As we delve into this new series – a scientists’ toolkit, we start with the microscope. From its history through to its applications. Its uses are endless and we will show you why!
There are many different types, from light to electron, some are binocular others are not. There are digital, stereo, USB and pocket microscopes. Here are just a few of them below. Depending on the purpose different microscopes may be used, it is just about picking the right one for the job! (7)
Digital light microscope: invented in Japan in 1986. Uses principles of light microscopy, but connects to a computer similar to a printer/ Allowing for ease of observation. (7)
Stereo light microscope: Also known as a dissecting microscope, is used to view images three dimensionally by having 2 optical paths. (7)
Electron microscope: more powerful than a light microscope, and allows scientists to see things at nano size, there are two types; the scanning and transmission type. (7)
Microscopes are used by scientists for lots of different reasons- primarily to observes microscopic structures, and changes that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Allowing scientists to understand structure and physiology. This can help when trying to understand normal processes in the body, as well as changes due to disease, the effect of different therapies on the body, and possible therapeutic targets.
They can be used to visualize structures, conduct cell counts, diagnose disease and conduct qualitative scoring.
Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) – the Father of Immunology
An Artist at Heart
Born in 1822 in Dole, Louis Pasteur was not the conventional scientist. Growing up, Pasteur preferred to go fishing and enjoyed drawing. He had a special talent drawing portraits.
Pasteur, after relentless encouragement from his father, finally entered the world of academia. After graduating with a PhD in science from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he accepted a position as professor of physics at Dijon Lycee.
A True Scientist
Although Pasteur is now famously known for his work in the field of Immunology, his initial years were spent in the field of chemistry. He famously demonstrated that “organic molecules with the same chemical composition can exist in space in unique stereospecific (mirrored) forms”.
Pasteur was however intriuiged by numerous other fields. It was his venture and discussions with managers of the distilleries that led him to the field of immunology. His work on the spoiling of wine is particularly noteworthy.
At the time, scientists thought that the spoiling of food and fermentation were due to the chemical composition of air and therefore a chemical process. However it was Pasteur that disproved this. Pasteur hypothesised that food spoiling was due to microorgansims and not oxygen in the air.
To demonstrate this, he heated wine to 55C. This process killed the bacteria and left the taste unchanged. This entire process is now known as pasteurisation, and is used for numerous food products.
33 years after completing his PhD, Pasteur reported that you could make a virus less infectious and use it to prepare the immune system to fight it. He tried this with chickens, injecting them with a weakened virus, effectively immunising them against cholera.
Using this technique, he applied ‘immunisation’ to other viruses. He managed to treat sheep with anthrax (although his findings are disputed in the medical world). Controversially, Pasteur injected a boy bitten by rabid dog numerous times, without lengthy studies on his injections, saving the young boys life.
Humans are naturally social animals so it’s no surprise that Isolation is linked to lower mood and poor mental health. It can be hard to maintain relationships during a lockdown but they’re very important for our wellbeing.
Take time out of your day to talk to the people in your household, try using video call software to reach out to friends and colleagues or even just send a good old fashioned e-mail or text. Now could be a good time to join an online community too, if you have a hobby, chances are there are lots of other people who do too, why not join a forum or discussion group and make some new friends?
Exercise has been shown to increase mood and feelings of wellbeing in both the short and long-term. Getting the blood flowing releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins for a natural boost. Think how great you’ll look and feel when this is all over.
You are allowed one outside exercise session per day, it can be a great chance to get out of the house and see some nature (which also boosts mental wellbeing!). If you’re self-isolating and can’t leave the house, there are plenty of workouts you can do from your bedroom, your home gym or even your armchair!
Learning a new skill is a great way to boost your self-esteem and can give a sense of direction and purpose. Learning new skills also helps to keep your brain healthy and your mind active, fighting off those lockdown blues.
There are lots of free and accessible online courses for nearly anything you could be interested in. Learn a language, an instrument, a new recipe or a DIY job. It doesn’t matter what it is you learn, that’s up to you, just that you’re interested enough to keep it up and that it’s challenging enough to keep you engaged without being so difficult you give up. Don’t worry about earning certificates unless you want to, it should be fun, not a chore!
Acts of giving and simple kindness can increase your mood and give you a sense of purpose and self-worth. Plus, it makes someone else feel good too as an added bonus!
You can start small and reach out to help colleagues or friends who might just want someone to talk to. There are also plenty of volunteer schemes to get involved with if you’re symptom free and want to help with the crisis.
