Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I for One

Thanks to links from links from Andrew Sullivan today, I found all sorts of cool things.  We'll start with the gloating.

I make sure I have a small commute. Always have done.  I love driving, but hate commuting.  Commuting isn't driving, it's inching through obstruction.  Right now, it means I live in the sticks.  There are days when I choose to go somewhere interesting, but not nearly enough of them to justify a long commute.  And really, research shows that I'm pretty smart to prioritize a small commute.
Commuting is a different kind of hell every day.

Where I want to be smug but can't, another link from that article points out the things that make us happy  are primarily sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with folks.  The smug comes in the fact that I prioritize having dinner with folks enough that when I can't, I substitute eating at a bar so I can chat with people even if I don't know them.  However, my attempts to find a regular dinner date are enormously tiring, and not super successful.  I do have some regular lunch dates though, which helps.  As for the first thing, let me know if you have single male friends anywhere near LA who are looking for a, well, dinner date and we'll see what shakes out.

With all my antibiotics taking recently, I've bloated up like a tick.  This may explain why
Changes to gut microbes make mice fat or trim which is something I've long suspected.  I don't need to be *skinny*, I just need to figure out how to not be starving several hours out of each day even when I know, logically, that I'm not in need of food.

Along those lines, a finding that associates schizophrenia with a microbe is similar to something I've thought about a lot.  Ever since I met my half-sister who has pretty debilitating Multiple Sclerosis, and she pointed out that (all? most?) MS patients have a partiularly large viral load of a particular virus in their spinal fluid, it has made sense to me that diseases, like fractures, usually have 2 or more facets to make them happen. 

With fractures, you have an initiation site and a breaking force.  If the breaking force overwhelms the molecular structure, it blows apart (like when the Mythbusters cleaned a cement mixer with explosives or dropping a china plate on a tile floor).  But for most fractures, the breaking point is less than the molecular structure unless there's a defect that weakens the structure.  To cut glass, you scribe a defect in the surface then knock the glass at or near that defect and it propagates along your scratch.  Without the scratch, the glass doesn't break when hit with the knocking force.  Without the knock, the glass will stay whole, although still scratched, waiting for the next knock. 

Similarly, fires need 3 things: Fuel, Oxygen, and ignition.  Take away any one of these and you have no fire: soggy wood won't provide fuel, a closed chamber (or the lack of convection in outerspace) will prevent oxygen from reaching fuel, and you can have a whole room full of matches and oil vapor, but it won't burn until the match gets struck (or someone plugs in the toaster).  Fires are put out by removing oxygen or fuel or preventing existing fires from igniting adjacent areas.

Back to microbes.  My family appears prone to turn our immune systems in on ourselves, but that turning is different for each person.  My mom is allergic to asprin and other medicines, I'm allergic to plants and animals and dust and anything that can get in my nose or eyes, my brother has asthma, and as mentioned previously, my half-sister has MS.  My theory is that we're all pre-disposed to autoimmune responses, but the form that response takes is dictated by environmental encounters.  Someone exposed to microbe A becomes asthmatic, someone exposed to bacteria B become allergic, someone exposed to virus C gets MS.    But if there was no exposure to A,B, or C, it's likely that the response would never develop. Unfortunately for us, I think the trigger microbes are extremely common so the only question is when and what, not if the trigger will initiate the response pathway.  (Fortunately, it seems like once we've got an outlet for the autoimmune response, it stops trying for more.)  It could be that there's even a third thing involved that can exert a moderating effect, and explain why two susceptible people with similar exposures might get different levels of response.  Not everyone with HPV gets cervical cancer, for instance, but it could be that it requires both HPV, a growth site (the cervix) and a cancer trigger in that causes the HPV to go crazy.  (The idea isn't all that crazy when you think about the fact that tools I run at work don't have ignition switches - they rely on cosmic rays to do the job.  Your cell phone? Some of those components exist because of cosmic rays.)

I'd read earlier about the fact that scientists were able to breed genetically fat mice.  I'm pretty chuffed to learn that they can alter that predisposition by changing gut microbes.  Now if anyone knows some good human gut microbes I can get my hands on, my waistline will thank you.  I might even take you out for dinner.

UPDATE: not 3 hours after this post, one of the features on "Is it Possible" explained that Narcolepsy is an auto-immune response to the strep throat virus, which triggers the body to kill the hypocretin producers.  Sometimes what doesn't kill you is just annoying.  I'm wondering if we're going to find a viral or bacterial trigger for things like Autism too.

1 comment:

S said...

Regarding a viral or bacterial connection to autism, you could look up PANDAS. The autistic neighbor boy that my son had been working with was diagnosed with PANDAS, and he seems to be responding somewhat to antibiotics.