Tag Archives: Public Outreach

Uneasy Reality of the Zika Virus

The Zika virus promises a new reality for the USA and ‘the rest of the world.’ The virus will be infecting more individuals in the coming months, and ‘the true tragedy’ becomes apparent for those not infected by the virus.

Many of us will do our best eliminate standing water and ‘dangerous hot spots.’

Otherwise, ‘some encouraging words’ come from the researchers–


Purported MECHANISTIC DETAILS of Zika’s Infection in humans and in animal models:

The word mechanism implies that researchers, doctors and most of the ‘informed community’ understands how the virus infects ‘new borns and adults.’ It is also called a ‘mode of action’ — in some circles.

The impaired neurogenesis (in the fetus) is the focus of research and the impaired growth of  ‘neural stem cells.’ The virus causes what is termed as apoptosis–a death of cellular material. The precise ‘chemical mechanism’ is unknown… if it were known, the scientific community would know the best approach for deterrence. The public is justifiably upset, skeptical, confused and frightened. However, research is a slow and a precise affair in which progress –is marked by ‘repeatable and accurate experimentation.’

The entry point for the virus can happen at multi-sites –and can happen before, during and after ‘egg fertilization.’ The placenta– a safe haven– is, in this case, susceptible. The plea to the public is–be safe and minimize potential exposure.

Treatment Options (Future)… Detection? Vaccines? and Potential Therapies?

Presently, some in the medical community believe it will find a vaccine within two years while others speculate one year and even three years. The discovery of a vaccine hinges upon poorly understood aspects of the viral replication cycle and diagnosis of infection — an intimate knowledge its bio-chemical and mechanistic details is needed.

Diagnosis of viral infection has returned false negatives in some instances–a terrifying outcome. The reasons for diagnostic problems arise when one understands that Zika–is an arboreal virus– it is similar to Dengue Fever and West Nile with its mode of infection. Mosquitos, the culprits for much death, can carry other viruses. That is a challenge we face…

Presently, the medical community believes its best chance to contain the spread of the illness is through vaccination.

A vaccine for Zika is pursued in at least three ways: targeting DNA replication of Zika, modifying live viruses of Zika and modifying inactive Zika virus. There are a number of different strains of the Virus. Namely, the original 1947 virus (less problematic to people) transformed– aspects of its biochemistry changed from the Zika River Valley in Africa to its infectious form of 2007-08 Micronesia and the present infection of the  Americas.

How a virus transforms  would go far in understanding how to treat the infection. That type of mechanistic detail would expedite the path to vaccination and therapy.

Therapies, presently, are in planning stages. One route of investigation subverting viral replication —

The immuno-suppressor, Rapamycin is one potential candidate for therapeutic success. It subverts the immune system and may interfere with a viral replication.

ChemSpider 2D Image | Sirolimus | C51H79NO13

The anti-biotic macrolide, Rapamycin is a therapeutic candidate for Zika infection. The therapy is in the beginning stages of research. It may be awhile. Credit for Image Chemspider

As with many candidates such as Rapamycin, it is a ‘hot compound– toxic to many vital organs.’ However, in the war against pathogens, humanity can not afford to rest…



Adapting the Stess Response: Viral Subversion of the mTOR Signaling Pathway

The Global Zika virus to pregnancy: epidemiology, clinical perspectives, mechanisms, and impact





Murchison Meteorite



John Jaksich

As the world was celebrating the Apollo moon landing in 1969, humanity was greeted by a visitor—and a very welcome one, at that. On the morning of September 28, 1969, Australians witnessed a meteorite fall in Murchison, Australia—this piece of space rock has become one of more celebrated visitors from space (second only to the ALH84001, the Alan Hills Meteorite).

By Art Bromage  via Wikipedia

By Art Bromage via Wikipedia

 Murchison Meteorite

The Murchison meteorite is celebrated for many reasons, mainly of course; the detailed analysis of its constituents has yielded a treasure trove of data and some speculation, also. Firstly, speculation is, at times, part of the human condition—so I will put it aside.

Technically, the Murchison meteorite is known as a carbonaceous chondrite and it said to be about as old as the Solar System, itself. But, one major, distinguishing feature of this rock is the amount of organic compounds that have been identified within its matrix. According to two publications (listed below), it contains up to several thousand different organic compounds (many of the compounds may have some biological significance). Although it should be emphasized that no DNA, RNA—or fossilized remains of any type of organism were found within the Murchison meteorite.

