Thursday, November 6, 2014

Enterovirus Entering the Media

In the United States the number of cases of Enterovirus D68 has been on the rise. Between 1970 and 2005 there have been 26 cases according to a CDC surveillance survey. Those numbers seem minuscule when compared to this year's caseload, which so far includes 825 people across 46 states.

Enterovirus is not a new virus as it was first seen in 1962 among four kids in California. Since then scientists have seen EV-D68 occur throughout the world in clusters, and in different forms. Infection with EV-D68 was often linked with mild cold symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing and fever.

The cases that have occured within the past year have been linked to more severe symptoms especially among children with breathing problems, says Rafal Tokarz of Columbia University. This has lead to increased concern from parents who have read headlines like "Michigan toddler dies of enterovirus D68". But parents' heightened concern may not be warranted as doctors are not sure if toddler actually died from the virus infection.

It has also been postulated that EV-D68 has not changed significantly but that scientists have just gotten better at finding it. In the past, people often found EV-D68 when they were looking for other viruses, Tokarz states. When Tokarz and his colleagues went looking for influenza in New York a few years ago he found that their was a sizable cohort of people that had EV-D68. Scientist do think that the enterovirus could have mutated to become more transmissible but the genome released by the CDC has not shown any obviously important mutations. Further analysis of the genome would have to be conducted to obtain more conclusive data.

In the mean time doctors are saying to not worry about the virus too much as the number of EV-D68 cases are predicted to dwindle as the colder season approaches.

-Vander Harris


Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Power To The Hive Mind: Harnessing the collective reasoning of a gaming population to solve nature's toughest puzzles. By Matthew Billman.

In a time where fear of government surveillance, abuse of big data, and malicious social networking sites runs rampant, it is easy to forget just how awesome (and genuinely beneficial) hi-tech can be. Much of technology's promise arises not from how much work it can take off our hands, but by how much work it can help us get done; less Rosie the Robot, more T.A.L.O.S. And the fact of the matter is, there are many more innovations being made today in that vein than in any other. This is a very good thing.

One such innovation you might have missed: FoldIt, the protein folding game. Developed by 
the University of Washington Center for Game Science in conjunction with the UW Department of Biochemistry, FoldIt presents its users with at 3-Dimensional model of a partially folded protein, and then lets the user try to fold it the rest of the way. The more energetically favorable the final model is, the more points they score. That new model is re-circulated among the community, and the process repeats. And repeats. Until finally –  at least by FoldIt standards – the protein's tertiary structure is "solved."

While FoldIt began in 2008 as little more than a joke amongst UW BioChem grads, the competitive bent of human nature soon reared its beautiful head: as of 2012, there were 240,000 players registered on the site. 

This is all well and good. But does it WORK? In four words: yes, very much so. In 2011, the structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus protease was solved in a matter of days, a task scientists had been unable to accomplish conventionally for fifteen years (  In 2012, the FoldIt community was able to redesign a Diels-Alderase used commonly in synthetic chemistry by adding 13 amino acids to the backbone, increasing it's reactivity by more than 18 times (the article in Nature:; in Scientific American: And now, the community has turned its attentions to Ebola: the first Ebola protein puzzle was uploaded six months ago, and work is ongoing.

Computers are better than us in a lot of ways: they're unparalleled in their execution of incredibly complex algorithms at blazing speeds, churning out results much more accurate than humans could ever hope to produce. But humans are creative. Humans are spontaneous. We have intuition, and a brain evolved over millions of years that is arguably the most complex organism in the entire universe. Though in the time it takes us to formulate a single thought a computer might execute a billion operations, each of our thoughts are unfathomably more complex. By harnessing the technology of social networking and gaming to bring together hundreds of thousands of the world's greatest minds to work on a single problem, we integrate computing's massive breadth of thought with humanity's already massive depth of thought – working together, a synergistic meta-android of the mind, our productivity scales exponentially.

Working together, we achieve the impossible. Welcome to the future.

Further reading: