Malaria Parasite Invasion On Video

Plasmodium falciparum is the parasite responsible for malaria. It continues to cause about 1 million deaths per year, worldwide. This video is a scientific first. The moment when a malaria parasite invades a human red blood cell has never been captured on video, and in high-resolution, no less.

Transmission electron microscopy and 3D immuno-fluoresence microscopy were used to record still images for this 40-second video clip. Those are impressive technologies, but are not responsible for the break through. Dr. Jack Baum and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia are credited with the clever idea:

To boost the chances of catching Plasmodium parasites in the act of attacking a red blood cell the team controlled the process using two drugs. The first – heparin – prevents parasites entering a new red blood cell, while the second – E64 – prevents their exit.

Erythrocytes

Red blood cells

Careful timing of the events assured plenty of invasion events for capture on video.

This video is not merely showmanship. It shows that the red blood cell (erythrocyte) invasion by Plasmodium is not a well-ordered event as thought. The video demonstrates a way to stop Plasmodium parasites from entering red blood cells, and arresting the disease process once contracted.

More details may be found in the New Scientist and the journal where the discovery was published: Cell Host & Microbe, Volume 9, Issue 1, 9-20,  20 January 2011, DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2010.12.003. The abstract and graphical images may be viewed free, without a subscription.

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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U.S. Scientists top research fraud list? Concerned? Probably not.

I happened upon this story while reading Politics Daily’s[1] coverage of a Journal of Medical Ethics article about a study of retraction incidence for research papers. The article was published in November 2010. 

The study found that leading causes of invalid research were:

  • retraction due to discovery of lab error after article submission to peer-reviewed journals
  • inability to reproduce results

I see that as honest behavior. Which would be easier, trying conceal or deny a mistake, or admitting error? The latter couldn’t be easy.

Braver Path Dramatization: Researcher requests article retraction

Dear ACM or IEEE,

I am the author of that research article you featured in last month’s issue. You know, the paper that was covered by most of the scientific press and popular media because my findings had such wide-ranging implications?

Well, I just found a major error in my work as I was re-reading it today. None of the peer-reviewers caught it, nor did I, until now. Please issue a retraction in my name. I’ll return that $50,000 of prize money you awarded to me. And I’ll tell the research group at [ pick any of { IBM, Princeton Advance Studies, Google Labs, NIH, CDC, Stanford University, mongoDB, Betaworks, NVIDIA} ] who offered me that great new job based on my research, that I was wrong and understand if they rescind their offer of employment and funding….

Actually, I wish the article hadn’t used the word fraud at all, as it a study of retractions, only a small number of which were due to fraud. There were certainly some cases of outright, very predatory fraud, clearly motivated by greed. The article mentions that. But that was a small part of the total number of retracted papers. In fact, when considered in the context of relative and not absolute counts, the key finding was that the retraction rate in the U.S. was 1.64%, during a ten-year interval. This far surpasses quality standards for rate of failure in nearly every other industry.

The most troubling concerns were plagiarism and deliberate falsification. Cases of both were presented in the article. Source data was drawn from on-line medical research repository PubMed from 2000 – 2009.

The article covered some other trends. Fewer American and Japanese scientists are publishing as a percentage of the total number of publications than in the past. Other countries are now entering the ring. This doesn’t mean that the U.S.A. and Japan are in technological or academic decline! It means that researchers from other nations are gaining better access to education and research funding. That helps everyone.

Also, within the United States, research breakthroughs are becoming far less concentrated in the traditional bastions of Harvard, Stanford and University of Chicago. Duke, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, University of Southern Florida and other public and private institutions are coming their own, achieving prominence like never before.

1. Politics Daily is owned by America Online News.  AOL continues to produce quality content and services, despite the brand’s unfortunate lack of prestige and status.  AOL is much more than an outdated and unpleasant internet service provider, although that is my first thought when I see the triangular AOL logo.

Transitory nature of information technology

Are we losing the means to preserve an enduring research trail? The premise is that due to the multiple forms of communication between academics and developers, the steps leading to past scientific discovery and technological innovation will be lost.

Why is this re-creation, even documentation, so important?  First, for History of Science and secondly, for innovators to be, coming through the pipeline. Not-yet-arrived scientists will want to study the development process. Sometimes what appears to be a flash of inspiration is preceded by months, or years, of reading, analysis or experiments. Documentation is important for understanding creative research design. Relatively easy access to successful examples from the past is a necessity.

The pace of innovation is wonderfully fast. That is unequivocally good!


Representations like Alan Warburton‘s video, Format: A Brief History of Data Storage always makes me feel a frisson of delight, shiver of awe. It has great music too, Short Like Me by Beni (Kitsuné Maison).

More than information overload

Data deluge swamps science historians is an eyebrow-raising news story about the collected research materials of the world’s leading evolutionary biologist, William Hamilton, following his demise. This is more than a problem of information overload. When the British Library received Hamilton’s working papers, they were faced with assembling the contents of

  • 200 crates of handwritten letters, draft typescripts and lab notes,
  • 26 cartons of vintage floppy disks, reels of 9-track magnetic tape, and 80-column punch cards, but no devices that could read these archaic storage media

It was enough to convince me that we need better digital preservation and archival standards.

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