Category Archives: Biology

Yet Another South American Alien Turns Out To Be Human

But a very interesting human. A human being six inches tall (if standing), with only 12 sets of ribs, about 7 years old at the time of death. Did I mention six inches tall? New research on the so called “Atacama humanoid” (not an alien, just a human) shows a wide range of interesting genetic differences, according to a just published paper. Continue reading Yet Another South American Alien Turns Out To Be Human

Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful

A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction is a popular science book written by an actual expert on the field, addressing the ways in which the world of animals is shaped by sexual selection.

One of Darwin’s major contributions to the panoply of theoretical and observational work we call “evolution” was to recognize, describe, and model sexual selection. Continue reading Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful

Darwin Quotes, Assembled

From Janet Browne, the author of Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 1 – Voyaging and other works about Charles Dawin, The Quotable Darwin.

Quotes by Charles Darwin are not just the stuff of memes. Even the fake quotes. They can be the center of long arguments, or at least, they can significantly augment the arguments. For example, did you know that while Darwin never used the term “missing link” he did talk about missing links quite a bit, missing links are central to his thinking about evolution, and all those writers of today who claim that we must never speak of missing links are misguided? Continue reading Darwin Quotes, Assembled

Is There Evidence of Life On Mars?

At present, the evidence suggests that life may have existed in the past on Mars, or not. However, the scientific consensus is that we assume life never arose on Mars, and will continue to do so until evidence pops out and bites us in the mass spectrometer.

There is no evidence of life on Mars right now. Continue reading Is There Evidence of Life On Mars?

A Possible Problem with CRISPR

Viruses use the DNA of their hosts to help themselves reproduce. Bacteria have counter-attacked viruses by grabbing some of the DNA from viruses and using this to identify them and kill them back. That as an oversimplified description of an eons old arms race between viruses and bacteria.

Among the DNA sequences co-opted by bacteria is the famous gene-frag-family known as CRISPR. You’ve heard of it, and you probably know what it does. Briefly, genetic scientists can use the innate power of CRISPR to manipulate other DNA to “repair” or modify in situ DNA sequences in living organisms. Got a genetic disease? No problem. We get the good genetic sequence, and then use the CRISPR based technology to replace all your bad DNA with the good DNA.

Now, of course, that doesn’t really work this way, and CRISPR technology has had fairly limited success so far. But there have been successes, and CRISPR is generally regarded as the Next Great Hope in the future of genetic therapy.

But now there may be a problem. Among the bacteria that use a CRISPER sort of sequence are two that are fairly nasty and common human pathogens. These are Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. In fact, the specific CRISPER sequences that genetic scientists use to do the CRISPR thing, come from these specific bacteria.

So, think about this for a moment. If CRISPER is used by bacteria to do any of their dirty work, and the bacteria are common human pathogens, is it possible that some humans have built up an immunity to the CRISPER sequences, perhaps putting them off limits for future CRISPR therapy? Continue reading A Possible Problem with CRISPR

Garden Insects of North America: Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, New Edition

BOOK NOTE: I interrupt this book review to note that Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman is currently available, again, as a Kindle book, for two bucks. And now returning to our regularly scheduled review.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs is not a pocket field guide. How could it be? There are over a million species of insects and probably a lot more (huge numbers certainly remain to be discovered) and of them, some 100,000 exist in North America. I’m actually not sure how many are represented in this book, but several thousand distributed among some 3,000 illustrations, mostly color photographs. Continue reading Garden Insects of North America: Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, New Edition

Starting from scratch, creating a complete pox virus

People talk about resurrecting the Mammoth, the Dodo, the Quagga, or the Tasmanian devil, or any number of extinct (or mostly extinct) creatures. I’m all for that. I suggest removing cattle farming in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and adjoining areas of Canada, and repopulating the region with extinct megafauna. That would just be cool.

There are difficulties with this, including figuring out exactly how to piece together the genome for the extinct animal, how to get a good level of genetic diversity in the neo-founding population, and how to raise the critter up from a zygote. For all these reasons, I’ve always thought we should start by resurrecting something that already exists. We normally do this sort of dry run or practice run with things we do. In baseball, golf, and other ball sports, athletes take pre-swings. We went “to” the moon a couple of times before landing “on” the moon. Etc. So, let’s start by resurrecting a fruit fly, them maybe a chicken, then a dog. That sort of thing.

A potentially important public health concern is the re-emergence, one way or another, of small pox or something like small pox. In order to manage that, we would like to see more research involving vaccines. An ideal way to carry out vaccine research without risking the release of full blown small pox (which may or may not be frozen somewhere) on the population is to create a small pox virus (small pox is a virus) from scratch, using a known genetic code. In so doing, the parts of the virus that allow it to spread could be denatured, and the parts of the virus that allow research for vaccines or cures could be left in place.

In essence, creating such a Frankensteinian life form is like resurrecting an extinct species. And, some Canadian scientists stole my idea and went ahead and resurrected a non-extinct species in order to test out the plausibility of the method. The research is not published and likely won’t be, because it would be too easily misused by nefarious actors. But, the results were discussed at a meeting several months ago, and now there is something new about it in Science:

Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took humanity decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000.

That’s one conclusion from an unusual and as-yet unpublished experiment performed last year by Canadian researchers. A group led by virologist David Evans of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, says it has synthesized the horsepox virus, a relative of smallpox, from genetic pieces ordered in the mail. …

The story is also covered by the Washington Post.

