Microbiology is bad news

Except it’s obviously really not.

Microbiology is great.

But when microbiology gets into the news, it’s rarely for happy happy joy joy reasons. Even the mention of words like Ebola, Listeriosis or Bacteroides melaninogenica twist the tongues and instill fear into the hearts – and horrendous infection into other major organs – of the population.

This isn’t how it should be, so to balance the bias, I went searching for some good news microbiology stories.

Rookie error. It’s all terrible.

A tiny beetle is is killing South Africa’s trees. But only because it’s introducing a tinier fungus into those trees.

According to Professor Marcus Byrne, an Ig Nobel prize winner and entomologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, the beetle bores tunnels into tree trunks where it spreads the fungus Fusarium euwallaceae, which effectively cuts off the trees’ vascular system, causing them to die.

So, it’s the fungus that is actually killing the trees. Not the beetle.
Entomology is only very slightly to blame here. Microbiology loses again.

_____

Aside: Ig Nobel prize details here:

Byrne, an entomology lecturer, and his colleagues from Lund University in Sweden, designed caps and boots for dung beetles and dressed the beetles in their new apparel to prove, firstly, that dung beetles use the Milky Way to orientate.

The caps blocked light from reaching their eyes in order to experiment with how they use starlight to navigate. The boots, in a fashionable luminous green, blocked heat from reaching the dung beetles’ feet.

_____

Next up: Virus kills pigs. Millions of pigs.

It’s African Swine Fever caused by… er… the African Swine Fever Virus.

Otto Saareväli lost his entire herd of 7000 pigs because of a case of ASF was diagnosed on his farm in Estonia.

“We have the strictest biosecurity measures here, and still no one is quite sure how the disease got in – it may have been a truck that wasn’t washed properly after visiting an infected farm,” says Saareväli. “But if you find just one pig, then everything has to go.”

Estonia is just the tip of the iceberg though. China is home to half the pigs in the world, so it’s vital that the virus doesn’t get a trotterhold there… oh… too late:

“The key thing that makes us very conscious of the threat that ASF poses is that China represents half the pigs in the world,” says Dr Matthew Stone, deputy director general of science at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which coordinates international monitoring of diseases. “It’s extremely important for food security and the economy of China and in the absence of a vaccine, stamping-out policies are crucial.”

And it’s not under control.

“At the moment because it’s on the move and undergoing a period of pandemic spread it’s very important.”

Still – at least that’s just a virus of pigs. There’s worse news when it comes to (very human) Measles Virus.

The annoying… no… the INFURIATING! thing about hearing about cases of, and deaths from, measles is that we have a very, very effective vaccine for measles. It’s entirely preventable.

Simply: there is no need for any child, any human, to suffer from, let alone die of, measles. So why is it happening?

Well, in Western Europe because “Dr” Andrew Wakefield is a corrupt twat, and because people chose – and continue to choose – to believe his lies.

Result?

Oh, and because misinformation and fake news is a big deal these days:

A new study showing that Russian-linked trolls and social media bots have been heavily promoting misinformation on vaccines shows just how far Putin’s government is prepared to go in its worldwide effort to sow mistrust and division. The study follows rapidly on the heels of earlier reports that Russian-owned media sites had been among the most prominent proponents of anti-GMO stories and memes, again aiming to undermine scientific consensus and public trust in academic institutions.

Both anti-vaccine and anti-GMO groups appeal to prejudices against modern science and conspiracy thinking to spread fear and misinformation. Like the tobacco lobby of old, doubt itself is their product.

We live in a truly sick (no pun intended), truly bizarre world.

And, as if it couldn’t get any worse, this:

In which, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) declared the vaccine haram – religiously forbidden, despite also commenting that:

…the religious organisation understood the dangers associated with not getting children immunised.

So they do understand that the vaccine works, they do understand the need for it and they do understand the implications of children not being vaccinated, but they’re still going ahead and railing against it anyway.

Fantastic.

And why would you do that?

