Friday, January 30, 2015

Home, Sweet Home

Dr Abe V Rotor
Brick House, acrylic by AVR


Home, Sweet Home
By John Howard Payne
Music by Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855)
(Arranged for the violin and piano by Henry Farmer)

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, Home, sweet, sweet Home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
O, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singingly gaily, that came to my call –
Give me them – and the peace of mind, dearer than all.
Home, Home sweet, sweet Home.
There’s no place like Home! There’s no place like Home!

Home Sweet Home is one of my favorite pieces on the violin. My daughter would accompany me on the piano in my lectures, and on one occasion, in a concert. The arrangement made by Henry Farmer is made up of three variations revolving on the popular melody of the song. Home Sweet Home was popularized by the pioneers who left their homes in the Old World and settled in the New World - America.

One of the lessons I discussed lately on the school-on-air program - Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid - is about home and family. It was one of the liveliest lessons ever conducted on air with many enthusiastic callers who shared their concepts and views about a happy home. Here is a short list.

1. Home is a roof for everyone, residents and guests.
2. Home is a wall with large windows that let the sun and the breeze in.
3. Home is where fish in the aquarium sparkle in the morning’s sun.
4. Home is a baby smiling, of children playing.
5. Home is a faithful husband and wife.
6. Home is a “place for everything and everything in its place,” but not always.
7. Home is dad and mom waiting for us from school.
8. Home is a workshop for hobbies and inventions.
9. Home is where our dog lies on the doormat waiting for its master.
10. Home is a litter of puppies and kittens.
11. Home is a rooster crowing, nature’s alarm clock.
12. Home is a house lizard’s crispy announcement of a guest coming.
13. Home is a frog croaking in the rain.
14. Home is a safari of wildlife – from insects to migratory birds.
15. Home is a warm embrace of a cat.
16. Home is a cup of coffee, a sip of wine, a newspaper.
17. Home is a warm bath, a cold shower, a bath tub.
18. Home is National Geographic, Time Magazine, Daily Inquirer.
19. Home is ripe tomato, succulent radish, dangling stringbeans,
20. Home is a brooding mother hen in her nest.
21. Home is fresh eggs everyday.
22. Home is the sound of birds and crickets.
23. Home is the sweet smell of flowers, falling leaves, swaying branches in the wind.
24. Home is the sweet smell of the earth after the first rain in May.
25. Home is a singing cicada in the tree.
26. Home is a swarming of gamugamo in the evening.
27. Home is a sala too small for so many friends.
28. Home is a cabinet of books, a study table, a computer.
29. Home is Beethoven, Mozart, Abelardo, Santiago.
30. Home is Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Sharon Cuneta.
31. Home is Amorsolo. Picasso, Van Gogh.
32. Home is potpourri of appetizing recipes, of the proverbial grandmother apple pie.
33. Home is pinakbet, lechon, karekare, suman, bibingka.
34. Home is a garden of roses, a grass lawn to lie on.
35. Home is an herbarium of plants, a gene bank.
36. Home is home for biodiversity, a living museum.
37. Home is doing repair that has no end.
38. Home is disposing old newspapers, bottles, metal scraps, used clothes.
39. Home is a midnight candle before an exam.
40. Home is a shoulder, a pillow, to cry on.
41. Home is Noche Buena.
42. Home is fireworks on New Year.
43. Home is general cleaning on weekends.
44. Home is a soft bed that soothes tired nerves and muscles.
45. Home is a fire place, a hearth, which takes the cold out of the body and spirit.
46. Home is a Prodigal Son returning, Good Samaritan.
47. Home is a round table where thanksgiving prayer is said.
48. Home is laughter and music, prose and poetry.
49. Home is forgiving, rejoicing, celebrating.
50. Home is angelus and rosary hour.

