Friday, September 30, 2005

Oh Bugger, Now I'm Never Going SCUBA Diving

20000 leagues
A poster for the 1954 Oscar winning, Disney Film, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

Following this news report in the week, one of my lifetime goals, namely to get SCUBA certified, is very much in doubt. Ever since my childhood, when I watched with rapt attention Kirk Douglas, James Mason et al. do battle with a giant sea squid in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I've been terrified of the idea of such things lurking below the surface of the ocean. I don't much like the idea of box jellyfish that can kill an adult human with a few picogrammes of poison (to non-scientists, that's a very, very, very miniscule quantity) sea snakes and other such slippery, slimy creatures. But the giant sea squid has always been the king of nightmare monsters. Until now I've always taken refuge in the thought that these things didn't really exist and were the stuff of fiction. Well guess what? Not only are they alive and kicking but every bit as aggressive and scary as anything dreamed up by Jules Verne/Walt Disney. Bloody hell, just take a look at this thing:
Photo by T. Kubodera and K. Mori. The squid (Architeuthis) attackes a baited line.

The picture was taken at 2,950 feet (900 meters) beneath Japanese waters near the Antarctic, where scientists attracted it toward cameras on a baited fishing line. Yikes! So I think that's it for SCUBA training. Sharks and such don't bother me, -heck, I did my PhD on them (oh, alright, dogfish are very small sharks) but this Squid is another kettle of, er, fish (sorry!). And before any of you rational pedantic types point out that 900 meters is a very long way beyond SCUBA diving depth, let me say that it doesn't matter. They are down there and they are waiting...


Once again I must apologise for the light blog. unfortunately the lot of today's biopharmaceutical scientist is as much about raising money as it is about doing experiments (or at least supervising them). There is a saying that goes along the lines of " class research requires world class spending..." Too true although I'm inclined to think that generating one's own funding is the only sure way to stay employed in this day and age. So this is why I'm now working day and night to meet two huge grant deadlines due on October 12. Until then it's going to be a bit a of a white knuckle ride and blogging is going to be patchy until then.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Sky Television hits the nail on the head!

As I write Hurricane Rita is about to hit the coastline of Texas and the patched up walls of the New Orleans levee that were breached so catastrophically by Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago have already ruptured. I feel depressed by my powerless as I watch, with morbid fascinatiation, this next disaster unfolding on TV. I'm now resolved to join the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a Citizen Volunteer.

The epic incompetence and cluelessness that we have witnessed in the Country's leadership over the past two weeks is just beyond the pale. But then what can be expected from a President who has to ask his Secretary of State if he can go to the toilet...?



Well Dr Jim has done it again. He quite correctly named this week's bug as Burkholderia pseudomallei. This bacterium, despite its distinctive name, is somewhat off the radar screen of many European and US microbiologists. It is an inhabitant of South East Asia where it lives mostly in the soil. It causes a rather nasty disease called Melioidosis which is tricky to diagnose and treat. More recently it has been designated a "biothreat" pathogen as it can be used relativel easily as a an instrument of bioterrorism. Its cousin, Burkholderia mallei, which causes the disease "Glanders" has been used for this purpose, notably in World War 1. For my sins I'm working a project to develop an improved testing technique for Melioidosis and a vaccine will be the next thing on the list.

So another venti latte goes to Dr. Jim. He seems to have been cleaning up in this area recently so when he eventually comes to collect I'll have to insist, for the sake of his health, that this week's winnings are decaffeinated. Oh and I've got a couple more Spot the Bug candidates up my sleeve. The next one will be really difficult!

I must acknowledge the Sanger Institute for the micrographs which I, er, borrowed.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Spot-the-Bug Competition 4



Here are some very cool, colour enhanced, micrographs of a rather unusual pathogen. Last year I attended an international conference devoted soley to its study (see previous post). It causes a disease that is less common in the western world. Can anyone guess what it is? Clue: historically it has been used in biological warfare.

Answers on a (Haloscan) postcard, please. The solution will be forthcoming later this week. along with all due acknowldegements for the photos.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

One Year Ago Today

Singapore Sling

Precisely one year ago I was sitting in the world-famous Raffles' bar in Singapore drinking a Singapore Sling -sorry about the poor quality of the photo but it's the best I could do with the silly so-called camera in my phone. The trip was more memorable than the drink which was nothing more than an overpriced, low alcohol, high sugar, synthetic cocktail ladled out to gullible tourists like me. But at least it's another thing checked off my list...