It’s entirely possible Amin is using this fatwa and the MUI in general as political tools to impact the election. The group receives funding from the government of Indonesia, and Amin has used it to impact politics in the past.

Ah – personal gain at the expense of others. Pretty sure that’s unlikely to be top of the list at the Things I Learnt From the Quran Symposium later this year.

To be fair to Microbiology, it might be Fusarium spp. killing the trees and not the beetle, but it’s Ma’ruf Amin killing Indonesian kids and not the measles virus.

Science is doing everything it can, but in Indonesia, it’s Religion 1-0 Microbiology.

Microbiology will still get the blame, though.

I will go on looking for good news Microbiology stories, but I’m not going to waste too much time over it, because I don’t think that there are any of them out there.

Sweary tourist guide fined

Incoming from the Isle of Man…

[The TT being the annual motorcycle races there and Senior Race being (arguably) the biggest race for the week.] [Hoorah for context.]

Indeed.

I was a little confused by this story. Shouting at people isn’t a nice thing to do, and shouting at TT visitors is both rude and foolish, especially when the tourist trade on the island relies so heavily on their attendance at the Races. But despite her shouting and swearing at the visitors, she did seem to be attempting to assist them with enriching their stay:

Shelley Eileen Wardally, of Demesne Road, in Douglas, was seen by plain-clothed police officers shouting and swearing at visitors calling them ‘come-overs’ and telling them where to go.

The Isle of Man is a truly beautiful place. My spiritual home.
There are many wonderful places to visit there, many of them sequestered away from the prying eyes of the tourists. Some locals might prefer it kept that way, but Shelley is clearly all about sharing the wealth with her useful advice in “telling them where to go”.

I’m obviously not party to exactly where she suggested, but Colby Glen is an underrated hidden gem in the south of the island. Bluebells, wild garlic, a little brook running through it. I’ll bet that was included.
But then it all gets a bit weird:

…officers approached and spoke to her about her behaviour.

She then turned her abuse to the police as she swore at them telling them where to go.

Er… Shelley. These guys are from the Isle of Man. It’s likely that they are aware of all the incredible experiences it has to offer. You’re wasting your time in telling them where to go. They already know where to go.

They are fully cognisant of the local attractions, Shelley.

Why would Shelley be telling police officers where to go, then?

Wardally was said to be holding a can of Strongbow as officers approached

Ah. The Strongbow “defence”. It’s basically more of an admission of guilt.

Defence advocate Paul Glover said: “Ms Wardally informs me she had too much to drink that day and emotions got the better of her.”

I do understand, Shelley. Sometimes the sheer beauty of the Gem of God’s Earth gets to us all, and we simply can’t hold back. It’s completely overwhelming and you need to get it out of your system before you just… explode and start drunkenly shouting at tourists in Douglas.

“But for Senior Race Day this offence wouldn’t have taken place.”

As The Jacksons infamously told us: Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good time, blame it on… er… Senior Race Day.

Which happens every year.

No, Shelley – I think we need to blame it on the Strongbow.

The 46-year-old has been fined £275 after admitting being drunk and disorderly. She was also ordered to pay £125 prosecution costs.

Ja. See? The offence was ‘drunk and disorderly’, not ‘simply existing on Senior Race Day’.

This is clearly a message to anyone blurting out he location of secret sites to tourists. It seems that the Manx justice system will do anything to stop their private spots from being revealed.

Keep it to yourself next year, Shelley.

6 months in a leaky boat

With apologies to Tim Finn and Split Enz for borrowing stealing their title.

The ISS (you may remember it from posts infinatum on here) has sprung a leak.

[brief pause while I spill coffee all over my laptop]
[that wasn’t a good idea]

Look. We all have problems and they affect us all in different ways. There are levels here. My laptop may have just taken a hit of Nespresso to its power switch, but all the oxygen that I rely on for breathing isn’t disappearing into space.

Which is nice.

Apparently, the leak was likely caused by a MicroMeteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD) strike to one of the windows. A MicroMeteoroid is exactly what it sounds like: a very, very small meteoroid, but it was the Orbital Debris bit that got me interested.