The organic compounds, just the same, are very significant because many of these molecules yield important clues as to the nature of the protostellar disk—the type of chemistry which was prevalent before life took a foothold in our Solar System.

There have been skeptics—many of whom voiced legitimate concerns: contamination of the “rock” with terrestrial organics, ablation of meteor—resulting in significant alteration of the meteor, and “bad” handling processes by scientists and technicians. All the publications (three are listed below) which I have studied seemingly address the issues.

What does all of this mean? Molecular constituents that bear a resemblance to life’s constituents were “here” –in the protostellar disk, prior to us, prior to the dinosaurs, prior to the formation of our planet. That is a significant finding from a scientific point of view—almost (but not nearly close enough) as if we had found microbes on Mars, Europa, Enceladus, or Titan. Perhaps, it anything, this can serve as a rallying point for those of us who believe in science and its pursuits.

Publication reference list:

Schmitt-Koplin and others, 2010, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Pizzarello and Shock, 2010, Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology.

(Cold Spring Harbor Perspect. 2010;2:a002105)

Callahan and others, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Please note that you may have to pay for access—these references are copyrighted.





Having praised “Citizen Science” in a previous post, I believe it is wise to call attention to one of the latest undertakings from the individuals at COSMOQuest.org.  It is called Vesta Mappers; the aims of the endeavor are to map outstanding features of the “mini-world,” Vesta.

Vesta is found in the asteroid belt and it is one of the larger known bodies.  It is known to be a rocky body; and also, known meteorites, from Vesta, have been found (on Earth).  Vesta behaves somewhat like a “small, small planet”–it is nearly spheroidal and possesses a rotational period of approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes.  The composition (according to  JPL) appears similar to “lava flow-type” rock.  I must emphatically emphasize–no one currently understands  with certainty–how this “type” of mineral came to be in the middle of the asteroid belt.  It is widely regarded that asteroids, such as Vesta, are  remnants of the early Solar System.  One little known fact is that the “body” of Vesta could fit into the entire Pacific Ocean–(amazing and cool)!

COSMOQuest link is found here:  http://cosmoquest.org/mappers/vesta/

NASA  link is found here:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/ceresvesta/index.html

JPL Dawn mission here: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/

“Overview:” The Perspective-Altering Effect of Seeing Earth from Space

“Overview:” The Perspective-Altering Effect of Seeing Earth from Space.

The link listed above is an excellent perspective of the Earth from space. Much thanks is due to those at CosmoQuest.org, UniverseToday.com and The Overview Institute




John Jaksich

SETI app

Computational Citizen Science owes its origins, in part, to SETI.at.Home –the computer screen saver that dared anyone with idle computer time to utilize it for the pursuit of searching for signs of E.T. To the few astronomy-literate individuals not familiar with it, this simple adventure commenced with a single computer server in a cramped closet at the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-1990s. This inspirational endeavor born out of the silicon boom, has spawned dozens of well-meaning and educational endeavors. If allowed to continue to evolve, it may solve some of the more pressing problems faced today. Currently, the list of endeavors may be found here. The folks at Berkeley kindly developed the software so it could be adapted to different types of problems. Presently, the software is known as BOINC—or Berkeley Open Infrastructure Computing—and it is free for all to use.

One well-conceived off-shoot to the traditional screen saver has appeared. This undertaking is Cosmoquest.org which was launched in 2011, and is currently headed by five talented individuals in the astronomical community: Dr. Pamela Gay, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Scott Lewis, Georgia Bracey, and Joe Rhea. This is, perhaps, one of the more intelligent endeavors to prosper from the citizen science movement. The reason being—in my opinion, is their focus is precise while still having a large following. In mid-2012, the internet forum—Bad Astronomy-Universe Today joined the endeavor, and the group of “internet-inspired intellectuals” has produced a smart, vibrant community.

Although it may sound as if I am “tooting a horn” that may not need publicity, I speak because I have participated in the above endeavors. Why? For the same reason that I feel public outreach and education are the logical path of social networking.

SETI.at.HOME may be found at:  http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/

BOINC may be found at this link:: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/

COSMOQuest.org may be found here: http://cosmoquest.org/