Saturday, December 24, 2016

Landscape Safe: Smart choices when choosing plants

Fours bears dead after eating red berries from English Yew plant
Photo provided by Pennsylvania Game Commission

CBS News
This mother bear and her three cubs were found dead earlier this month near a church parking lot in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania. On first thought, the Conservation officers considered the deaths suspicious, but after examining two of the bears, the game commission came to the conclusion that they died from eating berries from the European yew plants. The shrubs are commonly used in landscaping as a beautiful evergreen ornamental shrub or tree. The officials explained that there is a compound in yew, called taxine, which is highly toxic to humans and animals if ingested. This is something many people never think of when choosing a landscape plant when their decision making is based purely on it's beautiful outward appearance. While some people may be aware of this plant's toxicity to humans, who would have thought there would be any consequences to the local wildlife ? The same could be said of many other plant choices from the retail Nursery. Here below is a link to the recent article:
Family of bears likely killed from eating poisonous plant
 Remember that cool lunch debate scene in the film Jurassic Park, where the argument was about whether certain scientific choices are right or wrong ? There was one specific reference from the Paleobotanist character, Ellie Sattler, who stated the obvious when it comes to humans decision making when it comes to plant choices in the landscape:
"Well, the question is, how can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem and how could you assume you could ever control it ? You have plants here in this building that are poisonous, you pick them because they look good. But these are aggressive living things that have no idea what century country (think European Yew) they are living in and they will defend themselves, violently if necessary."
You can find this statement below in this YouTube clip and time mark 2:36 >>>

Over here in Sweden, the landscapers use this Yew plant everywhere. What appalls me is their choice to incorporate it within family housing complexes where there are large numbers of children, often unsupervised. The plant is also chosen for it's ornamental value in Christmas decorations such are wreaths which are hung on a door in the house. The deep evergreen foliage in contrast with the bright red berries are adittedly very attractive, but they are dangerous to children, especially young toddlers who will put anything in their mouths. English Holly is another one of these attractive ornamentals used at Christmas time, but their berries are also toxic. The white berries of Mistletoe is yet another toxic plant used on this holiday. Poinsettia is another. The scary thing is the red berry is sweet to the taste, but it's the seed that is toxic. I'll provide some reference examples below at the bottom of this post.

Image - Beto Frota - Oct 2007
Here's an example of a common Tew many grow as an ornamental in their urban landscapes. Many housing complexs and city parks with also plant them as they admittedly are a very handsome evergreen shrub or tree with contrasting red berries. But the seed or more commonly called, berry, can be deadly poison within one to two hours after ingesting them. In actual fact, the fruit is not really a berry at all. As you can see from the way it has a hole in the end like the picture at the right here. The outer covering (called aril) as it matures shrinks back exposing the seed which is the true fruit. The red outer part is technically is called an aril. A well known aril is the spice mace, which is the outer covering of a nutmeg. Pomagranites also fall into this description. Interestingly, the red flesh of this Yew berry is quite sweet, but again it's the seed inside is deadly poisonous. This doesn't matter to birds, because their quick digestive system passes the seed through unchanged, and like most berries, this is how the Yew distributes its seeds. Not that the Yew is capable of knowing that of course. But the more thorough digestive system of an animal would attack the seed's coating and poison the animal like it did to those four bears in the article above. Below is a plant profile of the Yew.
University of Maryland - Extension
Plant Profile: Toxic Yew
Try safer Natives from local area Native Plant Nurseries Heteromeles arbutifolia
Image - Bert Wilson - Las Pilitas Nursery

Tehachapi Conservation Resource District
This plant is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with leathery deep green leaves which produces small white flower clusters followed by showy clusters of red berries. In the urban landscape, it will only require deep watering once a month in summer when established. In most of it's native area probably not necessary to water this plant if roots are deep enough. This deeper root infrastructure can be obtained if the gardener or landscaper is smart and patient enough to train the plant by starting out with a one gallon year old specimen. They can grow from 8' to15' feet tall and 8' feet wide. The berries are edible and not dangerous like the other ornamentals I've discussed here. If a child did happen to eat one, there is not much flavour and not really sweet at all. More importantly, they will attracts birds and other wildlife who will use them as a food source. The bottomline here is you need to use your head and think about what plants you choose as appropriate to the safety of your landscape, not only for wilslife, but especially young children.
Real life trageties from Yew berry ingestion
BBC: Ben Hines died after ingesting yew tree poison
New York Post - October 2016: This city park’s deadly berries nearly killed a 2 year-old-girl
Google is your friend. Seriously, there are pages of this stuff

Friday, December 16, 2016

Is the new gene-editing tool, CRISPR/Cas9 Mankind's Saviour ???

