Happy Halloween!

November 1, 2006 at 12:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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A Bad Week for Australian Icons

September 9, 2006 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First, the Crocodile Hunter, then author Colin Thiele, and race car driver Peter Brock.  At least Colin Thiele got to live to a decently old age, dying in hospital at 85.  Apparently you have to be killed reasonably young, while doing the dangerous thing that made you famous to be offered a state funeral, though.

I wasn’t a fan of any of theirs, really, especially not Irwin or Brock.  I enjoyed Thiele’s books, but they were too closely tied to schoolwork to be favourites.  Actually, reading the Storm Boy excerpt posted at Sarsaparilla makes me think I should reread some of them, this time without any resentment-inducing book reports hanging over my head.

Now that I live in Boston, the many references to Make Way for Ducklings always remind me of Farmer Schulz’s Ducks (sadly lacking a web presence – it’s about a farmer and his daughter who try to find a way for their ducks to safely cross the new highway that’s been built between their farm and the river).  I think Farmer Schulz’s Ducks is a better book, but whenever I try to explain the story to people, they seem horrified that a picture book would include the carnage that accompanies each failed attempt at a safe crossing.  I was a very easily traumatised kid (I refused to read almost anything by Hans Christian Andersen), but somehow I coped with the ducks’ deaths.

RIP Crocodile Hunter

September 4, 2006 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A friend at home instant messaged me when I was still up at 1am this morning, asking if I’d heard the news that Steve Irwin had been killed by a stingray. My first thought was to wonder if he’d been poking it. Something that was put more diplomatically by Victoria Brims in this story:

I am aware he was filming a documentary and his documentaries are usually very hands on. I can only assume that he had some kind of hands on or close contact with the animal who like us when we get afraid defended itself

We used to drive past his zoo on the way to visit my grandparents, back when it was a dodgy little reptile park, but I never went.  I did see him and his wife in person when their tv show was just starting out, though.

I always thought he was supremely irritating and pretty irresponsible, and was embarrassed that he was one of the few Australians people in the US could identify, but it’s still sad.  His two kids are very young.

Moving In

July 19, 2006 at 2:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve been lurking on a number of cool science blogs for a while now. I often don’t feel qualified to join in the discussion on other people’s blogs, but there are things I’d like to talk about (and need the external motivation to think about) so I decided to start my own blog.

I’m a PhD student in immunology, soon to start my 4th year. I’m getting to the stage where people start asking how much longer I’ll be here (bad people!), but somehow I still feel like I just began. I don’t think I’ll be going into any detail about my research, but I’ll probably be complaining about wrangling enormous data sets quite frequently.

“Sinking the Iceberg” refers to an analogy I originally heard in my first-year basic cell & molecular biology class that first made me think about how wondrous the immune system is. Although disease is certainly not rare, health is taken for granted as the normal state of being and complete health is the goal of research into treatments. Yet, disease really only represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of infections. We are constantly exposed to pathogens and yet the vast majority of these are prevented from actually infecting us, or unable to cause any adverse effect, if they do. We don’t really hear about what an amazing job the immune system does of protecting us.

Most research is focussed on curing/preventing disease, hence “sinking the iceberg”. Of course, it’s impossible to sink an iceberg; part of it will always pop above the surface. Bugs will find a way around the drugs we aim at them and new diseases will emerge from unknown sources. Not to mention the many ways in which the immune system can turn against itself.

The central question I’m interested in is how does the immune system, from its wide repertoire of options, induce the response that is appropriate to the specific pathogen? More specifically, what are the mechanisms that determine which cells are activated and which are switched off? How are friendly stimuli (food, our own cells/antigens, commensal bacteria etc) distinguished from foes?

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