Orbital Debris is also exactly what it sounds like. Debris in orbit around Earth. But what I didn’t realise was that it is often man-made. Yep. We’ve dumped shedloads 0f litter in space too. Great. Is there actually anywhere that we have f**ked up yet?

And MMOD strikes aren’t even unusual:

Although spacecraft are designed with a level of protection from such impacts, MMOD was the third biggest threat to losing an orbiter during her mission – second only to launch and re-entry.

During the Space Shuttle era, all of the orbiters would receive flesh wounds from MMOD strikes.

And because things in space generally go much faster than on earth, the damage is… well… here’s an example of what those MMOD strikes look like:

Eina.

But it was this line that amazed me:

Atlantis and Endeavour both suffered “bullet hole” impacts to their radiators, with Atlantis’ damage was sustained when she was hit by a tiny piece of circuit board on orbit – likely from a destroyed satellite. The damage held no mission impact and was only noticed once she had returned home and was in post flight processing inside her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

Of course, NASA did a whole risk-analysis, debriefing, scientific investigation technical report paper on the whole thing. During the investigation, they tried to recreate the incident (in a lab on earth) by firing a bit of circuit board at a space shuttle panel at 4.14km/sec (that’s about 15,000kph). The entry hole on the original space shuttle panel was 2.74mm in size. The fragment of circuit board was only 0.4mm long, but when it’s going that fast, even little stuff is going to hurt.

There’s no evidence that the ISS window strike was from a man-made object, but it’s a proven fact that we’re literally putting astronauts in danger by putting them in the firing line of plastic rubbish that we’ve put into space and which is now hitting the ISS and other spacecraft.

Bonkers.

Instagram breaks flower farm

Humans are weird things. We get carried away in the weirdest way about the weirdest things. Canadian sunflower farms, for example.

The Canadian sunflower farm in question belongs to Marlene Bogle and her family. They open up their farm to the public for a few days every now and again. This year, things went bad.

It started mildly enough. The Bogles opened up their farm to photographers on July 20, charging $7.50 an adult. They had done the same thing three years ago, with a few hundred visitors providing a modest boost to their main business of farming sunflower, corn, millet, oats and barley, as well as selling various kinds of birdseed from their big red barn, which remains open for business.

I’ve never been to the Bogle’s sunflower farm, but I’m finding it easy to imagine the scene: Peaceful, tranquil, sunlight filtering through the trees, the gentle sound of children’s laughter echoing across fields of beautiful sunflowers.

“Everyone was laughing and having fun,” says Barry Bogle, of that first week. “Then all of Toronto showed up.”

Oops.

The apocalypse arrived on Saturday, the 28th. A few pictures of people posing among the roughly 1.4 million sunflowers had gone viral on Instagram. Cars began rolling up the driveway at 5:45 a.m. “We knew then something was up,” says Barry, who called Hamilton police for help.

I can’t do justice to the carnage that followed, save by copying and pasting the Globe and Mail’s description from the link above (oh, ok… or here, if you can’t be arsed to scroll back up) which I’m not going to do.

The sunflower is a notoriously fragile crop. If the lower leaves are damaged, the plant becomes far less resistant to drought and disease. The Bogles won’t know the extent of the damage until they harvest the plants in late September or early October.

“I used to love these flowers,” says Marlene, waving a Tesla away from the driveway. “Now I can’t stand ’em.”

Our (their?) obsession with Instagram has broken a sunflower farm. It’s ruined a good, healthy, educational family day out simply because we are narcissists and are desperate for instant gratification, more LIKES than the next person and some sort of transient security through affirmation of our petty content.

Humans are weird things. Really weird.

Holiday plans

I had none.
But then this advert dropped into my inbox this morning, and suddenly I’m tempted with a return visit to the Greek Islands.

We had a lot of fun at a quiz in dangerous Hout Bay last night.

It would have been even more fun if the guys in charge had read this webpage, because then we would have won, but hey… I’m not (very) bitter.