"The scientific community is buzzing with the promise that CRISPR offers for human gene-editing, opening the door to use gene-therapy to treat diseases like cystic fibrosis and leukemia."

Unfortunately, while the quote in the above paragraph from the medical research article in Canada's, Western University's, Media Relations Department, certainly sounds promising, there are also some major concerns for which they never dealt with. CRISPR is being touted like a magic wand which only a scientific wizard with proper training can use. It also is being promoted as being able to problem solve anything that negatively impacts mankind's physical health. But as I've posted previously, there are often unknown and unintended consequences when it is assumed to be fool proof. Take the recent disaster that happened with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. The reality is, CRISPR, while providing us with some amazing insights and possibilities, is also prone to error. This is because much of what they are messing with (informational content of DNA) is still not fully understood despite the public media faith affirmations to the contrary. The main problem I see here with this celebratory PomPoms bit of news on curing genetic diseases, cancers etc, is that in order for this to work effectively and permanently, they need to shut down DNA's error correction repair mechanisms so that the evil gene they believe is causing the problem which they edit out, won't return through the DNA Repair correction mechamism reinstalling the defective software. This newer version of the CRISPR gene-editing tool removes cells' natural undo button, so that the evil gene doesn't return. What does a cell DNA Repair mechanism do ? Basically keeps the genome's informational integrity intact. For example our DNA is constantly under attack, though we may be unware this. From what's been researched, apparently ultraviolet light is one of the major sources of damage to DNA and is apparently the most thoroughly studied form of DNA damage in terms of repair mechanisms. Hence, its importance is illustrated by the fact that exposure to our Sun's solar UV irradiation is one of the biggest causes of almost all skin cancer in humans. Make sense ? We here about this all the time. Here below is one explanation of the DNA Repair:
What is DNA Repair?
"DNA, like any other molecule, can undergo a variety of chemical reactions. Because DNA uniquely serves as a permanent copy of the cell genome, however, changes in its structure are of much greater consequence than are alterations in other cell components, such as RNAs or proteins. Mutations can result from the incorporation of incorrect bases during DNA replication. In addition, various chemical changes occur in DNA either spontaneously or as a result of exposure to chemicals or radiation. Such damage to DNA can block replication or transcription, and can result in a high frequency of mutations—consequences that are unacceptable from the standpoint of cell reproduction. To maintain the integrity of their genomes, cells have therefore had to evolve mechanisms to repair damaged DNA. These mechanisms of DNA repair can be divided into two general classes: (1) direct reversal of the chemical reaction responsible for DNA damage, and (2) removal of the damaged bases followed by their replacement with newly synthesized DNA. Where DNA repair fails, additional mechanisms have evolved been constructed to enable cells to cope with the damage." 
(Irrespective of how one believes these mechanisms got here, they never the less exist. Evolution is incapable of any forethought or planning. This is not just my opinion, remember, the Scientific Orthodoxy mandates it)

Most damage to DNA is repaired by removing the damaged bases followed by resynthesis of the damaged area which is then cut out or removed from the damaged region along the DNA strand. With this CRISPR gene editing tool, which they use to cut out and remove the cancer causing gene or other disease abnormaility, they do not want the DNA repair mechanism to replace the bad gene again. So they've invented an enzyme which prevents this. Sounds like a good thing right ? No not necessarily. It shuts down an important process which prevents any negative mutational defect from screwing up the genetic code for any and all living organisms. It keeps order within the genome from becoming a basket case of disorder which ultimately would kill most all lifeforms. How can one translate or illustrate this repair mechanism's importance to people who view such otherwise boring subject matter from a shallow surface level with it's cool sounding journalistic fluff that offers the reader nothing more than a blind faith in believing Scientists must somehow know what they are doing without questioning anything ? 

