Genetically Modified Fish for Human Consumption: the FACTS!

Atlantic Salmon

Genetically modified crops have been on the market for decades in the United States, and other parts of the world. However, this fall the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved the first-ever genetically modified animal for human consumption, and there is much public push-back and concern. AquAdvantage fish are Atlantic Salmon produced by the AquaBounty Technologies Corporation (formerly AquaBounty Farms). So, what’s all the concern really about? Read on to find out what you need to know Continue reading

Biohazardous/Medical Waste Disposal: Laboratory Edition

hazardous waste bag

In the past biohazardous/medical waste was disposed of in regular municipal trash along with household garbage. After a series of serious and unfortunate events, the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 was enacted. Along the East Coast of the United States medical waste, such as syringes washed ashore beaches. Also, in 1987, Indianapolis, Indiana children were found playing with vials of blood they found in a dumpster outside a medical facility. Two became infected with HIV.

Waste (liquid, solid, or gas) is considered hazardous when it has the property of being flammable, reactive, explosive, corrosive, radioactive, infectious, irritating, sensitizing, or bio-accumulative. Biohazardous/medical waste has the characteristics of being infectious and hazardous.

In the lab BIOHAZARDOUS WASTE is generated from :

    • Microbiological cultures or stocks ( bacterial, viral, parasitic, fungal,)
    •  Cell/tissue cultures
    • Organs and tissue from humans or animals.
      • Feces, blood, urine or any other body fluid.
      • Contaminated animal bedding
    • Disposable personal protective equipment (PPE): gloves & gowns
    • Contaminated labware: flasks, plates, pipets, etc.
    • Sharps: scalpels, razor blades, Pasteur pipettes, needles, syringes.
Taping up a box of solid biohazardous waste in my lab. Inside the box is a red-liner (bag) like the one shown above.
The boxes are taken to a satellite area in the building for storage until Health and Safety personnel come to take it away for incineration.

Sharps are placed in a container like this:

sharps containerIn my lab we place pipets and syringes in this type of large sharps containers. Sharps containers can come in many sizes from small bench-top to large floor-standing forms.

Most biohazardous/medical waste is disposed of by incineration. Incineration involves burning the waste at elevated temperatures until an ash is produced. This method not only removes infectious and hazardous agents, but also reduces the size of the waste; significantly. Other methods involve various types of disinfecting, shredding, and grinding. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all have regulations concerning the treatment, storage, removal and disposal of biohazardous waste.

(methods of liquid and gas waste removal not discussed in this article)


Daraprim (pyrimethamine) is actually an anti-parasitic drug, used to treat Toxoplasmosis and Malaria. People with weakened immune systems – not just those with AIDS – but also,  chemotherapy patients, organ transplant recipients, people taking corticosteroids, and infants in utero cannot effectively fight off the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis. However, people with AIDS are the most afflicted by this disease; 10 percent of AIDS related deaths are due to Toxoplasmosis. Continue reading

A Chemical By Any Other Name: How Cinnamon Can Be Toxic (Part 2).


Cinnamaldehyde (cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamal) is a naturally occurring aldehyde in many plants. The clear yellow liquid is extracted mainly from cinnamon bark (cinnamomum cassia, cinnamomum zeylanicum) and has a strong spicy aroma and sweet taste. For this reason it is commonly used as a flavorant and fragrance in foods, cosmetics, and other products. It has also been commonly reported to cause  allergic contact dermatitis, as it is a known skin irritant and strong sensitizer .

Cinnamaldehyde was first isolated from Cinnamon essential oil in 1834. Cinnamon contains approximately 1 to 3.5% essential oil. The oil itself, is approximately 70 – 90% cinnamaldehyde. The oil has been used to impart such fragrances as almond, apricot, butterscotch, hyacinth, and lilac.  It has been recognized in Europe as the most common organic allergen in humans, second  only to Nickel. In fact, do to its potential for allergenicity, the European Union has listed cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic alcohol as fragrance materials that must be labeled on consumer products (essential oils often appear on labels as : “essential oil mix” or ” natural fragrance”). Continue reading

Legionnaires’ Disease : What You Should Know About the New York City Outbreak 2015

Have you ever walked past a large building and felt droplets of water falling on you? This mist is from a cooling tower; or large air-conditioning unit atop the building. What you may not be aware of is that this mist may contain a bacteria known as Legionella; the agent responsible for causing Legionnaires’ Disease.

