8.2.13

My brain is tired

It's been three days now. Three days of this damned conference, and there's nothing anyone's said that's made a damn difference in our knowledge. It's all conjecture, guessing, and reports of failure.

I guess it's not all bad. There have been some interesting (and occasionally entertaining) presentations. Of course, though, mines going to be last and I still have no idea what to talk about. What do I say, really? Nothing we've tried has worked. This is the most depressing convention in the world, and I'm the closing speaker.
It's been kind of fun, I must admit, hearing the possible origins. From aliens to plants to bio terrorism to evolution to creationism, everyone's got this elaborate explanation of how the world started falling apart. I'll add some notes to my journal about the more interesting (and disturbing) theories later. And those of us trying to find a foothold for new research on treatment and disposal are having a field day with new ideas and areas of possibility to explore.
But it's depressing, all the same, that another year has gone by and nobody has anything to show for it. Because of the six fatal incidents in labs around the world, the government is trying to regulate how and why we would be able to get or test on infected undead. There are also the activists saying were monsters for studying and testing on the undead. As if they were going to live otherwise, as if they wouldn't turn around and kill others if we didn't lock them up or kill them.
I digress. I'm just so tired of it all. Some days I just wan to quit, but that just isn't an option. I'm a scientist. I don't know how else I could support Belle and myself if we didn't work for and live with the government.

4.2.13

Notes on John's presentation

So every leading researcher had to make a presentation on the video chat, including John and myself. Even though John and I have talked at length about his research and theories, I still made sure to write everything down for the sake of my lab's records.

1. There was a piece of extra-terrestrial rock that hit Earth shortly before the initial outbreak, at a farm that just-so-happened to supply much of the food for the people at the initial infection zone.

2. The PTA cells look and act like nothing we've ever seen on Earth before. There is no evidence to believe that it has any ancestors on this planet. There is also no evidence it came from elsewhere, however, we cannot rule out that possibility.

3. We have known about the microbes living on other planets for decades. What evidence do we have that this is not another one?

4. When following the trajectory of the fallen rock, it leads us back to a dead planet. However, if, somehow, its course had been slightly altered right before it hit that planet, it would lead back to one that we've not yet studied. At the moment, we are focusing our efforts here, on Earth, on treating the ill. However, if we were to really try to eliminate impossible theories of origin for PTA, our first step would be collecting data about that planet, because it shows the appearance of a life-sustaining temperature.
     4.A. That planet does not appear to have an atmosphere, at least not one like ours, however evidence shows that PTA is an Anaerobe, meaning that it does NOT require oxygen to live. Therefore, there is no evidence excluding the planet from the list of possible origins of PTA.

5. The only evidence that disclaims this theory is the fact that PTA was decidedly not anywhere in the rock found at the impact site. However, since we've seen the erratic and impossible behavior PTA expresses inside a host, we can't rule out the possibility that after death, or after enough time of not having a host, or even in a young stage, that PTA wouldn't either look entirely different from the microbes we are currently studying. It is also quite likely that PTA wasn't PTA until it got here, which could cause the current tests we use to detect it to be completely useless.

6. I am not saying that this is definitely the answer to the question of origins of PTA, however, it makes just as much sense as any other answer and we need to keep our minds open to this possibility when attempting to devise a cure or treatment. If PTA is not from our planet, there's a good chance that the eventual cure or treatment or vaccine will work in a completely different way from any other medicine we've ever used. We need to stay creative if we're going to beat this thing once and for all.

3.2.13

Taking notes.

The internet didn't totally disappear when the world was tearing apart. Obviously, the information on how to run it was written down somewhere, because why wouldn't it? I'm not computer nerd. We had one when I was a kid, but after the breakout of the disease, when everyone was dying, and then undying, it wasn't really a great necessity for a lot of people, myself included. In fact, besides the little tablet I was given for schoolwork when I first got into the training program with the government, I've never really used computers since we stopped going to school. Aunt Samantha had a computer, but it was a relic at the time and Drake and I never really got interested in waiting twenty minutes for the thing to boot up.

