Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fracking - Cracking the Code, and Passing Gas

Fracking is an industrial process for extracting natural gas and oil from previously untapped reservoirs in solid ground. The relative value of its benefits and drawbacks has been greatly debated among politicians, news media, and academia. On one hand, fracking has greatly increased the domestic supply of natural gas and oil, contributing to a global decline in prices and promoting U.S. energy independence. Critics, however, point to evidence of serious health concerns and major pollution/contamination risks.

What is Fracking?
Hydrauling fracturing, or “fracking”, involves the pumping of fluid at high pressure deep into wells in order to crack the rock (typically shale) open and release trapped energy-rich natural hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Fracking wells are first drilled vertically down and then horizontally through the target shale deposit, followed by well encasement and subsequent pumping of fracking fluid. Fracking fluid is primarily water, but also includes supportive chemicals as well as proppant. Proppant can be either sand or tiny ceramic balls that fill the cracked rock and help keep the fissures open for extraction of gas/oil. Once the pressure is turned off, the released gas/oil along with other minerals travel up the well and are extracted.

A short video explaining the process of fracking

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How to Edit Genes (Using CRISPR)

Check out my summary of CRISPR, the molecular biology technique currently revolutionizing genetic engineering:

I wrote this article as a guest column for the blog Infective Perspective. Please check out other posts there as well!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Obama's "Moonshot" to Cure Cancer: Apollo 11, or Apollo 13?

           During his final State of the Union address in January 2016, President Obama announced a plan to invest $1 billion toward a “moonshot” attempt at curing cancer. While the details of the plan are rather broad and ambiguous, it essentially provides increased funding for existing research efforts with an emphasis on data sharing and collaboration. While the biomedical research community will gladly welcome any funding increase amidst an ever-decreasing public investment in research relative to inflation, not all scientists are rushing to praise this initiative.

          The moonshot initiative includes a substantial funding increase for cancer research at both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with additional support for efforts at the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Research areas of interest highlighted by the initiative are: vaccine development, earlier  cancer screening/detection, immunotherapy, pediatric cancers, and genomics. As previously mentioned, another big focus is to consolidate various efforts not only among government agencies but also between distinct cancer researchers and labs. An overall summary of the plan’s goals can be found here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Like Cures Like: Assessing the Claims of Homeopathy (In Rapid Succussion)

What is homeopathy?
          Homeopathy was first described in a book written by Samuel Hahneman in 1796, based on the central tenet that “like cures like.” This form of alternative medicine utilizes extreme dilutions of chemicals – usually natural – as therapeutic agents for symptoms and conditions often caused the original source of the substance (for example, arsenic as a cure for severe pain). Homeopathic solutions are prepared by diluting substances many orders of magnitude in either water or ethanol and vigorously shaken (known as succussion). Several rounds of dilution and succession are repeated until the desired dilution has been reached. This repeated process of succession and diution is known as potentisation. Homeopathic dilutions are logarithmic in scale, meaning that each round of potentisation is diluting the substance by 10-fold (Table 1).