Sunday, 5 March 2017

Microbes Around Us

Note: This post is part of the Science Journalism Workshop I am currently attending, at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Microbes Around Us

By: Mohd Firdaus Abdul-Wahab

Dr. Abdul-Wahab is a Senior Lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Skudai, Johor. He obtained his BSc in Chemistry and MSc in Biosciences from UTM, and PhD in Chemical Biology from Imperial College London. Currently, his research involves the use of microbes for degradation of pollutants, and for generation of environmentally-friendly fuels.

What are microbes?

Microbes, also known as “microorganisms” or “microscopic organisms,” are living things too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microbes can be divided into “bacteria”, “archaea”, “fungi”, “protists”, “viruses”, and “microscopic animals and plants”. “Bacteria” are single-celled organisms that have no nucleus (the part where DNA is stored), and their cell wall are made of sugar molecules called peptidoglycan. They are the early colonisers on earth, since 3.5 billion years ago. The most famous bacteria known to us is probably E. coli.
“Archaea” are similar to bacteria, except that their cells are covered with a type of lipid (or fat molecules), instead of peptidoglycan. They like to live in very extreme environments, like the hot springs and hydrothermal vents in deep oceans. “Fungi” have cells larger than bacteria and archaea, and they have nucleus. Mushrooms that we love to eat also fall under this group. “Protists” are either single celled or multi-cellular, and the most famous protists are probably amoeba and paramecium. “Viruses” as known to us are disease-causing microbes. Viruses can infect all types of organisms, and this infection is needed as a mean for them to reproduce. Some scientists do not classify them as living, because they cannot reproduce themselves. Nonetheless, viruses are an important part of the ecosystems. Mites and and algae are examples of “microscopis animals and plants”.

Why are microbes important for us?

            The human body hosts a large number of microbes to keep us healthy. For example, microbes in the gut help in digestion and nutrient absorption, while skin microbes prevents the attack of dangerous pathogens. So, no matter how scary some microbes are, they are very important for us.

Useful links to learn more about our micro-buddy:

The Human Microbiome, University of Utah. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/

Giant Microbes (for amazing soft toy-microbe gift ideas, good for learning too!)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Facebook status message, originally posted 7 May 2015

My timeline is filled with photos of poor Myvi cars wrongly targeted for the stupidity of others. Calm down fellow Malaysians, channel your anger to those deserving it, and this is the perfect moment to push for stronger enforcement of road and highway laws and codes. AES looks like an effective way of forcing motorists to slow down at dangerous stretches. But I don't know why it has not been enforced at more locations nationwide (the issue was even politicised if I remember it correctly). 
Speedtraps failed IMHO. Officers are there sometimes, are not most of the other times. When it rains, midday when the weather's hot, at night, some public holidays, no speedtraps. Accidents do not only happen when the weather's nice, cool, and during working hours only. And this is not the problem of Malaysian attitude. All drivers, from poor, developing or developed countries, tend to drive fast when there are no laws or rules telling them not to. That's the thrill of driving! But when it's dangerous, where you are not supposed to drive fast, then it's up to the law to stop them. People are inherently wreckless if there are no set of rules to govern them. We can't afford the public outcry or vigilantes anymore to instil fear in people, so they behave themselves. Ultimately, those with power in their hands must use it, especially on road and highway law enforcement. With some money, a lot can be done!
‪#‎jpj‬ ‪#‎pdrm‬
Facebook status message, originally posted 11 May 2015