Recently, there has been an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York city and the source of the outbreaks is being linked to 5 cooling towers located in the South Bronx region. Although, cooling towers are one of the main sites where the bacteria can be found; Legionella is ubiquitous in fresh water environments. That is it is found everywhere in the environment — in warm water.

Where Legionella is Commonly Found

Fresh water environments: lakes, ponds, wet soil

Artificial water systems: cooling towers, whirlpool spas, decorative fountains Continue reading

What’s Eating at the Lake?

A twenty-one year old woman dies in California from “brain-eating” amoeba. A Minnesota teen boy is reported to have died also. Now the same “bugs” have been found in St. Bernard Parish water system in Louisiana. Is this an epidemic? They say it’s rare; if so then why is it so concerning, that its being screened for in some city water systems?

Should I be afraid?

It’s not an epidemic and it is rare, but the problem is it is deadly! The “bug” is small and can’t be seen by the naked eye and most don’t even know of its existence or danger. Also, it is not readily diagnosed because, the symptoms take a long time to show, and they mimic those of bacterial meningitis. By the time doctors even realize what they are dealing with, in most cases, it’s already too late.

life-cycle_web Continue reading

The first Genetically Modified Food in the United States was the Tomato

macgregorsDid you know the first FDA approved Genetically Modified Food, commonly known by the acronym GMO (genetically modified organism), was the tomato? It was introduced in the United states back in 1994 and was developed by the company Calgene Inc.

Below I have posted citations from two newspapers:

Pratt, S. (1994, May 19). CHICAGO AREA GETS TO SAMPLE NEW BREED OF TOMATO. Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from
Can biotechnology provide flavorful, garden-fresh tomatoes to supermarkets across America year round? Shoppers in the Chicago area and parts of California should find out by the end of the month now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Flavr Savrtomato, the country’s first genetically engineered foodstuff. Developed by Calgene Inc. of Davis, Calif., over 10 years, Flavr Savr tomatoes are genetically modified to resist rot so they can ripen fully on the vine but still hold up during shipping and storage. “The Flavr Savr process will be able to provide Chicago with a flavorful backyard tomato, but one that is grown in Mexico,” said Roger Salquist, chief executive officer of Calgene. They could begin showing up in the next 10 days.

Dailey, P. (1994, May 26). HOT TOMATO HOW DOES THE NEW FLAVR SAVR TASTE? Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from
The first genetically-altered tomatoes appeared at a Chicago-area market Saturday after being heralded by the producer as the first year-round tomato with a vine-ripe taste of summer. But a Food Guide blind tasting this week found the tomato did not deliver on that promise. Flavr Savr tomatoes, approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration, are marketed commercially under the name MacGregor by Calgene Inc., a California-based biotechnology firm. They have been genetically engineered so their aging process slows to a crawl. This allows them to spend more time ripening on the vine, ostensibly so the flavor can develop naturally with the full benefit of sun and soil. Earlier this week the Food Guide gathered from various markets six varieties of tomatoes including the Flavr Savr and staged a blind tasting. Put to the test were cherry and regular tomatoes from Holland, purchased at Whole Foods and Treasure Island supermarkets respectively; regular tomatoes from Omni Foods; plum tomatoes from Whole Foods; regular tomatoes from Market Place, and the MacGregor tomato.

