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Posts

Climate Feedback Cycles

In the last few years, we have witnessed a significant increase in weather-related disasters throughout the world. Droughts, wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, and floods have all become more extreme. These are largely driven by increases in global temperature, which is caused by the huge amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans have released into the atmosphere.
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Reversing Climate Change with Geoengineering

In a 2002 essay, Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen popularized the name “Anthropocene” for the current geologic time period. Though unofficial, it is widely accepted by scientists because of how drastically humans have altered the Earth. We have cleared forests, built cities, diverted waterways, replaced wild animals with domestic ones, created billions of tons of plastic waste, and perhaps most significantly, changed the climate.
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Vaccinologist Maurice Hilleman

Maurice Hilleman was a microbiologist, vaccinologist, inventor, and public health advocate of the 20th century. He developed several vaccines that are now given routinely to children and have increased the American lifespan by 30 years. However, he has received little recognition for his work, and few people know his name.
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Simulating the Spread of Disease

In this post, I’m going to discuss another simulation in Python to demonstrate an infectious disease spreading in a population. The source code for the simulation can be found in the Github repository here. I also want to acknowledge Professor Justin Bois at Caltech for writing the software package iqplot and for his guidance in data analysis over the past few years.
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Unusual Infectious Agents

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that giant viruses are an unusual group of viruses because they share some characteristics with bacteria. In this post, I will discuss some other viruses and infectious agents that also bend the rules. These include viroids, satellite viruses, and prions.
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Viruses in the Environment

When we think of viruses today, we imagine tiny disease-causing invaders. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought viruses to the forefront of people’s minds, and we are constantly looking for ways to avoid, kill, and fight off viruses. Many well-known viruses do cause diseases in animals and plants, but a far greater number of viruses are necessary for the survival of cellular life, either for an individual species or an entire ecosystem. Viruses help maintain the health of the oceans, and still others can help our immune systems develop.
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Orcas: Wolves of the Sea


The 2010 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando came as a shock to the world. Brancheau was an experienced trainer who had worked with orcas for 15 years. The day of her death, she was performing a show with Tilikum, a large male killer whale, who drowned her. According to SeaWorld executives, orcas and other performing animals, such as dolphins and sea lions, live good lives in captivity with medical care and loving trainers. The death of Dawn Brancheau was a freak accident due to trainer error, they said. But it wasn’t.
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Common Cold Coronaviruses

Most people are now familiar with the cold-causing coronaviruses, so in this post, I'm going to discuss some information related to their origins and evolution.
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The Lurking Threat of Henipaviruses

In this post, I am going to discuss Henipaviruses of the family Paramyxoviridae (which includes measles, mumps, and respiratory syncytial virus) because they are little-known but very lethal RNA viruses. They emerged in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and have the potential to cause large outbreaks in the future because the human population lacks immunity.
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The Age of Zoonoses

Pathogens are said to be “zoonotic” if they are transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonotic viruses have recently been brought to the world’s attention by SARS-CoV-2, but their pandemic potential has long been recognized. In 2012, seven years before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Quammen published Spillover, a book about several prominent zoonotic pathogens. He spent years interviewing and accompanying field epidemiologists, virologists, veterinarians, doctors, and others about emerging zoonoses, as well as intriguing nuances of familiar threats like malaria. It is a phenomenal book, and I highly recommend giving it a read. Read more...

The Persistence of Influenza

In this post, I am covering some topics related to influenza, including antigenic shift vs. drift, immunodominance, and original antigenic sin (OAS). These aren’t unique to influenza, but they have been well characterized in influenza, one of the most common human viruses. Read more...

Herd Immunity

In this short post, I’m going to discuss the importance of herd immunity and vaccination using a simulation performed in Python to demonstrate a simple model of a random infectious disease spreading in a population, in which people move around on a square grid. The source code for the simulations can be found in a Jupyter Notebook here.
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Live-Attenuated Vaccines and Trained Immunity

One of the hypothesis for why children appear to have less severe cases of COVID-19 than adults is that childhood vaccines may provide general immunity to all pathogens by boosting the innate immune system. In this post, I’m going to discuss the concepts of trained immunity and non-specific vaccine protection. Read more...

Variations in the Severity of COVID-19

This is the third of my posts, in which I cover some of the hypotheses and research into why some cases of COVID-19 are more severe than others. Much of this information comes from clinical observations of COVID-19 patients that are correlated with poor disease outcomes, and scientists and physicians and hypothesize that these could be linked to disease progression. There is a strong push to initiate clinical trials, even small ones, so that observations can be generalized, but for now, most of the data is anecdotal. Read more...

Vaccines and Treatments for COVID-19

This is the second of my posts, in which I cover the primary medications and vaccines undergoing testing for COVID-19. For an introduction to the science of COVID-19, see this page. This post is not exhaustive because there are numerous candidates in early development, but I describe how vaccines and the immune system work and potential safety issues around vaccines and treatments.
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Introduction to the Science of COVID-19

This post is an overview of the science of COVID-19 based on information from scientific papers, government agencies, and media outlets. In future posts, I will discuss in more detail topics like vaccines/treatments, zoonotic virus spillovers, viral evolution, SARS-CoV-2 in the context of other viruses, and demographics of patients.
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