Genetically predicting which drug is more harmful to whom and who is more likely to develop which disease is becoming a reality — a primer on pharmacogenomics and GWAS

Betty’s joints have been acting up recently. She was enjoying life as usual when first her right toe and then the left knee started troubling her. The joints would become red, stiff, swollen, and unbearably painful. Her physician explained that crystals of uric acid have started collecting inside the joints and prescribed a medicine— allopurinol — to keep her uric acid levels in check. The condition is called gout and is fairly common.

A week later, large blisters appeared on her abdomen which, within days, spread to involve her legs, face, mouth, and arms. More than half of her body…


In health, America has been the standard that most countries in the developing world aspire towards — the coronavirus might have changed that

Being a practicing physician in an underdeveloped country, I — and virtually everyone else I work with — consider the US health practices as the gold-standard. The resources are unlimited, access to advanced diagnostics and treatments is universal, every step is based on evidence and follows proper guidelines, outside the hospital door may be politics but inside patients’ rights and science reign supreme, and the list of virtues goes on. …


An explainer on the novel vaccine technology used against the novel coronavirus

When Edward Jenner demonstrated immunity against smallpox by inoculating a 13-year-old boy with cowpox virus in 1796, the era of vaccination began. This first vaccine used live virus strain to induce active immunity. Killed organisms (bacteria and virus), chemical-treated toxoids, and bacterial and viral structural components made up of protein and carbohydrate have since been used to prepare vaccines against more than twenty-five bacteria and viruses.

The vaccines currently leading the pack against the novel coronavirus, however, use neither of the above methods. Both the vaccines, developed by Moderna and Pfizer, are produced via a novel technology that uses mRNA…


The cost of protecting ourselves from the virus might be paid by our oceans — until conscious efforts are made

Till December 2019, China, the largest producer of masks globally, made 20 million single-use masks a day. By February, with the spread of the coronavirus, this number had soared to 116 million. The situation with disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment is the same.

A decrease in human activity is expected to have decreased our environmental pollution, including plastic waste. The reduction in plastic waste, however, has been more than offset by the increasing use of single-use PPE and the decline in plastic recycling.

In total, with this pandemic, the monthly global usage of face masks is estimated to…


Winter is coming and with it the novel coronavirus

Covid-19 is nearly a year old and will enter its second winter soon. While the first wave isn’t subsided yet, warnings of a resurgence are around. Why do we think the virus will surge again, come this winter though?

Because it is already happening, that's what respiratory viruses do, and that's what the other pandemic has taught us…

Our attitude and response to Covid-19 are largely shaped by our understanding of the influenza pandemic, a century ago. That all respiratory illnesses, not just viral infections, worsen during winter is common knowledge. In the UK for instance for every degree celsius…


Of all the Windows problems, this should be the easiest to fix

A sketch with bluetooth icon in the middle and connections to phone, pc, printer shown
A sketch with bluetooth icon in the middle and connections to phone, pc, printer shown

Bluetooth is not the most efficient way to transfer files but at times it is the most convenient one, especially while transferring small chunks of data — a word document, for instance. It is convenient until you happen to be using it on Windows 10 —Microsoft’s flagship product running on close to a billion devices. The core tenets of an ideal user experience are user-friendliness and intuition. Bluetooth on Windows is anything but user-friendly or intuitive.

Sending a 20 kb file from your PC to your smartphone should be a breeze, even with this somewhat clunky technology called Bluetooth. Sending…


A simple scientifically proven nutritional score can help

In theory, a healthy diet is easy to define: fewer carbs, saturated fats, and salt; more vegetables, plant oils, and fruits. Theory is easy, the devil lies in practice. As a physician, I am often asked to give advice to patients — and sometimes to their relatives as well — about a healthy diet. The short answer stated at the beginning of this paragraph doesn't cut it for the majority. Knowing which dietary components to avoid and which to consume is one thing, to be able to identify actual edible food with the right proportion of the desirable and non-desirable…


Selfish moves by parasites to manipulate the behavior of their hosts

The orchard orb weaver, known in the biological world as Leucauge argyra, is a small spider found around the world. William Eberhard and his team have been observing its behavior for a few days now in the African palm plantation in Parrita, Costa Rica. A parasitic wasp indigenous to the region, H. argyraphaga, stings the spider and attaches its egg to the spider’s belly. After being stunned for a brief period, the spider regains consciousness and goes about its business of weaving orb webs as usual.

The orb web is an important part of the spider’s life. It is used…


Find your eureka moments through reading

The second law of thermodynamics, entropy, and Mendel’s law of independent assortment have one thing in common: I didn’t have a clue as to what they actually meant when I was a 10th-grade student, some 15 years ago. I could answer questions asked about them in the exam, but never really grasped the true picture. I can only speak for myself but being considered a bright student of the class, I doubt my classmates did any better.

Schools impart knowledge but not necessarily understanding

This isn’t going to be a rant about our education system. This article is not about education per see but I do want…


Evolutionary genetics has the actual answer

This age-old chicken-egg question appears trivial and inconsequential but it’s not. I don’t know who asked it first but among those who tried to answer it are the great Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plutarch, the 5th-century Roman philosopher Macrobius, Christian theologian St Thomas Aquinas, 18th-century French philosopher and author Denis Diderot, 19th-century English novelist Samuel Butler, and scores of others in between. Nobody’s answer, however, was convincing enough and it remained a conundrum. Being the chosen people to experience the information age, can we do better? To find an answer, let’s turn to the sage of our times — Google.

Fayyaz H Zafar

Physician by profession and nerd by choice. I read & write about science, medicine, technology & programming.

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