The Calgene modified tomato was dubbed the MacGregor tomato. It is genetically modified to express an extra copy of a gene that codes for an enzyme known as polygalacturonate (PG). Polygalacturonate is responsible for the softening of fruit as they ripen, but the modification actually decreases the amount of PG in fruit. This results in tougher skin, and a reduction in the age associated softening of the fruit; which is the reason why these tomatoes are said to last longer and be more flavorful. There is also another gene added to the tomato: ” In approving the Calgene tomato as safe, the FDA also allowed the use of the kanamycin-resistant gene as a safe food additive…It is used as a “marker gene” to determine which plants have been successfully modified and is harmless..”.

You can read more about GMO’s here

From Disease to Weapon: The story of Anthrax

I initially meant to write an article on anthrax over a week ago; good thing I waited. Anthrax has recently been in the news again; not once but twice. The first situation was when a Maryland lab discovered that it had been mistakenly sent live anthrax samples through commercial mail from an Army biodefense facility in Utah. The samples were sent to several labs across the United States  working to develop a new diagnostic test for anthrax (normally only inactivated anthrax is used for research). Samples were also sent to South Korea, and now since further investigation it has been revealed that  live samples of anthrax may have also been sent to the United Kingdom and Australia several years ago. The second and most recent incident comes just this week (June 9th) when a 50-year-old man robbed a Chase bank while claiming to have anthrax. He detained by police who recovered a jar in his truck containing a substance that he says is a protein powder and not anthrax. Samples from the jar have been sent for testing.

What is Anthrax

Bacillus Anthracis is a gram-positive (thick peptidoglycan layer), bacilli (rod-shaped), spore-forming bacterium. It is virulent and causes a highly contagious disease. All warm-blooded animals are capable of contracting anthrax, but it is not known to be transmitted person-to-person. B. Anthracis is also a facultative anaerobic bacteria, meaning that it normally uses oxygen for respiration, but can survive in environments where there is no oxygen. Continue reading

…and Wolves Oh My!

I saw this video posted to a friends Facebook the other day. It’s a lovely short story about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Wolves are considered an endangered species in the United States mainland, except for the state of Minnesota where they are listed as “threatened”.

What happened to the Wolves in the first place?

As America expanded westward and established farms and towns a need and desire to eliminate wolves began. Wolves were not only a threat to humans but to their livestock and goods. Programs toward predator eradication which involved bounty programs and widespread poisoning lead to the decimation of nearly all gray wolves in the United States and southern Canada.  One method of extermination involved shooting bison and poisoning the carcasses; which were then eaten by the wolves. By the end of the 19th century the wolf had become all but lost.

Return of the Wolf

In 1995 gray wolves were transplanted to the Yellowstone National Park as part of an experimental program to bolster the wolf population in hopes of getting the animal off of the endangered list. In 1997 District Judge Bill Downes ruled that 66 transplanted wolves must be expelled from the park, citing violation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. He stated that the act did not cover experimental animals. However, the decision was overruled by the 9th circuit court and the wolves were allowed to stay.


While wolves can be problematic to those people who live around them, they are vital predators in the hierarchy of the ecosystem they inhabit. Normally Wolves out-compete and kill coyote, yet because their numbers have been so decimated coyote have now become very populous and as a result are permitted to be hunted year round. Interestingly enough, some coyote have a very small (about 5%) of wolf DNA. This is a result of interspecies mating between wolves and coyotes at what is postulated to be the early 1900’s (around the same time that wolves began to go extinct). These relatively unknown and mysterious hybrids are known as Coywolves. They are bigger than coyote but smaller than wolves with wolf-like characteristics in the face, fur, and size of the feet. They are not a 50:50 mix as you might think (unlike mules); the offspring of wolves and coyotes are viable and can themselves reproduce.  The reason why wolves have mated with coyotes  and might still do so is  due to the lack of other wolves during recolonization(introduction back into a region) or during migration. The problem with this may be the loss of distinct species of coyote and wolves. It is also indicative of a loss of genetic variation within the wolf population itself, as smaller and smaller pools are available for mating. The reintroduction of wolves can help solve this issue.

The wolf had been eradicated  in Great Britain, Central Europe, and Japan, even before its erasure from the American landscape. The United States has seen the loss of the Gray wolf, the Red wolf, and the Mexican wolf. Currently the wolf flourishes naturally in Canada and Alaska.