Now most of the computers in the country that actually connect to anything belong to the rich and the government (which, as always, happens to be mostly the same people.) So part of my job is sometimes to get on these video conferences with the other people who work for the rich or the government or both, and we discuss what we know as a group and what we've learned individually since our last talk. This always means a refresher course in microbiology, virology, and the like, which always takes a day or two to get out of the way. As if we don't all already know the difference between a prokaryote and a eukaryote. It's that remedial. However, it was brought to our attention that each of us should make sure that in our journals we make sure it's clear what these things are, just in case another breakout should occur and all the scientists are wiped out. In other words, we're all expected to write a high school science book just in case our assistants ever have to take our place. So, I begrudgingly will now waste time recording what any PTA expert should be able to recite backwards about 'what we know of microbes in relation to PTA.'

1. Microbes have dominated the Earth for a very very long time. About 3 billion years, give or take a couple million, by our watches. They are the basis of any other living, breathing being on Earth, including animals, plants, algae, people... basically anything that converts anything to energy or mass, is made of microbes. In fact, 9/10 of a human body is made of microbes. As a textbook I read in high school read, "Life without the rest of us is possible. Life without microbes is not."

2. Microbes are something very small that exerts some kind of force or effect. They aren't necessarily alive, but they react to their environments in one way or another. The most recognizable names of microbes are bacteria, viruses, protozoa, algae, and fungi. Most living things are made of a mixture of one or more of those microbes.

3. There are 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different microbial cells on Earth, but only a couple thousand of those are actually pathogens.

4. A pathogen causes disease.  Most of the time, they do so by their means of reproduction, which is "hitch a ride on host organism, use that host to copy myself and transmit myself to a new host." So the disease is not actually what the pathogen is trying to do, it's just a side effect of its reproduction. Sort of like when you take medicine for headache and it ends up making you sleepy. The medicine wasn't intended to make you sleepy, it's just one of the reactions your body had to it. This is important, because it means that many times, the illness we experience is NOT caused by the pathogen itself, but rather by our body's immune system overreacting to the hitchhiker.

5. There are three types of microbes, two of which are usually inside larger organisms, many times in a symbiotic relationship. Those two are called prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The other type is called Viruses and Prions, which do not make up a larger organism.

6. There are other ways to describe and to categorize microbes, one of which being the distinction between Anaerobes and Aerobes. Anaerobes hate or ignore oxygen, and Aerobes need oxygen to survive. The other distinction is between Heterotrophs and Autotrophs. Heterotrophs are consumers, meaning they eat either autotrophs, or heterotrophs, or dead organics (the ones eating dead things would be called decomposers, like fungi), while Autotrophs are producers which create their food from photosynthesis or chemicals.

7. When dealing with PTA, it is important to understand the differences between all three factions of microbes: Eukaryotes, Prokaryotes, and Virus/Prions, because PTA is the one microbe that seems to transcend all labels we've been able to use to distinguish between all other pathogens to date. PTA holds characteristics of all three types of microbe, which leads some (like xenobiologist John Smith) to believe that the virus may be extraterrestrial in origin. Others (such as politician Newton Crowne) believe that it was created in a laboratory as either an experiment or an attempted biowarfare tool. I, for one, have no idea what I believe, but it seems unlikely that evolution has made this grand leap in one bound, so I've been trying to imagine how it may have found a path to becoming the Frankenstein's Monster of microbes.

8. Eukaryotes are microbes that put all their DNA into distinct cell structures (nucleus) surrounded by a membrane. Everything that lives and breaths and ever did were made mostly of Eukaryotes.

9. There are three groups of Eukaryotic microbes: Protozoa= Simple single cell organism. Algae=Act very much like plants, and some probably did evolve from land plants. Fungi=You're familiar with mushrooms, but those aren't microbial. Fungi Microbes are things like yeast, mildew, and mold.

