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Wheat Is More Complex Than Einstein

By Shlomo Maital

                   wheat                                   

    Born in Saskatchewan, I grew up among waving fields of golden wheat.  Few sights are more beautiful.  Little did I know how ‘smart’ wheat plants are…until Prof. Chamovitz.    

    Prof. Daniel Chamovitz is a Tel Aviv Univ. plant geneticist, author of a recent book,  What a Plan Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (2012, Scientific American).   He was interviewed recently in the Hebrew language Haaretz weekly magazine. 

    Among his research projects:    “Recently we got interested in the question of what anti-cancer chemicals found in plants do for the plant. Particularly we’re studying indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a phytochemical found in vegetables like broccoli and mustard that has also been reported effective in killing breast and prostate cancer cells.”

     According to Chamovitz,  plants are genetically more complicated than humans!  Human beings have some 20,000 – 25,000 genes.  This is the number of genes Albert Einstein had.  But plants have more.  The rice plant, whose genome was decoded, has 37,000 genes.  And according to Chamovitz,  his team decoded the wheat genome, at Tel Aviv U., and found it has even more genes than rice. 

     Why?

     Survival.  Evolution, survival of the fittest.

     For example, he notes,   human beings have four genes that that control and develop light receptors in the retina.  But plants have 13!   Why?    Light is more important for plants’ survival than it is for humans.  Plants need to time their cycle according to the length of days (when to blossom, e.g.), they need to angle their stalks to seek light….

    Historian Yuval Noah Harari  claims, in his book, that wheat domesticated humans, rather than vice versa.  Meaning:  Wheat adapted itself, to create value for humans, leading humans to cultivate it widely. And that is the goal of living things – procreate, spread, multiply.    Whatever the case,  plants are highly sophisticated living things that have evolved in very touch environments, adapted beautifully to their surroundings, and where necessary, have created alliances with humans. 

    It may well be, as humans spew CO2 into the air and ruin their planet’s air and water, that plants will simply adjust and adapt, using their proliferation of genes,  and inherit the earth from people with big brains who simply are incapable of really using them. 

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Scientists Who Endanger Their Lives:  The Case of Ebola

By Shlomo  Maital    

ebola

   Scientific papers published in Science rarely involve heroism, drama, and life-threatening courage.   This one does:

Gire, SK, Goba, A et al. Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak. Science, 2014, online.

    Here is the story, as described in a dry press release by Harvard:

     “ n response to an ongoing, unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa, a team of researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, (MIT-Harvard),  in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and researchers across institutions and continents, has rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. Their findings could have important implications for rapid field diagnostic tests. The team reports its results online in the journal Science.”

       The research was led by Broad Institute researcher Pardis Sabeti, Augustine Goba, Director of the Lassa Laboratory at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, and Stephen Gire, first author,  a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard.  The team  shipped samples back to Boston, and then  20 people worked around the clock.   In one week:  they decoded gene sequences from 99 Ebola samples!  This is truly amazing. 

        What the team did was to act rapidly to collect samples of Ebola from a Sierra Leone hospital last April, when the outbreak began, and then gathered additional samples as the virus spread and mutated.  They did this under life-threatening conditions, especially those on the ground on-site, because at the time there was insufficient protective gear for hospital workers, and some indeed died. 

       They gathered 99 samples of Ebola in all. Then they decoded the genome of each sample.  This was unprecedented in its speed.   What they found was important.  The Ebola virus has only 7 genes (!) compared to the human genome, comprising more than 20,000 genes.  Like all viruses, Ebola penetrates the human cell and commandeers its DNA mechanism, to make more viruses rather than human DNA.  Ebola is fatal in 52 per cent of all cases.

      The Broad Institute researchers found that Ebola initially spread from an animal to a human.  BUT —  from then on, it ONLY spread among humans.  The initial call to avoid mangos and meat was uncalled for.  And like all viruses, they found that the virus evolved and mutated very quickly in humans.  So, we are in a race, between ‘brilliant’ humans with huge brains, and ‘stupid’ viruses with only 7 genes ..and at the moment, the viruses seem to be winning. 

   I salute the courageous scientists and their assistants on-site, for risking their lives to help save the lives of others.  Sometimes, not often, science is life-threatening,  and quickly, life-saving. 