GoodSAM can help you find volunteering opportunities during the coronavirus outbreak.
Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment: to your body, your thoughts, the world around you and how you’re feeling. It can boost mood and make you appreciate life more.
The lockdown will affect us all differently, pay attention to how you feel and take time each day to check in with yourself.
Connect, Get Active, Learn, Give and Pay Attention
If you do notice your mental health suffering, don’t feel like there’s nothing you can do. There are still plenty of services that are remaining open during this lockdown because mental health is just as important as physical health. If you don’t feel right, don’t feel like you have to suffer alone.
A final note: self-care is incredibly personal, and you should take these only as suggestions alongside things you know work well for you. None of us are obligated to come out of the end of this with new skills, a summer body, or anything else. If you keep yourself feeling well and functioning, you are doing well in this stressful time.
Often during virus outbreaks, conspiracy theories arise which purportedly explain the emergence of the virus. These range from deliberate government release as an agent of population control to Illuminati concocted plagues designed to disrupt our way of life in order to usher in the New World Order. The Covid-19 pandemic is no exception and there has been a wave of conspiracy theories relating to SARS-COV-19, the virus behind Covid-19. Writing in Nature, Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut , Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes and Robert F. Garry sought to investigate the origins of SARS-COV-2, not only in order to dispel some of these theories, but also because during a pandemic it’s important to know where the virus came from as this may inform future preventative strategies.
The authors first start by analysing the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-COV-2 spike protein. This protein is present on the outside of the SARS-COV-2 virus particle and is responsible for the binding of the virus to the receptor ACE2, which is found on the surface of cells. It’s this protein which the virus exploits to enter our cells, and it’s been shown to be very important for coronavirus host range and pathogenicity.
While it’s clear the SARS-COV-2 RBD is able to successfully bind the ACE2 receptor found in human, ferret and other similar species, this interaction is not exactly perfect. In fact, SARS-COV-2 binds with less efficiency than SARS. If a super plague was generated in a lab, computational studies could have been carried out to formulate better binding of ACE2, therefore improving the infectivity of the pathogen. Pretty sloppy work, Illuminati. It’s much more likely that the RBD of SARS-COV-2 evolved to bind a human-like ACE2 and has been acted upon by natural selection. What do I mean by a human-like ACE2? Remember that we share about 98.5% of our DNA with chimps and around 85% with mice, so its highly likely that SARS-COV-2 evolved to infect a similar, but different species, which provided it with some limited ability to infect humans. Once this human transmission was set up natural selection can allow the virus to adjust to humans in order to infect us more efficiently – more on that later.
There’s also good evidence that SARS-COV-2 wasn’t generated in a lab due to the fact it doesn’t appear to have been designed according to other viral “reverse genetics” systems. Reverse genetics systems are what scientists use to produce genetically manipulated viruses in the lab. These techniques employ the use of the virus genetic material which has been probed and packaged through a variety of molecular techniques which allows infectious virus to be generated. The authors make it quite clear that SARS-COV-2 shows no evidence of being generated by the use of these existing virus reverse genetics systems. So, if SARS-COV-2 is naturally occurring, how did it infect humans in the first place and start the whole pandemic off?
The authors provide two hypotheses:
1) The virus arose in animals and, through natural selection, acquired the necessary genetic changes needed to infect humans, whereupon it jumped the species barrier and infected people.
2) The virus jumped from an animal species into humans, whereupon it spread through the human population and, through natural selection, acquired the genetic changes needed to successfully cause a pandemic.
By comparing the genetic material of SARS-COV-2 and other coronaviruses which have been sampled from different species, it has been shown that SARS-COV-2 shares high sequence similarity with those coronaviruses found in bats. The Huanan market in Wuhan is considered to be ground zero for this pandemic and it is known that bats were stored and sold here, in addition to a myriad of other species. It is therefore highly probable that one of these species was host to the progenitor of SARS-COV-2, which then found its way into the human population.
Interestingly, the RBD of SARS-COV-2 is unlike those found in bats but shares high homology with those found in pangolins. Pangolins are an endangered, and very cute, little species of mammal which are the most illegally trafficked animals in the world. Coronaviruses isolated from these creatures exhibit RBDs with high similarity to those found in SARS-COV-2. Pangolins are also thought to have been present at the Huanan market in Wuhan.
Coronaviruses are also known to undergo genetic recombination, in which they swap genetic material. This happens when two different coronaviruses find themselves infecting the same host. It’s therefore highly likely that SARS-COV-2 arose from a recombination event between two coronaviruses, possibly from bats and pangolins, which was then able to jump into humans.
