Field of Science

Goodbye FoS, thanks for all the laughs

Moving house again…

Well almost, moving addresses anyway. It wasn’t that long ago I moved from Disease of the Week to here at Disease Prone to take advantage of an offer from Field of Science. While I have been super happy here, an amazing opportunity has opened up for me to move the blog over to the Scientific American’s new community and so now I can be found at Disease Prone. I know a few others from FoS are moving too and I’ll let them say their own goodbyes but for me, I wanted to say a big thank you to FoS, it’s bloggers, readers and admin for helping me set up and being so supportive when this offer was extended to me.

At some point in the future this page may be removed so if you would like to continue following me you can find me here at SciAm with my new RSS feed or here on Facebook or here on Twitter.

Thanks FoS, I’ll see you ‘round.

No door? No problem. T. cruzi uses the window to cause Chagas Disease

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for
For invasive pathogens the only way to survive, and consequently make you sick, is to get inside your cells. This is a rough exercise as you have an immune system working everywhere in the body to prevent this and the cell to be invaded is none too happy with the idea either so invasive pathogens must use tricks.

After evading or surviving the immune system, another post for another day, some exploit a mechanism called receptor mediated endocytosis (RME), in which the pathogen binds to a receptor on the cell triggering the cell to alter its shape to internalise the pathogen. RME is used by cells to recycle extracellular components but it a pathogen can make itself fit the receptor instead it can trick the cell into giving it free access to its insides.

Another mechanism, commonly employed by membrane bound viruses, is membrane fusion. Given that membrane bound viruses contain a secondary structure called the nucleocapsid, which houses the genome, they can fuse their own membranes with the host cell which results in the nucleocapsid's release into the cytoplasm.

(a) HIV entry by fusion and (b) receptor mediated endocytosis of light blue dots ((a) modified from credit and (b) modified from credit

Anti-cancer Fungi

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for
Mycology, the study of fungi, is an often-overlooked member of the microbiology family. Having said that there are plenty of dedicated mycologists out there doing all sorts of cool stuff and plenty more fungal species doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

I have written about fungi before but only in the recent zombie posts and I feel I may have been a bit negative on fungi. Particularly when they seem to be capable of much good.

To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for
Is it something you should do or is it taboo? What about a tattoo of a kazoo?

Okay, I'll stop now.

Recently I’ve been considering getting another tattoo or more work done to complement my existing tattoo. Its not terribly scientific like the Carl Zimmer’s Science Tattoo Emporium but it does mean something to me. I think I’ll probably wait until I finish my PhD, which means I’m looking at getting it in about a year.

Ignore my camera in the top left, the tattoo is too close to my shoulder making it very difficult to get it of of shot. Anyway, it's a raven.

Treating the Bends
Last week I wrote about the Bends, a medical problem based in an understanding of physics that results in bubbles of (primarily) nitrogen in your blood if you move from one atmospheric pressure to another to quickly, typically surfacing from depth while diving too fast.

Of course I meant to point out that decompression occurs when the external atmospheric pressure drops quickly. Most commonly this occurs in divers but also happens in astronauts. I’d never really thought about that before.

Anyway I got as far as explaining how it occurs last time. This time we are interested in how you fix it.

Physics + Medicine = The Bends
About a fortnight ago I was in the unusual position of teaching human biology to medical physicists and physics to medical students. Interestingly, during this overlapping week a disease came up in both tutes, a physics based medical condition.

Rain becomes a drizzle

Oh how I'd love to write up a blog post right now.

Instead I can barely see over the pile of 1st year undergraduate reports on Photosynthesis and next to that pile is another pile of worksheets on agarose gel electrophoresis. I also have thesis corrections and a thousand other little things to do. Oh, and from where I'm sitting I can see that I might even need to mow the lawn before it rains. So while I want to blog it just 'aint going to happen today.

Even though today is 'out' I have some really cool posts in the pipeline so we will see what I can organise for next week.

