Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

Wherein awesome things happen

Holy crap, yesterday was a good day.

Firstly, one of the blog pictures (from here) gets included in the very awesome photoblog “Things Organised Neatly“. As you see here, it was reposted around the place with comments like “I miss using micropipettes @.@“,  “ahh brings me back to my 10th grade genetics class…fuck“, and (for some reason) “Is it odd that this is sexy to me?

Yes, it bloody well is odd (Photo by Thomas Tu)

Secondly, I won second place in an open science haiku competition! The Royal Institution (in conjunction with the Friendly Street Poets) organised the second annual Sci-ku competition earlier this year with the themes being International Year of the Forest and Year of Chemistry. I was picked for second place for this:

Frenzied matter zoo

Then, Mendeleev’s table

The world ranked and filed

I’ll explain this poem a little bit. Continue reading


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Kuru – Brain-eating, Nobel-winning and kiddy-fiddling


As our lifetimes get longer and medical science’s diagnoses get more sophisticated, we end up finding new diseases (e.g cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes). More often than not, we are unable to treat them because they’re unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. For this reason, I probably won’t become redundant, which is nice. What’s not so nice is that we’ll probably always have the sword of Damocles hanging above our heads, just waiting to be struck down by some intractable lightning bolt. Currently, prion diseases (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, Fatal Familial Insomnia and Kuru) are amongst the scariest.

As we’ve mentioned before, prion diseases are caused by misfolded prion protein. Prion protein is a protein produced naturally by nerve cells with no known function. Certain misfoldings of prion protein change its function: now mutated prion protein can convert normal prion protein into more mutated prion protein. Mutated prion protein builds up in the nerve cells and damages them. Depending on the misfolding, mutated prion protein produces different symptoms, which I’ll explain in the next couple of posts. First off, the incredible story of Kuru.

Anton Enus (man with the velvet-smooth voice), Michael Alpers (researcher of kuru), his son Ben Alpers and Robert Bygott (director of the documentary) all have a chat (Picture taken by Thomas Tu)


What really kicked the idea for this post off for me was watching Michael Alpers talk at the RiAus for the opening showing of a documentary on kuru (I highly recommend you watch it on SBSOne – Sunday, December 19 at 8:30PM). Alpers was an Adelaide medical doctor turned researcher when he heard about a “laughing disease” that was affecting the Fore people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, then an Australian colonial outpost. What was causing this laughing disease? Why was it only the Fore people affected? This piqued his interest so much that he travelled up to PNG and lived amongst the Fore people for more than 40 years to investigate. Continue reading


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Ergotism – Man… why are they called “fingers”? I’ve never seen them fing. Oh, there they go.

1951, France: A Frenchman living amidst financial strife is fantastically excited when he gets his hands on flour that he can use to make some bread and feed his family with. The blackened rye flour is a disgusting grey colour but the bread tastes good and that’s all that matters. Over the next few weeks he and his family are struck down with disabling pain in the arms and legs. The father’s pain eventually recedes, but his finger turns black and falls off.

1024, England: A woman is giving birth. Midwives gather around. It looks to be going too slowly for their liking. They give the sweaty, agonised woman a preparation. Contractions are faster now. Grunting, groaning, calls to push. A stillbirth. It is a sad day.

1983, California: Kary Mullis is a biochemist. He is also stoned out of his mind on LSD. Inspiration hits amidst the Egyptians building pyramids and the butterflies of cassette tape ribbons. He has solved it. He has invented and developed polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. This technique will change the world: it will win him the 1993 Nobel Prize for Medicine, it will allow scientists to see unculturable bacteria and viruses for the first time, it will prosecute criminals through DNA fingerprinting… Sitting back and enjoying the ride, Dr. Kary Mullis remains unaware of the implications until on more solid ground.

PCR is now done in these babies (Pictured: Mr. Temperature Gradient and Mrs. Occasional Screwy Temperature Sensor, picture taken by Thomas Tu)

What connects these three stories? Continue reading


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(Lack of) Self Preservation in Biomedical Research

Not going to be about diseases this week. Instead I wanted to look at the extremes of personality, genius and confidence that some researchers take into biomedical research.

This is what come up first if you do a Creative Commons Search for Biomedical Research pictures. I don't know if this makes me happy or sad. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/john-norris/3509352904/)

Continue reading

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