To sum it all, Home is Home Sweet Home.~


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hibernation and Aestivation - Survival Adaptations of Organisms

All living things take heed of Nature’s call, except humans, 
Dr Abe V Rotor
Ant colony on the move to safe ground, sensing the coming of the rainy season.
The lichen is a classical example in the art of dormancy. The lichen shown here belongs to the foliose type. Lichens are made up of algae and a fungi living in symbiosis, which explains their superb ability to withstand extreme environmental conditions - except pollution.
Frangipani or kalachuchi remains leafless in summer, then
bursts with flowers. It regains its foliage come rainy season. 

"Sleep, so called, is a thing which makes man weep,

And yet a third of life is passed in sleep."
- Lord Byron, Don Juan

Who is not fascinated by the first heavy rain in May, the start of the monsoon season or habagat? The fields come alive, transformed from scorched landscape into vast greenery. What brings about this sudden transformation?

Rainwater breaks the dormancy of seeds lying in the ground. It wakes up the sleeping little plant in a poem, The Little Plant, we learned in the elementary.

In the heart of a seed,
Buried deep so deep.
A tiny plant,
Lay fast asleep.
"Wake," said the sunshine,
"And creep to the light."
"Wake," said the voice,
Of the raindrops bright.
The little plant heard
And it rose to see,
What the wonderful,
Outside world might be.

Seeds of many annual plants like saluyot (Corchorus olitorius) and wild Amaranthus wake up to the rain. The same stimulus touches dormant buds like a magic wand, and in a short time become new and fresh crowns of trees that had been in deciduous state. Tubers and corms come alive simultaneously with tillers and stolons and take their first peep above ground. Bulbs send out their first shoots. There is rejuvenation everywhere.

Thunder and lightning accompany rain and send old folks to hunt for mushrooms the day after. There is scientific explanation to this, although much of the mystery remains. Lightning directly fixes atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate (NO3), which being soluble, is brought down by rain. It is then absorbed by plants, protists - and fungi to which mushrooms belong. How is dormancy of fungi explained? Is it the same as in green plants?

Basically, it is. While plants photosynthesize their food in the presence of sunlight, fungi on the other hand are saprophytic, and draw energy from decomposition of organic matter. But the conditions that break dormancy is the same – the supply of nitrates and other nutrients, sufficient water, suitable foothold and substrate, and favorable temperature. The  mycelia of fungi which appear as white, threadlike mass may remain dormant, then springs to life, rapidly spreading all over its growing medium until it is time to produce fruiting bodies, which are the mushrooms.

Dormancy of Seeds

Seeds are masters of the art of dormancy – the temporary stoppage of life processes. Nature has precisely made dormancy as a means of adaptation, and adaptation is a means of survival. Adaptation is the key to fitness defined in Charles Darwin’s law of natural selection. The failure of seeds to grow immediately after maturity – even though conditions of the environment may be favorable – is generally an advantage of many plants.

This phenomenon is demonstrated by plants which are highly sensitive to photoperiodism.  These are classified as short-day and long-day species and varieties. For example, the traditional rice variety, wagwag, produces grains only during the short-day period, usually in the last quarter. If it is planted late and does not have chance to mature within the period, it will remain in its vegetable stage and will flower only in October in the following year.

Many desert plants exhibit superb resistance to punishing heat and dryness. They produce seeds that lay dormant in the hot desert soil for as long as there is no rain. Then, when rain finally comes, these seeds sprout immediately, grow and mature as fast as water in the soil is lost. Before the desert reverts to its arid condition, the plants have completed their life cycle, and their seeds once more lie dormant waiting as long as they could for the next unpredictable rain.

Many seeds of cereals and other annual remain dormant for a few days to some weeks under natural condition. However at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the seeds of about 100,000 rice cultivars kept in the institute’s Germplasm Bank can remain viable for 20 years. It is necessary to germinate the seeds before they lose viability to replace the gene collection.