For now its back to my cup of tea to read attempts by first year students to convince me that photosynthesis occurs in the mitochondria and provides the cell with an unending supply of boiled candies...

I'm more disappointed at my inability to blog than this puppy (Credit: honzasterba)

RSPCA Million Paws Walk recap

Yesterday (15/5) was the Royal Society for Protection against Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) major annual fundraising drive, a walk in the park called the Million Paws Walk. The idea is that people can register as individuals or as teams and by registering they raise a little money. Each individual registrant and team can also raise money for themselves to complete the walk.

Zombies Pt 2 (or how I distracted my students)

ResearchBlogging.orgLast week I mentioned how my students sidetracked me in a tute regarding introductions to the origins of life and in particular the acronym HOMR standing for Homeostasis, Organisation, Metabolism and Replication by initiating a discussion of whether or not zombies technically were alive. Well, the following week they had a test that occupied half the allocated tutorial time so instead of letting them out early I extended the discussion to real world zombies.

Zombies Pt. 1 (or how my students distracted me)

As I mentioned a little while ago I have been made an associate lecturer for first year biology at the University I have been doing my PhD at. Most of my job is taking tutorial classes and the other week during one of these classes I got totally distracted by a very interesting discussion.

Earth Day 2011

Okay so I missed it in my timezone but like beer o'clock it’s always the right time somewhere. Earth Day is an important opportunity to look at the way we use the environment and consider ways we alter our impact for the better.

Below is an article that I previously published in the Adelaide Advertiser, the main newspaper from where I live about a much overlooked but vitally important cog in the environment, bacteria. It’s about a year old and I have mentioned it before but some of the info is worth another look.

Happy Earth Day, for yesterday.
Earth view from Orbiter (modified from)

Discoveries need dollars

In Australia at the moment there is a real fear that our Government (who are supposed to be on the left side of that political line) is going to cut $400 million from medical research budgets. To protest this rallies are being run in most Australian capital cities to advertise the role of scientists in the community and to show all scientists that collectively we have a voice that can be heard, you just have to start shouting.

Arty farty photo of the rally taken by a friend of Thomas Tu, I'm not sure who

Blogging 101 Workshop

Tonight I attended a Blogging 101 workshop run by a friend of mine Mr. Mike Seyfang (@fang for twits) who is a bit of a social media guru. It was really fun to go back to first principles with a room full of people learning about something I enjoy doing in my spare time and involving themselves in this time blackhole :)

So if you find yourself looking for new blogs to follow can I suggest those from the 'class'? They're new so give them time to develop and, of course, be gentle...

Other Side of Science
Heathers Sciencey Stuff
Bilbies Rule
Turk Thrust
Team Placenta
Sans Science
Disease of the Week


Yes We C(r)an(berry)!
That title is awful I know but I'm tired. Cut me some slack :)
I ran into a something that I have heard about before but assumed was rubbish and never really looked into it properly. A friend of mine insisted it was the case so I looked it up and I have to say, I was a little surprised.
So this is what cranberries look like. I never knew.

Exploding Head Syndrome - No pun required
This is an old post from my previous blog. Recently it has been seeing a lot of activity so I thought I'd play around with it a bit and re-post it here. Enjoy :)

Sometimes when searching for disease to write about a wonderful thing happens. The clouds part, cherubs descend, angels play intricate harp-based musical compositions, and a beam of light illuminates the link to a wonderful disease. This happened to me the other day, and now, without further ado, let me introduce you to Exploding Head Syndrome. Best. Disease. Name. Ever.

Acute Exploding Head Syndrome sufferer (screenshot from the 1981 movie Scanners)

Capsular Polysaccharide and Pneumococcal Disease

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for This week looking at the capsular polysaccharide of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Want to know how I know? I wrote it :)

Insert stock photo of pneumo. Check.

It seems a little wrong to blog my own paper but in reality more people will read this blog entry than will read the paper itself, and that’s fine. Its relevance is very narrow and the work very preliminary but really it’s the drive behind the work that is important. So lets talk about Streptococcus pneumoniae (aka the pneumococcus or simply pneumo) for a second to set the scene.