Whatever Happened to the Hole in the Ozone Layer?

I remember back many years ago, back in elementarystrato1 school the teachers told us about a very scary monster called the HOLE in the OZONE LAYER! In class we discussed how the ozone layer; which protects the earth from radiation was disappearing. The result would be that the earth would get really hot and we would suffer from skin cancer and blindness. Yes, a very scary monster indeed! Then there was nothing, no more news coverage, no one talked about, no one seemed to even remember it ever existing. The big issue slowly shifted to global warming and carbon dioxide, but what ever happened to the hole in the ozone layer?

Ozone layer

The ozone layer is located in the upper atmosphere, in a region known as the stratosphere. It is comprised of ozone – three oxygen molecules, and is responsible for shielding the earth and its inhabitants against cosmic ultraviolet radiation.strato2

In the early 1980’s a hole in the ozone layer was detected above Antarctica, and increased levels of UV-B light were reported in various other regions. The cause of this was a thinning of ozone layer, and the suspected culprit was a group of chemicals that upon photolysis; released chlorine and bromine atoms in to the stratosphere. Once broken down by sunlight, the atoms interact in a catalytic chain reaction that release oxygen atoms, thereby breaking down the ozone layer.

Methyl Bromidemethylbromide

Just a few weeks ago, a family was poisoned in the U.S. Virgin island by what turned out to be a toxic pesticide known as methyl bromide. A toxic broad spectrum fumigant, methyl bromide is primarily used in agriculture to control microorganisms, weeds, and nematodes in soil and on grain stored in silos.  This is done to prevent crops from being destroyed.  Fumigants like methyl bromide are liquids that readily vaporize at ambient temperature. They are so volatize that their gas can escape even when used in enclosed spaces. This is how the Delaware family became poisoned, when the vapors from a room sprayed  with the pesticide below them travelled upwards. Methyl bromide is known to be a potent neurotoxicant, but what is not commonly known is that in 1993, it was classified in the U.S. as a class 1 stratospheric ozone-depleting substance.

Methyl bromide is one of the  chemicals responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. The heavy colorless gas is often odorless, but at very high concentrations it has a sweet chloroform-like smell. It was first introduced in the 1800’s as a fire suppressant, by the 1920’s it was being used in fire extinguishers, but due to toxic poisonings it was withdrawn from this use in the 1960’s. It was also used as a refrigerant, but is use as an insecticide has continued; although restricted.

Methyl bromide reacts in the stratosphere where bromine is liberated. Bromine then reacts with ozone to from oxygen and bromine oxide, thereby depleting the ozone layer. As part of the Montreal Protocol it was scheduled to be phase out of use, but several times amendments have been made allowing for its continued use in certain locations and situations.

Chlorofluorocarbons – CFC’schlorofluorocarbons

CFC’S were developed in the 1930’s and have low toxicity and are non-flammable. They were commonly used as refrigerants(Freon) and propellants in aerosol mixtures such as hairsprays . CFC’s were predicted to be an ozone depleting substance in the 1970’s, and in 1987 as part of the Montreal Protocol over 160 nations  agreed to reduce production and use of CFC’s. They are very stable chemicals that can persist in the atmosphere for years, allowing them to cause damage to the ozone layer for decades. One chlorine atom can destroy several thousand ozone molecules in the stratosphere. For this reason they have been phased out and replaced with less harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) and hydrocarbonfluorocarbons (HCFC’s). While the hydrogen in HFC’s and HCFC’s minimize the transport of chlorine-containing compounds from rising into the stratosphere, they can still contribute to ozone destruction.

In short

Ozone layer depletion was the consequence of certain air pollutants. As part of the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act, the United States has ended its production of CFC’s and other ozone-depleting substances such as methyl bromide. Since these pollutants have been minimized and the current content in the stratosphere is degrading overtime, the ozone-layer has begun to replenish itself.