There’s one more feature of SARS-COV-2 that the authors draw attention to: the addition of a polybasic cleavage site which sits between the two subunits of the spike protein. This site is unique to SARS-COV-2 and may result in efficient cleavage by cellular proteases such as furin. This sounds quite complicated. Simply, the virus has evolved a site in the portion of the virus which is responsible for invading our cells which improves its ability to function, therefore making it more infectious.
We see such adaptations in avian influenza all the time – they arise through natural selection when flu spreads through chicken populations. Such adaptations result in the generation of highly pathogenic bird flu strains and are a major public health concern. Mutations of this type which affect the spike protein subunit junction have also been found in nature many times before. These inserted residues also change the structure of the spike protein slightly in a way that the authors hypothesise may help the virus evade the host immune response.
“OK, so where did this genetic change come from? Is it possible for this to happen in the lab? Can it happen in nature?”
Simply, both are possible, but one is less likely. Looking at our two theories it’s entirely possible that this mutation, which likely allows for increased pathogenicity, arose during repeated human to human transmission, similar to what we see in birds with flu. This would mean that, after making the jump from bats/pangolins/unknown species to human, SARS-COV-2 spread through the human populace, acquiring this mutation, and then setting off the chain of events which led to the pandemic. We see this in SARS often, in which the virus jumps from camels to humans and then spreads from human to human for a short period. Crucially SARS has not yet been able to sustain its human-human transmission, whereas SARS-COV-2 has. It’s also possible that this mutation arose in the progenitor to SARS-COV-2 in an animal host. To have arisen this would require sustained transmission between hosts that are in high density and have human-like ACE2 receptors.
Both theories are plausible…
…What isn’t as likely is that the virus gained this adaptation in a laboratory setting. In labs around the world viruses are routinely grown in cell culture. Viruses are introduced to cells in culture, allowed to grow, and eventually harvested. This is known as “passage”. For this mutation to arise in cell culture the virus must have been serially passaged through cells which contain a human-like ACE2 receptor. While these passages take place, the virus is continually evolving, so much so that serial passage in cells eventually leads to viruses getting so good at infecting cells in culture they become worse at infecting whole animals. It’s theoretically possible that the virus could have been serially passaged through an animal, one which contains sufficiently human-like ACE2, however this has never been documented.
It is very unlikely that SARS-COV-2 originated in a laboratory setting
…and it doesn’t exhibit the genetic fingerprints we’d expect a genetically modified super plague to exhibit. Unfortunately, at the moment all we can do is theorise about its origins until the exact host, or progenitor virus, is found. There are a staggering number of viruses present in nature which we simply haven’t discovered yet (think of a tip of the iceberg kind of thing) which are currently quietly circulating in animals, and possibly humans, throughout the world. The conditions which we saw at the Huanan market in Wuhan in which various different exotic animals are stacked, live and dead, in cages in close proximity to each other, and humans, makes the perfect melting pot for these pandemics to arise. Furthermore, as humans clear more habitat, and as global temperature rise allowing vector species such as mosquitos and midges to extend into higher latitudes, it’s a matter of time until this happens again. While this pandemic is ongoing, the next one in line is lurking out there and it’s vitally important that we learn what we can from SARS-COV-2 so that we are prepared when it finally emerges.
Coronavirus: A natural phenomenon or a man-made weapon? Read a lay summary of @NatureMedicine article: The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 by @K_G_Andersen, @arambaut and @edwardcholmes and co. Written by @jordandoesflu with @thescisocial #covid19 #sarscov2 #mythbusters https://thesciencesocial694680041.wordpress.com/?p=104
Misinformation and fake news are a modern day problem driven by the powers of social media. However, as we live in a world experiencing a pandemic, misinformation could put people at risk. Scientists have come together to discuss the public health implications of misinformation 1, 2. These scientists highlighted that reputable information provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers of Disease Control Prevention (CDC) had engagement values in the hundreds of thousands. Compare that to clicks on conspiracy sites and hoax information which had a whopping 52 million engagements. Clearly, there is a problem with the uptake of unverified information.
During the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic which emerged in the 1980s, the information available to the public was plagued with conspiracy theories, rumours and misinformation. Occasionally you will still hear that “HIV does not exist”, despite much evidence confirming the contrary. Mian & Khan remind us how these false arguments influenced government policy during the South African HIV epidemic in early 2000. Governmental denial of the HIV and the effectiveness of its treatment, resulted in the refusal of medication for pregnant women. This ultimately led to unnecessary mother-to-child virus transmission, costing over 300,000 lives 3, 4.
