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Showing posts from 2020

Understanding mRNA Vaccines - Webinar

  As the COVID19 vaccine rolls out it is critical to understand how it works, its efficacy, as well as its risks and benefits.  Actively opposing disinformation will be key in achieving broad public compliance and ultimately ensuring public health. What is the history of the mRNA vaccine?   How does this approach differ from previous vaccination strategies?  Is this really new technology?  These questions and many more will be answered, along with your specific questions.  Hosted by Dr. Kevin Folta, molecular biologist and host of the Talking Biotech Podcast.

Dr. Don Huber's Mystery Organism - A Legacy of Disinformation

Back before calling out disinformation was fashionable, I was busting biotech charlatans for lying about science to satisfy their personal agendas.    It was seven years ago today that Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Purdue University, stood in front of a room of people and scared the hell out of them. I was in the room. His stream of disinformation was disgusting, deliberately and intentionally lying to an audience assembled to learn about food and new technology.  You can read about the event in detail here .  At the event he reiterated his claims of a new organism he had isolated from "GMO" crops-- a deadly "virus-like fungus" or "microfungus" that killed plants, caused disease in people and triggered spontaneous abortion in livestock.  The audience was aghast, with audible discomfort in the room.  Not "scientists" but one unscrupulous scientist that intentionally fabricated a story to influence public perception and sway federal policy.

Ending COVID19 - The Decision is Ours

One message that is not being shared about COVID19- It is 100% controllable with changes in our personal behavior. A virus is just a tiny collection of infectious chemistry that only spreads when we permit it to spread. This is why testing, tracing, staying home, washing hands, controlling your respiratory aerosols, and keeping distance are so important. We each, control its spread together. Australia did an excellent job at this and yesterday logged zero new cases. Life there is normal; their businesses can thrive. Hospitals can go back to treating the involuntarily ill and health care workers can know they are not risking their lives by treating someone that perhaps elected to become infected via their own negligence. How can we do reach zero in the States when we are turning the corner into increasingly unprecedented infections? If everyone were to assume they were infected and took their most extreme efforts to protect others, the numbers would plummet within weeks. Unfortunate

The Chemistry of the Beirut Tragedy

  The use of ammonium nitrate in explosives is nothing new. It is a potent oxidizing agent that accelerates the combustion of fuels, instantaneously liberating the energy within their bonds. This is how explosives work. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 is an example of its devastating potential. A rental vehicle filled with about   4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer prills (1–2 mm soluble beads) treated with diesel fuel   (47:1) was detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, destroying the adjacent building and damaging 325 others in a substantial radius of the blast. Ammonium nitrate is a readily-available fertilizer, as plants thrive on the nitrogen present in both the ammonium and the nitrate moieties of the compound. Malicious use has decreased with stiffened regulations and availability. The use of ammonium nitrate to accelerate the combustion of fuel is common in industrial applications such as mining. The mixture is referred to as  ANFO  for  ammonium

Condoning Car Attacks on Protesters

The interesting thing about COVID19 times is that whenever I sense we have hit the lowest low, society always seems to find a level lower.  At a time when we admire the work of physicians, nurses and other folks on the front line of the pandemic, there are equal magnitudes of disappointment from some that represent a significant mindset within our nation. Today someone I knew from high school posted this on Facebook: A new low in counter-protest swag endorses the recent trend of using vehicular violence to quash social movements.  Clearly the All Lives Splatter  is a play off of Black Lives Matter , and the car plowing into protesters depicts the increasingly frequent use of vehicles weaponized by those aggressively opposed to the requested social change.  Since the death of George Floyd in late May, there have been 66 vehicle attacks on protesters. The tactic typically employed by Islamic militant groups has now been adopted by those wishing to limit the American tradit

The Joy of Growing Food for Others - What we can learn from a four-year-old farmer

Olivia is a tiny girl, probably somewhere between four and five, that doesn’t really walk from place to place as much as she bounces. Her hair is white-blonde from the sun, she always smiles, and she sings while she talks. We met her at a Gainesville, Florida farmers market. My wife Natalia sells the fruits and vegetables she produces there, and Olivia and her parents are regular customers. One day last fall Olivia would fall in love with the  cucamelon . Also known as the  mouse melon  or  Mexican sour gherkin , the cucamelon is a fresh-market fruit that has the color and size that would be perfect as a watermelon for Barbie and Ken. Cucamelons have a pickle-like quality and a hint of citrus, and they are a favorite at the market. We eat them in salads and on cheese boards, plucked by the dozens from long prolific vines. And Oliva just loves them. During the early spring Florida growing season in January and February she’d come back week after week, searching for the frui