     In this space, I’ve been fiercely critical of Big Pharma, which rips us off by charging scandalously high prices for drugs with minimal impact.  But for once,  Big Pharma is doing the right thing.   GSK Glaxo Smith Kline is helping the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop an Ebola vaccine.  Only GSK’s huge productive capacity can do this quickly enough to combat the spread of Ebola. 

    

 

 

 

 

 

By Shlomo  Maital    

   Scientific papers published in Science rarely involve heroism, drama, and life-threatening courage.   This one does:

Gire, SK, Goba, A et al. Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak. Science, 2014, online.

    Here is the story, as described in a dry press release by Harvard:

     “ n response to an ongoing, unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa, a team of researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, (MIT-Harvard),  in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and researchers across institutions and continents, has rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. Their findings could have important implications for rapid field diagnostic tests. The team reports its results online in the journal Science.”

       The research was led by Broad Institute researcher Pardis Sabeti, Augustine Goba, Director of the Lassa Laboratory at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, and Stephen Gire, first author,  a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard.  The team  shipped samples back to Boston, and then  20 people worked around the clock.   In one week:  they decoded gene sequences from 99 Ebola samples!  This is truly amazing. 

        What the team did was to act rapidly to collect samples of Ebola from a Sierra Leone hospital last April, when the outbreak began, and then gathered additional samples as the virus spread and mutated.  They did this under life-threatening conditions, especially those on the ground on-site, because at the time there was insufficient protective gear for hospital workers, and some indeed died. 

       They gathered 99 samples of Ebola in all. Then they decoded the genome of each sample.  This was unprecedented in its speed.   What they found was important.  The Ebola virus has only 7 genes (!) compared to the human genome, comprising more than 20,000 genes.  Like all viruses, Ebola penetrates the human cell and commandeers its DNA mechanism, to make more viruses rather than human DNA.  Ebola is fatal in 52 per cent of all cases.

      The Broad Institute researchers found that Ebola initially spread from an animal to a human.  BUT —  from then on, it ONLY spread among humans.  The initial call to avoid mangos and meat was uncalled for.  And like all viruses, they found that the virus evolved and mutated very quickly in humans.  So, we are in a race, between ‘brilliant’ humans with huge brains, and ‘stupid’ viruses with only 7 genes ..and at the moment, the viruses seem to be winning. 

   I salute the courageous scientists and their assistants on-site, for risking their lives to help save the lives of others.  Sometimes, not often, science is life-threatening,  and quickly, life-saving. 

     In this space, I’ve been fiercely critical of Big Pharma, which rips us off by charging scandalously high prices for drugs with minimal impact.  But for once,  Big Pharma is doing the right thing.   GSK Glaxo Smith Kline is helping the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop an Ebola vaccine.  Only GSK’s huge productive capacity can do this quickly enough to combat the spread of Ebola. 

 Man Against Fly – So Far, It’s Tsetse 2, Mankind 0

By Shlomo  Maital       

tsetse

  It has just been announced that the genome of the tsetse fly (prounced: Te-tzee) has been decoded, by an international team of scientists.   Like some international fashion model, the ugly fly has made the cover of Science magazine. 

  The tsetse fly is the scourge of Africa.  It lives on human blood, and unlike the mosquito (only the female drinks human blood), both male and female tsetse flies imbibe human and animal blood.  The tsetse fly spreads human encephalitis (sleeping sickness) and a disease that afflicts cattle.  The suffering and economic losses are huge.

    Evolution has created some amazing innovations in the tsetse fly.  For one, unlike other flies and insects, the tsetse fly gives birth to live offspring, only about 8 of them.  The female tsetse fly deposits eggs in its ovaries, and then secretes a milk-like substance to feed them.  When the tiny flies are ready, they are born, full-fledged.

    So far, efforts to combat this scourge in Africa have been unsuccessful.  But now that the tsetse genome has been decoded, scientists can look for a weak point, perhaps genetically altering a gene to hamper reproduction.

    So far, however, it is tsetse fly 2,  mankind zero.   In this battle, mankind against the wisdom of evolution,  mankind is definitely the underdog. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
October 2017
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