants were killed. Between August 2005 and August 2006, 23,461 kg of ivory has been seized but the identification of poachers is difficult, partly because there is no way of telling where the ivory is coming from in Africa...until now!

In order to adress this issue and provide a better monitoring, Samuel Wasser and its team have demonstrated that DNA extracted from elephant tusks allows to determine if the elephant is from the savannah or the forest. These studies are based on microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA (Wasser et al., 2004, PNAS, 101: 14847-14852). In order to further identify the region where the elephants were killed, this same team designed a genetic and probalistic approach based Voronoi tesselation (Wasser et al. 2007, PNAS, 104: 4228-4233). These analysis allowed to identify a common region in Africa: most likely Zambia. Now, let's hope that Zambia will be monitored more closely and that the poachers, that decimated between 50 and 90% of the elephant population will be caught...

Another way to put a stop to elephant killing does not involve genetics or statistics knowledge...STOP BUYING IVORY!!!!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Traffic on the bridge...

Attention: Virus crossing ahead! Found this on Nature Cell Biology site. Absolutely amazing! Never heard of anything like that. Click here for a video of this remarquable finding!

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Paris Hilton's phenotype

Brain researchers have identified an enzyme apparently responsible for neuronal connections. It seems that glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) prevents memory loss. This finding could lead to interesting research leads in neuroscience and Alzheimer's disease. It could also explains Paris Hilton's peculiar phenotype, a lack of GSK3? She recently forgot to renew her drivers license...and
Associated Press decided to ban the publication of this amazingly important news.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Isectomycology ?

Absolutely beautiful. Never heard of this before....silly of me not to know this existed! Natures is just perfect...unless you are the victim!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fed up with hypocrits???

Unbelievable! I am so fed up with people saying one thing but doing the opposite... ARRGGH!!!!!

See for yourself here:

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Friday, February 23, 2007

A well-rounded champion!

Can you draw a perfect circle in less than a second? This Ottawa teacher, Alexander Overwijk, surely can!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Modern art, Britney Spears hair and Brad Pitt's facial tissue...

I love art, especially contemporary art. One of my favorite painters is Barnett Newman and the National Gallery in Ottawa has one of its paintings...Voice of Fire (the title)...and it is just splendid! This special painting is nothing more that two vertical lines surrounding a red one (you can see it here). The museum purchased it in 1989 for 1.8 million (CDN). Is that too much for such a simple painting (although it is 18 feet tall)?

Maybe yes....but...maybe not! It depends! Some people would not spend a dime for it. After all, all this money could have been used for social housing, homeless people, shelters....biomedical research! On the other hand, this is the price to pay for a "Barnett Newman". Why? Because there is a market for it! Still not convinced?

Let me give you a little (and disgusting) example!

You follow someone and that person blows its nose and throws the facial tissue on the ground as he walks...are you going to touch that dirty facial tissue? Chances are, you are going to stay clear of that piece of softened cellulose with goo in it. BUT WAIT....that person in front of you is...YES...Brad Pitt! If you have just a bit of marketing brains, you are going to sell it on eBay (if you can prove it comes from Brad...maybe you can extract DNA from it). That SAME facial tissue now has a market potential! You understand? Sure you do! That is probably why you are not surprized by the fact that poor Britney's (boo-hoo) hair is now on sale on the internet...for a million bucks MINIMUM.

That's a lot of money for some keratin that grew in a head full of water....but that's just me!


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And...what about YOU?

Frequently I posts teaching tips and my feelings about teaching. I am interested in sharing experiences! Anyone with good stories are VERY WELCOME to write about them. Just tell me about them and I will create a link to you blog! I just want to create an exchange blog...but not just about me! So...what about YOU????

Photo credit: this image was modified and can be found at this site:

Monday, February 05, 2007

Teaching tip #6: Open door

An open door is so much more than just a door. An open door invites for discussion, creativity and thinking. An open door is really telling your students that you care. An open door creates an opportunity for you to recall what you were then....just a kid with questions and, maybe, fear of the future! Now, there you are...a teacher, a professor, a parent or maybe.....a student! Remember where you come from. Just remember!

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Distance Learning...wonderful!

I started to teach a course with some students in the classroom and some in another city. It works perfectly well for several reasons:

  • I am aware that the distant students are AS IMPORTANT as the students are in the class room
  • I am aware that distant students need 2 to 3 seconds before they can hear me and I have to patient for their feedback
  • I refer to them just as much as I refer to the students in the classroom (see first comment)
  • Technical staff is ESSENTIAL for successful distance learning
  • I am using tools that make sure students see where I am laser pointers here!
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