At the very least, most people today are fairly computer literate. We understand the terms hardware and software. Security update patches, etc. We are aware that the scary worldwide web has lots of malware roaming around ready to infect your software if given an opportunity and other forms of cyber enemies which wish to hijack your  computer's software. Periodically we understand that Microsoft updates are regularly uploaded as a virus protection patch created by a large software coding team who are continually counteracting malicious codes which could crash our entire computer. Your DNA is automatically doing this continual basis and at faster than supercomputer speeds. So perhaps you can understand the dangers of shutting down such a major health component that we have only scratched the surface in our understanding of it's importance. So here again from that article is their solution to the problem of preventing the reoccurence of the problem:

“The problem with CRISPR is that it will cut DNA, but then DNA-repair will take that cut and stick it back together,” said the study’s principal investigator, David Edgell, associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “That means it is regenerating the site that the CRISPR is trying to target, creating a futile cycle. The novelty of our addition, is that it stops that regeneration from happening.”  
The Western researchers have demonstrated that the creation of a new enzyme called TevCas9, which cuts the DNA in two places instead of one, makes it much more difficult for the DNA-repair to regenerate the site of the cut. The researchers created TevCas9 by adding an enzyme called I-Tevl onto the nuclease, Cas9, which is the typical enzyme used to cut DNA in CRISPR.
So there it is in a nutshell. But did anyone take note of this sentence here. “The novelty of our addition, is that it stops that regeneration from happening.” I have one question that was also brought up by someone else in the comments section of another site on this same subject. Is this a permanent solution or is it merely a temporary one ? They inform the reader that their research also showed that the addition of Tev shows promise at being much more specific in targeting genes and less likely to cause off-target effects in the genome, which is a significant problem for any potential therapeutic application. But on that problem of off-target effects, they go on to say, “This remains to be tested, but this is the hope and the expectation.” It's difficult to picture exactly how this therapy will be implimented. Clearly, you cannot gene edit trillions of cells in one person, perhaps this is an embryo manipulation. Still, there is a lot more research to do, but if a patient goes to see a doctor on down the road after this has been approved, how would he explain this process of what we just read  to them ? Maybe it world go something like:
"Well the good news Mr Jones is that  we can cure your cancer and there will be no danger of a relapse. However several months down the road we're still not sure if it'll hold up to all the UV irradiation you'll experience when you venture outdoors into the sunlight. So it's not exactly the miracle we hoped it would be. But it'll postpone the inevitable"
 Cell Death Switch also activates as the DNA Repair Switch
image - DailyTech
Another related subject is that of cell kill switches. I remember reading about an early experiment several years back which told of scientists who removed bits of DNA from a Protozoa (I think), then sat back and watch it repair itself. In each new test, more and then more bits of DNA were removed and the cell repaired itself. Apparently there is always a shadow of itself somewhere in some unknown archive mechanism, much the way epigenetic gene expression has the original pattern archived, so too the original genome of any single cell. But the repair mechanism had limits. Eventually they observed the cell self-destruct by the kill switch which is also the repair mechansim switch when too much DNA was removed. This too is a safety outlet so as to not pass on any defective information material onto future generations which would be ultimately detrimental to those lifeforms down the road. Cell death is another fascinating component in keeping any and all living organisms healthy and alive. Our own body is made up of trillions of microscopic cells. Practically all of them must die and/or be replaced. Each type of cell has a different life span. Some are replaced every few weeks, and others every few years. Our body’s system of programmed cell death has to be highly controlled to maintain the delicate balance between cell death and cell formation. BTW, here is a video of error correction mechanisms at work. A bacterial flagellum is removed and the gene encoded with the blueprints for it's construction removed, but over the weekend this flagellum is back. They attempt again to insert the word evolution, but it's not evolution. No one is arguing there is no change, but the change was not the result of evolutionary forces. This was all programming and mechanisms. How such mechanisms came about again is anyone's love of debate about.
Bacteria evolved repaired it's DNA over the weekend