10. PTA associates with Eukaryotic microbes because it does have a nucleus before infection, however as it matures, the nucleus seems to dissolve and the DNA it held replaces some of the DNA inside the cell it's infected. Therefore, we believe PTA starts its life as a Eukaryotic microbe, but evolves during its replication process.

11. A Prokaryote is the evolutionary ancestor of the Eukaryote in many cases. They contain genetic material, and they have a nuclear region, but no nucleus. They are generally much simpler than a Eukaryote.

12. There are two groups of Prokaryotes: Bacteria= often cause illnesses, but some are helpful, like the bacteria found in yogurt. The first microbe to use photosynthesis was a bacterium called cyanobacteria. Archaea= They look the same as bacteria, but they use their genes to make more proteins.

13. PTA associates with Prokaryotes only after infection. PTA has the ability to release itself from a cell if it fails to change the nucleus of a host, however it leaves the stability and rigidity of its form behind, becoming a bacterium, in essence. This is a fairly new observation, and it's still contested that the bacterium that results is not actually the PTA microbe, but rather a byproduct of its interaction with human cells. This view is well supported by the fact that in no other organism does PTA express this ability. However, the byproduct bacterium, if left to its own devices for long enough, begins to regrow its form as a nucleic cell. In all cases where this has been observed, however, the cell deteriorated too much for a new nucleus to be fully formed. This survival instinct of the microbe seems to be like a last-ditch, 10/90 effort to find and infect a more welcoming host, because as a bacterium, PTA is only 10% virulent, because of its weakened state. This is still highly contagious and highly dangerous, but it's a great improvement on the 94% virulence rate expressed by the microbe as a Eukaryote.

So in other words, if you get the Eukaryotic (most common) form of PTA in your system, you have a 6% chance that your cells won't change and you'll be okay. There is roughly a 24-48 hour window where this can happen and you'll start to show symptoms such as changes in certain hormones and chemicals in your blood and body. If you make it out of the 48 hour window, remember, you've got only a 6% chance of that happening, then you've got a 90% chance that you're really okay, even untreated. This means that your actual chances of surviving exposure to PTA is about 4/75. Which averages out to roughly a 5% chance of making it. Out of everyone everywhere. If you're over the age of 50, take it down one percent. If you grew up somewhere with treated water or eating animals who drank treated water, take down another one percent. If you don't have access to immune boosting drugs while in isolation after initial contact, take it down yet another one percent. So, if you're a retired American without access to immediate medical attention, you've got a 2% chance of survival if you get infected. In other words, you will die.

14. Finally, I get to viruses and Prions. A virus is an infectious particle that grows and reproduces only inside a cell host. A virus isn't actually alive, because it's just a dab of genetic material enclosed in a pocket of protein. Because they're not cells, and they just hijack a cell to become a living thing, most, if not all microbiologists do not classify viruses as "living" microbes.

15. Prions cause only a few diseases, but the ones they do cause are always fatal. The most famous Prion disease has been mad cow disease. Prions are so deadly because they are proteins like viruses, but instead of growing inside and contaminating a host cell, they cause other proteins to fold into abnormal shapes, therefore the original proteins are now deformed and unable to do their proper jobs.

16. Because of the infectious nature of PTA, we like to call it a virus, even though it's really not a virus by microbiological standards. It's also not technically a Prion, because it affects the nucleus of a cell, not its proteins.

17. The best description of this microbe is a parasite. But you can see why we have so much trouble classifying and studying this parasite. We have nothing more than ideas about its origin, and even less about its trajectory as far as what it can and might become in the future. It's a scary creature that flatout refuses to fit inside the standards set by current evolutionary evidence. A lot of creationists have pointed to PTA as the end-all-be-all 'answer' to evolution, the absolute evidence that god creates at his own will, and that evolution had nothing to do with how our world came about. Some of us are starting to see their point.