My reason for flying half the way around the world was to attend a conference dedicated to a single disease. As a direct result of this trip I wrote a research grant that was subsequently funded and now pays a good portion of my salary. Thus I have fond memories of this long journey, even though an engine fell off the airplane on the way. I'll elaborate a bit more in my next post and I'll also have a new "Spot the Bug" competition. Bet you can't wait...!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Quick Comment

God Almighty, who dreams up things like this? While I have zero tolerance of rapists, I can't believe such devices will do much to protect women. My view is shared by others, it seems. A nod goes to Transcontatlantic Relations for the subject matter.

A Joke

I try to avoid re-hashing other people's jokes but I couldn't resist this one:

Q. What does George Bush think of Roe vs. Wade?

A. He doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans..!

...pause for cymbal crash...

Two Birthdays

TCD Boxing Team c1944
My father, top left, as an undergraduate in the Trinity College Dublin boxing team, c1945.

Today I acknowledge and celebrate two birthdays.
The first is that of my Father, the late A.W.Morrow: scientist, athlete and gentleman. He would have been 87. Happy Birthday, Dad, I miss you and think of you every day.

jr and jm drinking in the SU c 1972
John Roberts, top left, and self, as undergraduates in the University College Cardiff drinking team, c 1972.

The other birthday is that of my life long friend, John Roberts. By some coincidence, John is also a scientist (turned teacher), athlete (turned sportsman) and gentleman. Hard to believe that it’s been thirty five years since we were first supping beer in the Student Union at Cardiff University. Oh tempus fugit…

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness


It's been a beautiful sunny September day in Seattle. The temperature has hovered around a very agreeable 20 degrees Celsius (that's 68 degrees Fahrenheit to die hard American adherents to Victorian measurement systems) but the air has that edgy coolness indicative of an approaching autumn season. As I drove along Alaskan Way the water of Puget Sound was flat calm and shimmered enticingly, the sky was azure blue and snowcapped Mt. Rainier jumped out of the near distance like a painted theatre backdrop. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera in the car so I've had to settle for filching this one (apologies to the anonymous photographer) which is not as spectacular. Never mind, -you get the idea. And if I carry on in this vein for much longer I'll end up reciting "Ode to Autumn"(it's ok Mr. Keats, I promise I won't...!).

Monday, September 12, 2005



Oh joy, oh frabjous day! The England cricket team have, after a 17 year hiatus, beaten the much vaunted Aussies to reclaim The Ashes. Yipee! Congratulations to Michael Vaughan and his team for an amazing series. Special mention must go to Kevin Pietersen who raised his game to score his first century in Test cricket and thus enable the team to hold off the Australians, draw the game and win the series. Congratulations to all, I was riveted to streamed Radio 5 from the early morning (Seattle is 8 hrs behind the UK). And this on my Birthday too -it doesn't get any better.

Oh, apologies to my non-UK readers. I would try to explain the basics of cricket but past experience has taught me it's a fruitless exercise.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 Remembered: Cousin Robert

From L-R: Barbara, Robert and Angela Eaton, Me, Laura Eaton (Robert's mum); December 26, 1981.

Sorry, I haven't felt like blogging for the past week. Something to do with the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. But that's another story and I'll comment on another occasion.

Today I am remembering another awful occurrence that touched me personally. It's four years ago today since my cousin, Robert Eaton, lost his life in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Unfortunately subsequent world events constitute an even greater tragedy. In any case, Robert, you will not be forgotten.


Friday, September 02, 2005

The Self-Destruct Gene

Nature Cover
This week the prestigious science journal, Nature, published the full sequence of the chimpanzee genome. As it happens the international team of scientists who performed the study was led by a group at my former institution, the University of Washington in Seattle. But I digress. The difference betweeen the ape and human genetic blueprint is quite small although so far the researchers have found no sign of a chimp equivalent of the human self-destruct gene. What's that I hear you ask? Well it's the gene that is found in homo sapiens and appears to be upregulated in times of stress. Its influence has been very much in evidence in the aftermath of the dreadful Hurricane Katrina. For example, when large numbers of individuals are threatened with starvation, exposure and disease what do they do to survive? Why they loot stores not for food and medical supplies but for televisions, beer and guns. There are even stories of aid helicopters being fired on. WTF is that about?

Sometimes I despair of the human condition and think we are doomed...