I am terribly sad to read the news about migrants and asylum seekers drowned on their way to seek better lives out of their own countries. Others using the land route may end up in refugee camps at the border of their country with the neighbours. Of course it is the responsibility of the host countries to accept these migrants in any way economically possible. But this will definitely create a issue of spending millions of taxpayers' money to provide subsistence for these migrants until their asylums are granted. Then there will be a challenge faced by these newcomers in the new country, having to face discriminations that will lead to hate crimes. Imagine the mental state of these people that have to go through such an unthinkable experience, their homes burned down, their countries reduced to rubble, their families killed or taken from them.
I do not agree that these migrants are just going to cause the spike in crimes if they are accepted into society. All human beings have the right to live a peaceful lives wherever they are. Maybe a few turned to violence out of choice, but the majority of them just hope for a better place to raise their families. 
But human beings are complex. We tend to scorn migrants coming into our countries, especially from a less prosperous countries. We know that these people should be helped, but as long as it does not have to come out of our own pocket. We are happy to receive those with genuine intentions of seeking asylum and protection, but not at the expense of our jobs. This leaves countries popular as migration destination with a very difficult task in hand. Italy is one example. Australia is also one of them. Generally, I think these countries are doing the best they could to help. But there is a point where, they have to do a delicate balance between sustaining the process economically, with doing their responsibility from a humanitarian point of view, and the perception of their own citizens. No countries have the secret formula for this until now, probably because there isn't one.
Ultimately, I would put the full blame on the few greedy, power-hungry leaders who care only about protecting their own interests. They do not care their fellow countrymen are suffering. They do not care people are fleeing their country as the country is now poor, unsafe as a consequence of their action. For as long as they still hold their positions. This I can never ever comprehend. What human being wouldn't mind seeing all these sufferings happening before their eyes and yet chose to do nothing to stop it. What has blocked their eyes and brains? Why do they have to exist in the first place?
My thoughts and prayers to those affected by war in the Middle East, Africa, by persecutions in Asia, the Balkans and the world over.

Mood's back!

Suddenly I feel it's about time to start posting new entries to this blog page. Hmmm..... Let me start with re-posting my lengthy and maybe 'naggy' Facebook status messages here, so it reaches wider readers (hopefully). Stay tuned!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

4th International Conference and Workshop on Basic and Applied Sciences and Regional Annual Fundamental Science Symposium 2013 (ICOWOBAS-RAFSS 2013)

CALL FOR PAPERS: 4th International Conference and Workshop on Basic and Applied Sciences and Regional Annual Fundamental Science Symposium 2013 (ICOWOBAS-RAFSS 2013) are a series of interdisciplinary conference and workshop devoted to all aspects of science and mathematics, namely the field of physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology. It is jointly organized by the Faculty of Science, Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia), Universitas Airlangga (Surabaya, Indonesia) and Salahaddin University (Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan). Lectures will be given by invited eminent specialists.

Visit http://www.fs.utm.my/icowobasrafss/

I am one of the organising committee members. So hurry up and submit your papers now! :)

Monday, 3 December 2012

Life of Pi

This is one of the movies that caught my attention a few months ago, when the trailer was shown at the cinema. The picture looked great, especially the scenes at the sea. But I suspect the storyline might not be that strong.
So last weekend I had the opportunity to go and see it, after a while of 'movie drought'. I wanted to see the 3D one, because again I suspect the strength of the movie is on the special effects and cinematography. But it was sold out. So we opted for the normal one instead. As expected, it was an 'OK' movie if based solely on the story. It was one of the 'feel-good', 'not too heavy' kind of movie. But the pictures were amazing, made for 3D screening. It was so colourful, filled with heart warming scenes of the friendship between Pi and the Bengal tiger in the middle of the ocean.
Overall it was not too bad, even though not in eye popping 3D. But I wouldn't mind watching it again, in 3D of course! Or maybe I should buy the book. I heard it is a best-seller. Buying the book will probably take some time, as I will have to drop by the nearest bookstore, physically. That is without the guarantee it is in stock. How I wish we have the efficiency of Amazon.co.uk here...


Next movie in line, The Hobbit!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Short break

I have not been writing new posts for a while. Currently a bit occupied with teaching, administrative and research responsibilities. It is also near the end of the year, which is the busiest period in the life of a worker with KPIs to meet. Hope to get some new ideas on what to write soon. Keep checking!