And, here is a previously released press release:

Tonix Pharmaceuticals Announces Demonstrated Vaccine Activity in First-Ever Synthesized Chimeric Horsepox Virus

Pre-Clinical Smallpox-Preventing Vaccine Candidate TNX-801 May Qualify for Priority Review Voucher if FDA-Approved Under Provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act

NEW YORK, March 02, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp. (Nasdaq:TNXP) (Tonix), a company that is developing innovative pharmaceutical products to address public health challenges, working with researchers from the University of Alberta, a leading Canadian research university, today announced the successful synthesis of a potential smallpox-preventing vaccine. This vaccine candidate, TNX-801, is a live form of horsepox virus (HPXV) that has been demonstrated to have protective vaccine activity in mice.

“Presently, the safety concern of existing smallpox-preventing vaccines outweigh the potential benefit to provide immunization of first responders or the general public. By developing TNX-801 as a horsepox vaccine to prevent smallpox infection, we hope to have a safer vaccine to protect against smallpox than is currently available,” stated Seth Lederman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Tonix. “Vaccines are a critical component of the infrastructure of global public health. Vaccination protects those who are vaccinated and also those who are not vaccinated, by decreasing the risk of contagion.”

“Our goal is to improve on current methods that protect the public from possible viral outbreaks,” said Professor David Evans, Ph.D., FCAHS, Professor and Vice-Dean (Research), Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and principal investigator of the TNX-801 research project.

HPXV was synthesized by Professor Evans and Research Associate Ryan Noyce, Ph.D., at the University of Alberta, with Dr. Lederman as co-investigator of the research and co-inventor of the TNX-801 patent. Under their research and development agreement, Tonix wholly owns the synthesized HPXV virus stock and related sequences. Professor Evans and Dr. Noyce also demonstrated that HPXV has protective vaccine activity in mice, using a model of lethal vaccinia infection. Vaccine manufacturing activities have been initiated by Tonix to support further nonclinical testing of TNX-801.

Dr. Lederman stated, “Our research collaboration is dedicated to creating tools and innovative products that better protect public health.”

About Horsepox (HPXV) and Smallpox

Horsepox, an equine disease caused by a virus and characterized by eruptions in the mouth and on the skin, is believed to be eradicated. No true HPXV outbreaks have been reported since 1976, at which time the United States Department of Agriculture obtained the viral sample used for the sequence published in 2006 that allowed the synthesis of TNX-801. In 1798, Dr. Edward Jenner, English physician and scientist, speculated that smallpox is a human version of pox diseases in animals. Jenner had a strong suspicion that his vaccine began as a pox disease in horses and went on to show that it could be used to vaccinate against smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated as a result, and no cases of naturally occurring smallpox have been reported since 1977. Jenner’s vaccine appears to have evolved considerably in the vaccinia stocks maintained in different countries around the world, since vaccinia was mostly selected for growth and production. Being able to provide safe and effective smallpox-preventing vaccines remains important and necessary for addressing and protecting public health.

About the Material Threat Medical Countermeasures Provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act

In 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act (Act) was signed into law to support ongoing biomedical innovation. One part of the Act, Section 3086, is aimed at “Encouraging Treatments for Agents that Present a National Security Threat.” This section of the Act created a new priority review voucher program for “material threat medical countermeasures.” The Act defines such countermeasures as drugs or vaccines intended to treat biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agents that present a national security threat, or to treat harm from a condition that may be caused by administering a drug or biological product against such an agent. The priority review vouchers are awarded at the time of FDA approval and are fully transferrable and may be sold to other companies to be used for priority review of any New Drug Application (NDA) or Biologic Licensing Application (BLA).

About Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp.

Tonix is developing innovative pharmaceutical products to address public health challenges, with TNX-102 SL in Phase 3 development for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TNX-102 SL is designed for bedtime use and is believed to improve overall PTSD symptoms by improving sleep quality in PTSD patients. PTSD is a serious condition characterized by chronic disability, inadequate treatment options especially for military-related PTSD and overall high utilization of healthcare services creating significant economic burden. TNX-102 SL was recently granted Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA for the treatment of PTSD. Other development efforts include TNX-601, a clinical candidate at Pre-IND (Investigational New Drug) application stage, designed for daytime use for the treatment of PTSD, and TNX-801, a potential smallpox-preventing vaccine.

*TNX-102 SL (cyclobenzaprine HCl sublingual tablets) is an investigational new drug and has not been approved for any indication.

This press release and further information about Tonix can be found at www.tonixpharma.com.

Forward Looking Statements

Certain statements in this press release are forward-looking within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements may be identified by the use of forward-looking words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “forecast,” “estimate,” “expect,” and “intend,” among others. These forward-looking statements are based on Tonix’s current expectations and actual results could differ materially. There are a number of factors that could cause actual events to differ materially from those indicated by such forward-looking statements. These factors include, but are not limited to, substantial competition; our need for additional financing; uncertainties of patent protection and litigation; uncertainties of government or third party payor reimbursement; limited research and development efforts and dependence upon third parties; and risks related to failure to obtain FDA clearances or approvals and noncompliance with FDA regulations. As with any pharmaceutical under development, there are significant risks in the development, regulatory approval and commercialization of new products. Tonix does not undertake an obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement. Investors should read the risk factors set forth in the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2015, as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on March 3, 2016, and future periodic reports filed with the SEC on or after the date hereof. All of Tonix’s forward-looking statements are expressly qualified by all such risk factors and other cautionary statements. The information set forth herein speaks only as of the date hereof.

Is Human Behavior Genetic Or Learned?

Imagine that there is a trait observed among people that seems to occur more frequently in some families and not others. One might suspect that the trait is inherited genetically. Imagine researchers looking for the genetic underpinning of this trait and at first, not finding it. What might you conclude? It could be reasonable to conclude that the genetic underpinning of the trait is elusive, perhaps complicated with multiple genes, or that there is a non-genetic component, also not yet identified, that makes finding the genetic component harder. Eventually, you might assume, the gene will be found. Continue reading Is Human Behavior Genetic Or Learned?