This is not the only time misinformation has swayed our views during an outbreak, throughout the ebola virus outbreak in 2014, social media influenced the social views of healthcare workers and created additional challenges in the effort to control the epidemic 5,6.
American scientists designed a study to determine how twitter bots and “trolls” contributed to online health content. They found that misinformation disseminated by twitter bots masquerading as legitimate users created false equivalency, which in turn eroded public consensus on vaccination 7. As a consequence, the vaccination programme was stunted. Thus demonstrating how misinformation can have detrimental effects on population health. A concern… I think so.
We want to give you the skills to call information out, and keep that finger far, far away from the share button, except for ours of course. It is our social responsibility to make sure erroneous and dangerous information is not propagated. Especially when we live in a world where the wrong information is shared more than that which will benefit us. Will you join us in ending this misinformation crisis?
How to avoid it?
In short – you can’t. Unfortunately, misinformation will continue to be an entity that exists for as long a social media does. What you can do is learn how to identify misinformation, question it, and challenge it. This all starts by understanding what good quality information really is.
1. If you’re not sure – don’t share
The unknown drives fear and stress which can impact our decision making. In this unprecedented time, it is easy to click, read and share without considering how accurate the information really is. Fake news is often interesting to read and framed to look credible with a name drop from a ‘reliable’ source or institution. It is likely that by the time you come across the post, it has been shared tens or hundreds of times, lending credence to its faux authenticity. Always consider the source of this material. If there’s a reputable name drop, fact check and search the original website or article for yourself. If you can’t find the source material or you’re not sure, don’t share.
2. Consider the source
Before you believe the words you read, question them. In academia, it is gold standard to reference where you got your information from, this must always be from a credible or peer-reviewed source. To write a sentence without referencing it would imply that; it is common knowledge, you are the first person to say this, or it is your idea. Referencing is a way to acknowledge the work of others in your work, argument or ponderings. It provides integrity to your discussion and crucial evidence to support your point. It is commonplace to reference papers or articles that have been published by a scientific journal. In order for a paper to be published, it must be peer-reviewed by other experts in the field. This process ensures the work is necessary and relevant, robust in design and most importantly, offers reliable data.
The next time you read something, think about who wrote it and ask; what are the author’s credentials and what is the evidence?
3. For the geeks… be cautious of preprint
The way research is published is forever changing. Researchers now have a platform where they can publish their findings without peer review. If you’re into science, you may have come across research yourself on platforms such as BioRxiv and MedRxiv. This is great for researchers, scientists and hobbyists to browse the most recent work, but preprint is a double edged sword. It is important to bear in mind that the article has not yet been assessed for its publication suitability. Remember, the peer review process ensures reliability and prevents poorly conducted research from being published. This is not to say that research available in a preprint journal is not reliable, but the reader should remain cautious when drawing conclusions from the evidence.
4. We are forever learning
We are learning new things every single day. The pursuit of science and research works to prove and disprove our current understanding and so guide our thinking. Whilst this dynamic is exciting for the field, the result may be a surge of ever-changing information. This is especially obvious in a pandemic situation, as governance and policy are rapidly adapting to keep up. Although the growing wealth of knowledge may be vital to how we move forward as a nation, it can be extremely frustrating and stressful for individuals. We understand that it is difficult to filter through what is and isn’t useful, what to read and what to do next.
The internet is a minefield of information, it is important that we provide the people around us with the skills to read information, digest it and make an informed decision on whether it is reliable or not. Like the virus itself, we must stop the spread of misinformation.
The Science Social would like to help you remain aware of what’s current, challenge your sources and give you the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
To guide you in your quest for trustworthy information:
The Conversation provides news and views sourced from the academic and research community. If you want to keep up with what’s going on, this is a great place to be. https://theconversation.com/uk/covid-19
World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation is perhaps the most trustworthy and up-to-date site. As an organisation responsible for international public health, there are links and features covering all manner of public health issues. The link below will take you directly to a COVID-19 dashboard covering issues and questions as they arise.
The Lancet, Emerging understandings of 2019-nCoV, The Lancet, Volume 395, Issue 10221, 2020, Page 311, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30186-0. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620301860)
Bateman C. Paying the price for AIDS denialism. S Afr Med J. 2007;97(10):912
Nlooto M, Naidoo P. Traditional, complementary and alternative medicine use by HIV patients a decade after public sector antiretroviral therapy roll out in South Africa: a cross sectional study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16:128.