Film Review: The Need to Grow

The recurring ads on Facebook pulled at me to watch The Need to Grow , a documentary film about food and farming.  As someone connected with these areas professionally and personally, I thought it would be worth a watch.  Here is a review. First the good things.  The film is nicely shot and well written.  The majority of the work builds on themes such as nutritious diets healthy soils, and efficient energy. Those are the central underlying values of the film, and ones that I wholly endorse.  However, where the film falls apart is in its approaches to achieve those end points.  Two of the "experts" recruited for the film are none other than Jeffrey Smith and Vandana Shiva, two people with little training in science or farming (and no, Vandana Shiva is not a physicist as the film claims).  The narrator is actress Rosario Dawson, who early in the film makes the proclamation, "Agriculture is the most destructive human activity on the planet." It is clear where t

Science From Home 3-30 to 4-3

Hi Everybody,  I'll keep doing the daily science story at 11AM EDT at facebook.com/kmfolta .   This week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

No Ventilator for You!

Today the New England Journal of Medicine predicted that we will fall woefully short of ventilators to treat COVID19 patients. Using the data from Italy and the rate of growth in the States, it is estimated that there will be need for 1.4 to 31 people per available ventilator.  Tough decisions will have to be made.  That's why I'm starting the hash tag #NoVentilatorForYou.  And here is the first charlatan that should be denied access. They also should be arrested and jailed for life.    On Instagram the account @mypronatural is selling concoctions with the clear implicit goal of treating SARS-COV2.  This is pure profiteering off of a crisis, lining pockets with false health claims that will endanger lives and burden the health care system.  I motion that when we have to make decisions about who has access to the limited ventilators, the folks behind this campaign move to the back of the line .  Do I hear a second? At least report them on Instagram.  I did.  It did nothi

Home School Video Field Trips!

With the closure of schools due to COVID19, it is an opportunity to try new experiments in education. This week I'll be featuring Facebook Live streaming video that students can join from any location.  I'll present topics in science and agriculture for 30 minutes, then stop to answer questions about the topic and about life as a scientist.  We'll also present a diversity of guests that will show their work.  I'll gear the lessons for grades 3-6, but all ages are welcome.  I'll be glad to answer questions afterward until there are no more!  11 AM EST at my professional Facebook page This week: 3/23    Plants and Light 3/24    Plant Grafting:  How and Why 3/25    From Egg to Goose (we'll look at live goose eggs as they develop) 3/26     No More Oranges?   The race for a cure for the citrus disease 3/27    Crop Domestication - Where did Fruits and Veggies Come From?  

Bogus Hand Sanitizers

As anticipated, bogus and dangerous crackpot cures have been bubbling up during the recent COVID-19 outbreak.   We know that hand hygiene is important at this time, and that soap and water are superior to all other methods of virus suppression on your hands. Period.  Of course, there are those that shun the offerings of Big Soap and delve into the alchemy cabinet to devise a magical virus shield. Sadly, the folks that shun science and technology in a medical parlance certainly appreciate the technology of the computer, and are glad to share their shaman's crappy guidance with the world.  As a guy that hangs at farmers markets and has some crunchy online friends, I am seeing too much quackery.  The majority state that homemade hand sanitizers can be made from various ingredients found in any respectable commune's infirmary.  At least you'll have supple, sweet smelling hands in the casket. If you don't want to construct your own, or if local witches we

Talking Biotech #230 - A Deep Dive on COVID19

As of 3/11/2020 COVID-19 is emerging as a significant health threat worldwide.  This pandemic is on the rise, and public health suffers from politicized spin, misinformation, and a lack of good information.  This episode is targeted to the Talking Biotech listener that can connect with family and friends, sharing the facts of this outbreak.   Today's guest is Dr. ChubbyEmu, the YouTube physician that has been at ground zero in discussing the coronavirus outbreak.  We dig a layer deeper into the disease, its physical manifestations, and the current state of the disease as it spreads into the USA.

