FF’s Lab Letters Issue #6

Hello friends! Welcome again to Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post! Let’s get right to it, shall we?


HIV is a nasty, cunning virus that pokes its way into immune cells and literally hacks them into producing more of itself. It slowly disables its host’s immune system and lets opportunistic infections (i.e. pneumonia) finish the job. Left: colorized scanning electron photo of HIV (yellow) invading a human T cell (blue). Right: external structure of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (source: NIH, Russel Kightley rkm.com.au)

Take that, HIV!

US scientists have announced that a 2 1/2 year old kid has been ‘functionally cured’ of HIV infection. This means that a tiny amount of virus DNA may still be present in the cells, but standard tests come out negative and there are no signs that it is spreading. Right after being born to an infected mother, the unnamed child was also found to be HIV positive. The pediatrician decided to act quickly and put the infant on antiretroviral drugs within 31 hours after birth. Antiretroviral drugs are commonly prescribed to HIV patients – these are very effective in destroying the virus. However, patients have to keep taking the drugs for the rest of their lives. If they stop, the virus comes back. Turns out that HIV can hide out and lay dormant in the cells for a while, patiently biding its time. What makes this case special is that the child stopped taking the drugs. Several months later, the child is found to be HIV negative. He/she should be a walking virus bag by then! It seems that in the child’s case, launching an early attack meant that the virus simply never found the time to infect enough cells and find a hiding spot in the immune system. Experts say that the child has a normal life expectancy and is not infectious.


The sunny Philippine cylindrical snake (Hologerrhum philippinum) can be found in Zambales
(source: wikimedia.org)

A snake a snake! Ooh it’s a snake!

A team composed of American, Filipino, and Dutch scientists led by herpetologist Rafe Brown traversed the Sierra Madre mountain range and discovered roughly a hundred new species of amphibians, lizards, turtles, snakes, and crocodilians. A majority of those are endemic to the northern Luzon region, already known for being a biodiversity hotspot, especially for 90 – 100 amphibian species (70 – 80% endemic). My heart goes out to the conservationists and naturalists dealing with all the mining, deforestation, climate change, urban development, and military shoot-outs with commie rebels happening in the area.

What Captain Kirk says, goes.
(source: startrek.com)

The SETI Institute recently held a poll to help name Pluto’s two newest moons – and the winners are Vulcan and Cerberus! Note that the winning names will be submitted to the International Astronomical Union, who, along with the 10 astronomers who made the discoveries, will have the final word. Expect the official names to be announced in the coming month or so.

And finally, the question I’m sure everyone has at least once pondered in their life: why do men have nipples? You can find the answer here in this short video.
[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1Kdoja3hlk’]

And that concludes your weekly dose of FF LL! See you next week!

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