There are studies that have indicated that when cells fail to die as they should, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer may result. On the other hand, when cells die before they should, it could cause Parkinsons or Alzheimers. The article on this new CRISPR gene editing tool mentioned other things besides cancer, like cystic fibrosis, HIV, etc that could be cured. But if this CRISPR miracle really shuts down the repair mechanism switch, then what will it do to the kill switch component ? They never even mentioned that. Yet recently in September 2016, the online journal Gen News reported how this same mechanism is both repair and death switch.
"To repair or not to repair, that is the question the cell must answer after suffering a genomic injury known as the double-strand break. This sort of damage may be caused by radiation, and it may lead to cancer if it is not set right. If the damage is beyond repair, the cell may choose to activate a suicide program, an alternative means of preserving the body’s integrity—but exactly how the cell decides between repair and self-slaughter has been unclear."
(Read the rest of the article from the link at the bottom in references)
One thing that is clear is that cells are programmed, not just with a seemingly amazing infinite storage capacity, but they also seem to have inculcated within them the knowledge and wisdom with how this information is to be used. And yet, a single cell is not some sentient being in of itself. These are just living organic biological organisms that are simply responding to environmental cues. I mainly write about whole plant ecosystems here on this blog, but even they taken alone or collectively as a mutually cooperating ecosystem are not sentient beings. Still, there is a continual epigenetic response going on keeping the entire system in perfect balance. I'm facinated by how the plant's external digestive system colonized by benefical bacteria & fungi like the ones in the photo below, are opposite to our own internal digestive system which are colonized by various forms of gut bacterial. Yet both serve the same fully functional immune system benefit purpose for their respective hosts. Both systems help both plants and us processs food nutrients and trigger epigenetic immunsystem responses by switching on or off various gene expression within our cells. One does wonder though how any of this just spontaneously insta-poofed through "Stuff Happens Law" ?

 Courtesy of Larry Petersen, University of Guelph

Arbuscukar Mycorrhizaal in symbiosis with plant cells

These observations and more just question beg as to how things got this way from life's earliest start. It's apparent that such mechanisms were all present somehow at the very beginning. But such conclusions have also had unfortunate consequences as to just how today's intellectual elites want us to define this word, "Information." Definition shell games are the favoured tactic of the ideologically obsessed. One has to ask, just how much real science has been held back and how many beneficial discoveries or medical cures have been lost or postponed for decades ? Take a close look at this video comparing various forms of information as we understand it. Unfortunately there are a plethora of lame attempts these days to redefine our traditional understanding of the word/term, "Information" is. This was posted on Youtube May 2016:

So the modern take today is that information is not really information as we've been taught to understand it when we went to school ? Living consciousness and free will are also said to be simply illusions. Frankly, like the video stated, "If information is not real, then neither are we." The absurd asinine religious ideologies now being promoted if true, certainly explain the world that presently exists courtesy of human intellectual elites who are now in control. Maybe one day soon the scientists will help medical doctors to edit out of their human patient's those detrimental "selfish genes."
And the Newer CRISPR disease cure conclusion is ???
“This remains to be tested, but this is the hope and the expectation.”
Okay, so basically this was mainly a public relations marketing ploy for the biotech industry looking for investors by claiming another settled science. But in the mean time, what can people who may already have various diseases or cancers do ? What about people who are healthy, but who may be at high risk do now ? Here's an idea, change your lifestyle choices. In my work as a market researcher for the pharmaceutical industry here in Europe, my main interviews are the GP Docs & Specialist Field Docs & Scientific researchers from the United Kingdom and Ireland. Time and again these medical people tell me that it is impossible to get the majority of patients to change their irresponsible behavioural decision making. Most tell the doctor they shouldn't have to change and that the Doc should provide a science-based drug to fix the problem. Smokers want to smoke, they just don't want lung cancer and emphyzema. Party Animals want to get drunk to the point of passing out, but they just don't want Sclerosis of the Liver, car accidents, etc. Gluttonous people enjoy eating themselves into a coma, they just don't want obessity and/or diabetes. Many today pursue a degenerate sexual promiscuous lifestyle, but they just don't want the HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Herpes, Chlamydia, etc that follows the one night stand choices they make. People demand that Scientists fix these issues. Climate change is yet another example, but no one wishes to give up an accustomed lifestyle, this includes many people in the environmental movement who are from Industrial Nations. Point out to folks the flaws in their behaviour these days and you are accused of being judgemental or some type of "Whateverphobe." There are many things that mankind does not need Science to fix for them, especially when it's already within the power of their hand to easily change for themselves.
References used:
Western University: Scientists use ‘molecular-Lego’ to take CRISPR gene-editing tool to the next level
Genetic Engineering News: Death Switch in the Cell Is Also a DNA Repair Switch