I submitted a shorter version of this article in a recent science writing competition among graduate students worldwide, arranged by the American technology manufacturer company Bio-Rad Laboratories. While it didn’t win any prizes- no surprise there- it was one of the five articles “highly commended” by the judges. I thought I would share the full version here.

For a moment, it sounded like the podcast I was listening to referenced my lab.

This had to be a mistake of some sort. The lab** I worked in was in a Bangladeshi research institute. I knew it had some international renown, but…

In his recent book The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do, AI researcher Erik J. Larson defends the claim that, as things stand today, there’s no plausible approach in AI research that can lead to generalized, human-like intelligence.

It’s important to understand what the author is claiming- and what he’s not claiming. He’s not claiming that computers can never think like humans, as some philosophers of mind have claimed. Rather, his position is- if there’s indeed a way to make computers think like humans, we haven’t the foggiest what that is. Our current approaches…

My first scientific publication came out in MDPI’s Genes. Very simply put, it’s a quasi-systematic review of all the published research on Hepatitis B virus epidemiology in Bangladesh thus far. The paper involved some quantitative analysis of the prevalence data we pooled (somewhat akin to a meta-analysis), but that was only a part of it. We also comment extensively on the studies themselves- the study populations chosen, the motivations behind designing the studies in a certain way, major gaps in research and why those gaps exist, and so forth. …

From where I’m standing, this paper seems to have blown up: Human gut microbiota predicts susceptibility to Vibrio cholerae infection. The view metrics are quite high, and it’s been posted on Duke University’s news site and on the icddr,b blog. I wanted to talk about it not only because I find the topic fascinating, but also because it hits close to home- icddr,b is the institute I’m currently affiliated with (although the authors are from a different lab than mine).

The set up is this. Not all people are equally susceptible to cholera, even after you take factors like age…

[If you want a more descriptive, matter-of-fact commentary on this book, be sure read my review on Goodreads]

So a few days back, I came across an article from PlosBiology, where the authors run a thought simulation of how life would be without microbes. In the broadest of brush strokes, the authors talk about a precipitous decline in photosynthesis rates, rapid accumulation of waste products with no microbes to break them down, and the global biogeochemical cycle “grinding to a halt”. The world without microbes that they imagine is not necessarily a ceteris paribus one, as they occasionally speculate about…

A couple of weeks [before the time of this writing], my wife and I finished putting the final touches to a paper we’ve been working on. In the paper, we try to provide a coherent synthesis of all the Hepatitis B epidemiology research that has been conducted in Bangladesh (with certain qualifications, of course). This meant wading through 30+ years of research. …

The first giant virus species to have been discovered was christened Mimivirus.

Giant viruses are exceptionally, almost awkwardly large (if I can get away with just one fat virus quip: giant viruses are what other viruses think of when they make yo mama jokes). They can be seen under light microscopes, and get stuck in standard water filters made to keep out bacteria. This already breaks foundational rules of virus definition.

Taken from here

Their discovery is a story unto itself, something that I’ve been itching to blog about but keep putting off. Meanwhile, you can read this nice article from American Scientist

There was a time when I thought bacterial cells were permitted only one chromosome each. I took that as one of the foundational axioms of biology, right up there with the genetic code being universal (wrong) and bacteria lacking internal compartmentalization or organelles (also wrong).

As it turns out, some bacteria come packing with more than one chromosome. Not plasmids, chromosomes. A number of questions arise in the wake of this paradigm shifter, and Egan et al (2005) provide a nice little barrage thereof:

What is a chromosome? Are there common features of multipartite genomes? Are the mechanisms of replication…

Once we know that antibiotic resistance genes are widespread in the environment, there are two sorts of scientifically interesting questions that can be asked.

  1. What are the resistance genes found in the environment?
  2. How much of a threat do they pose to us humans?

Considerable work has already been done on question 1. This is a nice representative (and open access too!). The paper serves as a nice metagenomic systematic review if you will- it pools a large number of the metagenomes available in the databases, then aligns them against particular genetic elements databases which are directly or indirectly indicative…

WatchMojo has a nice video on historical predictions that turned out to be false. #3 is pretty interesting:

The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases.

Those words were spoken back in 1969 by the Surgeon General of the US. I don’t doubt that they were reflective of the microbiological zeitgeist back thenthe virtual onslaught of penicillin against anything infectious was a thing of wonder.

Of course, this era was soon followed by one of resistance.

Antibiotic resistance: origin story

Our discussions of antibiotic resistance usually take place in clinical contexts, which is why it may…

Hassan uz-Zaman

Husband, biologist, philosophy enthusiast, nothing else much besides. In pursuit of happiness and understanding.

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