Significant cell death

xkcd by Randall Munroe (CC BY-NC)
xkcd by Randall Munroe (CC BY-NC)

Bleach also works. And high concentrations of ethanol (works for humans too).

Also, just leaving the petri dish out on your lab bench to desiccate.

Consumer Information in 1991


A few months ago, Alexis Rudd sent my kids some of her science books from her childhood. They have greatly enjoyed the books. My wife and I, being 30-somethings, greatly enjoyed finding a 1991 Consumer Information Catalog produced by US General Services Administration.

A catalog of free and low-cost federal publications of consumer interest

It is a spectacular snapshot of what US Federal Government thought “consumer interest” was in the Autumn of 1991. Continue reading “Consumer Information in 1991”

HIV: Cancer Killer?

Photo by Samantha Celera
Photo by Samantha Celera

Recently, I saw an article referencing a young girl’s leukemia being fought by HIV viral transformation. The headline was surprisingly restrained, but the mere mention of HIV (a pathogen surrounded by fear and misinformation, like AIDS denial) risks leaving many readers thinking an HIV infection cured a young girl’s leukemia (not true!). So, I headed to the scientific literature to see if this flashy headline’s mention of HIV was really warranted. Continue reading “HIV: Cancer Killer?”

Only if I get superpowers

Next month I will be boarding a flight at Dulles International Airport. The last flight I took was also out of Dulles and I became familiar with their security screening; almost every security line passes through one of the backscatter x-ray scanning machines. Normally, I’m pretty cavalier about most things but when agreeing to undergo a whole body x-ray, outside a hospital, I’d like to know the risks. In 2010, a group of scientists at UCSF, including a biophysicist and an oncologist, wrote a letter to the Assistant of Science and Technology reporting directly to the president, voicing their serious concerns about the safety of these devices. They felt that the data presented by the manufacturer was misleading and did not appropriately address whether this high dose of x-rays into the skin was truly safe. Fellow blogger Mike addressed this issue back in 2010. Since the time of the letter, there has been little research done on actual scanners because “security concerns” prevent the TSA from allowing scanners into public hands.

Several radiologists have stated that these scanners are probably not harmful to those who travel just a few times per  year. It is possible that older people, children and pregnant women are at a greater risk of DNA damage from ionizing radiation. It is also a public health concern when a large population of Americans who travel frequently or work in airports, are screened very often.  A recent scientific study shows evidence that these x-rays delivered at the specification of the scanning machine, can deliver radiation to internal organs.  These specifications also assume that the scanning machine is operating properly. Between May 2010 and May 2011 there were 3,778 service calls made about mechanical issues with back-scatter machines.

But why expose people to x-rays at all? Fellow blogger Josh has written about the cost benefit ratio involved in deciding whether risk of x-ray exposure is worth the potential to stop a terrorist. If there is a technology which can also detect non-metallic objects without delivering ionizing radiation, then its use should be promoted. An alternative to the backscatter x-ray is the millimeter wave scanning technology, which many airports already use. This method eliminates the worry that there may be potential side effects of screening all passengers and screening some passengers a great number of times.

For now, my choice is x-ray induced superpowers or a TSA pat-down. I’ve always wanted a superpower.

Cancer quote of the day

or maybe of the year:

More than half of the cancer occurring today is preventable by applying knowledge that we already have. Tobacco, obesity, and physical inactivity are the modifiable causes of cancer that generate the most disease. Cancer burden can be reduced by alterations in individual and population behaviors and by public health efforts as long as these changes are driven by sound scientific knowledge and social commitment to change. The obstacles to these efforts are societal and arise from the organization of institutions, including academia, and in the habits of daily life.

Applying What We Know to Accelerate Cancer Prevention
Graham A. Colditz, Kathleen Y. Wolin and Sarah Gehlert
Sci Transl Med 28 March 2012

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