Talking Biotech #229 - A Universal Influenza Vaccine

Seasonal influenza causes thousands of deaths annually.  Part of the problem is that the vaccine must be administered annually because the virus presents different immunological faces to avoid detection.  Dr. Peter Palese is a pioneer in studying the molecular biology of the influenza viruses.  Today he and colleagues are on a quest to identify a universal flu vaccine that would provide one-time durable immunity.  We discuss the strategies and progress toward this public health milestone. Here's a link to this week's podcast. 

Talking Biotech #228 - Improved Oils from Plants with GE

Plants produce a variety of oils, many that are critical to the human diet.  The precise chemical qualities of plant oils dictate its stability, use, nutrient quality, or even its use as fuel.  Dr. Surinder Singh is an expert in plant oils at CSIRO, the Australian National Research Laboratory.  His laboratory has been working on projects in a variety of crops to improve the oil quality for human nutrition, but also as a potential fuel.  Such efforts provide a renewable and more sustainable source of valuable oils, taking pressure off of fisheries and carbon-intensive practices. Listen to this week's podcast here . 

Talking Biotech #227 - Anti CRISPRs

The arms race between bacteria and the viruses that infect them brought the Cas9 and similar editing systems.  These enzymes are essentially a bacterial immune system, and now are being exploited as important tools in genetic engineering.  To counter the bacteria response viruses produce inhibitors of the Cas enzymes. Dr. Joseph Bondy-Denomy is a professor at the University of California San Francisco that studies these inhibitors.  He discusses their discovery and potential applications.  Listen to Talking Biotech Podcast #227 here. 

The Inspiration of Being Un-Nominated

Awards and recognition are nice, not to litter the walls and mantle, but because they show that you have had impact and influence with a given group of respectables. It is a little pat on the back that your efforts are appreciated and meaningful. When your efforts sometimes came at personal and professional cost, that can mean a lot.  Not so fast, someone online says you have skeletons in your closet, and that could make things uncomfortable! I'm not going to provide details.  However, I recently found out that I was to be nominated for a rather prestigious recognition.  That's great, and I was honored that people I deeply respect felt that I was worthy of the opportunity.  That's a win right there.  Today I found out that they are not going to continue with the nomination. Turns out that a discussion of the politics and optics suggest this maybe best be done sometime in the future.  Of course, it is no reflection on the body of work or impacts. It's just polit

Talking Biotech Podcast # 226 - The Global Gene Editing Tracker; Remembering Dr. Chad Finn

In the first part of today’s podcast Dr. Kayleen Schreiber and Jon Entine discuss the latest addition to the Genetic Literacy Project, a website called the Global Gene Editing Regulation Tracker.  This online resource provides instant access to the current state of gene editing approvals, along with information on gene drives and other important regulatory updates.  In the second half Dr. Bernadine Strik remembers her colleague Dr. Chad Finn.  Dr. Finn contributed in massive ways to plant breeding, particularly in the development of new berry varieties for the Pacific Northwest.  He also shared a tremendous interest in service to his community and to the scientific community, and was invested in students and the development of others. He was everyone’s friend. He left us suddenly and unexpectedly and leaves a palpable gap in our community. Dr. Strik memorializes his contributions and character. Listen to Talking Biotech Podcast Episode #226 Here. 

Talking Biotech Podcast #225 - Fake News Survivor; Corona Virus Update

Dr. Ilaria Capua is an internationally recognized virologist, and a world expert in avian influenza and other animal viruses.  Following her effort to make genetic information about viruses more accessible in the interest of finding faster cures, she was unknowingly put under investigation, as she was central in moving viral information and samples to colleagues worldwide.  Wire taps and clandestine evidence gathering filled a file, that eventually would be discovered, leaked and maliciously reinterpreted, alleging that Dr. Capua was the mastermind of an international virus trafficking ring. She was accused in the media, without evidence, of providing viruses for others to spread so that she could profit from vaccines produced. These false allegations left her facing life in prison. Years later the charges were completely dismissed as manufactured claims by the media. However, the events were life changing. Today Dr. Capua has channeled her energies into broadening science educati