Welcome Canterbury Students!!!

I put up a post a few weeks ago about the double disaster to hit Queensland. First a devastating flood and then a tropical cyclone of all things! Well things haven’t let up for the southern hemisphere. On the 22 of February a massive and devastating earthquake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand the largest city on the south island with a population of 376,000, breaking the city in half.

Damage to the iconic Christchurch Cathedral // Crown Copyright 2011, NZ Defence Force

Money for Kittehs and Puppehs!

I've never asked for money on the blog and I never will, for me anyway. I've always blogged for the fun of it and to improve my writing skills etc. etc.

But this post is a little different, because of this guy.


What a week!!!

I have grown accustomed to the largely monotonous and repetitive life of a PhD student recently. Wake up, go to Uni, set up experiment, experiment fail, go home, sleep, rinse and repeat ad infinitum. But this week has been different.

There is significantly less Kung Fu in science than I was led to believe. Turns out its mostly repetitive bench work.

Third hand smoking - Can we ban this poison already?
I’m not going to write a post on why smoking is bad, it’s too obvious and if you don’t understand why then your probably never going to find this post anyway. I’m not even going to talk about second hand smoking, ie. blowing your death cloud at me on the street. Again it’s obvious why it’s bad and may even be worse than smoking the cigarette itself as second hand smokers don’t get the benefit of a filter. No, this post is about third hand smoking, a fun new way smokers can harm those around them long after they have butted out.
Yeah. That looks healthy.

Flooding and disease

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for
I’m not sure what the coverage has been like overseas but most of the east coast of Australia has been hit pretty hard. First there were biggest floods Australia has seen for a VERY long time that started in Queensland and continue to affect the east cost of Australia. Then, instead of letting Queensland off the hook for a few weeks nature hit the coast with a cyclone THE SIZE OF THE U.S.A. that might move so far inland that it could dump rain into my state, which is a desert, halfway across our island continent.


I strongly suggest you go read two very good posts I came across today.

The first by my friend Thomas at Disease of the Week is about leprosy in all its glory and celebrating World Leprosy Day! He's a funny guy and leprosy is always fun to read about.

The second is by FoS blogger Emily Willingham. A great piece on woo and oversimplification of science in the media specifically referring to the 'link' between having your children's tonsils out and your children becoming overweight. Apparently this common surgery is extending the childhood obesity epidemic. Well not really.

I have nothing more today, just liked these posts and thought I would share them :).

The Australia Antigen
I feel a little left out some times on the internet as many (but certainly not all) of my bloggy friends are English or American. So, just to fill you in, the 26th of January is Australia Day and it commemorates the landing of our first fleet in 1788 and the planting of the British flag in what was then known as New Holland and is now known as Sydney Cove, New South Wales, Australia. Most people celebrate the day with a public holiday, a beer or two, a barbi and the TripleJ Hottest 100.

Halitosis - Your mouth smells like arse

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgSometimes I'm going to write about rare cancers or blood diseases and sometimes I’m going to write about bad breath. That’s just the way I roll.

Halitosis literally means “condition of the breath” and has many causes and just as many home remedies. Original therapies (and by original I mean 1550 BC) like heavily herb infused wines didn’t remove the bad breath but like mints and other modern treatments they just attempted to cover the bad smell with something more pleasant.

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Syndrome
Well I’m back! I’m not going to pretend like you missed me but I hope your glad to see another post out of me. I did a bit of writing during my time off to build up a bit of a backlog so hopefully I can keep posting regularly for a while. Anyway, without any further ado…

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Syndrome

Best. Disease. Name. Ever.

This disease was first observed in 1878 by the neurologist Dr. George Miller Beard, a guy I will definitely talk about again, in French-Canadians, lumberjacks and presumably some French-Canadian lumberjacks living in northern Maine. So that explains the “Frenchman” and “Maine” parts but lets look at what makes this a “Jumping Syndrome”.