A colony of dormant Drynaria fern clings on an acacia tree.
Tagudin, Ilocos Sur
This epiphyte, relative of the mistletoe, takes advantage 
over  its host in its deciduous state. Lagro Subd., QC

Most farm crop seeds are probably dead after 25 years, even under favorable storage conditions. The alleged germination of seeds after prolonged storage in ancient tombs is known to be a myth. I had a chance to examine some authentic seeds recovered from a pharaoh’s tomb at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The seeds were highly carbonized and have completely lost their viability. There are however, seeds of some plants in the wild that retain their vitality for 50 years or more. Dry arctic lupine seeds found buried in lemming burrows under 10 to 20 feet of frozen soil in the Yukon Territory in Canada, were able to germinate. Their assumed age is older than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Vernalization – Overwintering of Crops
Local yam or singkamas sends out shoots after a long

dormancy, which coincides with the rainy season.
The term vernalization was first introduced by my professor in Plant Physiology in the late fifties. The technology had just began to revolutionize farming in countries where winter is long and harsh. Formerly in these areas, it was almost impossible to grow wheat and other crops because of the very short growing season. Even if planting is done in early spring, by the time the grains start to mature, frost has already set in.

The Russians found out that by pre-germinating wheat seeds and keeping them safe and healthy during the long winter, the young seedlings will resume growth immediately as the snow thaws. Much time is saved for the crop to grow, while its life cycle is significantly shortened. Before the winter sets in, the crop is already harvested.

Thousands of hectares have been placed under cultivation following this procedure. Seeds of wheat, oats and barley are planted in late autumn. They germinate and remain dormant under snow for the whole winter (overwintering), then resume growth in spring and harvested at the end of the short summer. Researches on the application of vernalization have successfully made other crops adapted to this kind of environment. Former wastelands in Siberia and Northern Canada are now productive farmlands.

Breaking the Dormancy of Wildlife Species

Aestivating snails, crustaceans and frogs ensconced in the bottom of rice fields are similarly liberated by the monsoon rains. Together with hito and dalag which aestivate in mud like the lungfish, they stir with the first contact with rain water, wiggling out to freedom in the flooded fields where they resume active life – growing, mating and reproducing – and migrating while the monsoon persists and whole fields are one contiguous lake.

These are biological feats that feed man’s fantasy to live long and postpone death.
1. The African lungfish buries in mud up to two feet deep in order to escape extreme drought and heat in the desert. It curls into a ball and seals its chamber with its own mucus secretion and there it aestivates for as long as four years in the absence of rain.

2. Garter snakes survive the long Canadian winter while remaining in burrows, or in extreme cases, encrust in ice. They are liberated only when the ice thaws in spring, and soon resume their normal activities. They grow, mate and reproduce before they hibernate again come next winter.

3. Snakes and other reptiles easily go for long periods without food. Snakes have been kept alive without food for almost two years. A python in captivity has been observed to go without food for a period of 13 months. Frogs can fast for 16 months and fishes for 20 months; land tortoise for a year and salamander for one and one-half years.

4. The most popular mammals that hibernate is the bear. Sustained by large amounts of stored fat, it sleeps in the entire winter in its den. Its normal body temperature remains the same in spite of its heartbeat reduced from 40 to 10 times per minute. Beware, a sleeping bear may be provoked at the slightest disturbance.

5. Bats in hibernation hang in caves, eat nothing, their hearts feebly beating and their breathing scarcely imperceptible. Through collective body heat the colony survives extreme cold and long winter.

Fasting – Mechanism for Survival
 
Hairy caterpillar prepares for final molting, enters pupal stage, and 
emerges into moth. After its fill, an iguana can fast for several days. 
Fasting is a means of meeting exigencies of life. It is one of nature’s best methods of dealing with physiological problems. Take the hibernating bear, the aestivating crocodile, the sick elephant, the wounded dog – these fast in order to meet the problems before them. Fasting is indeed a very useful means of adaptation.

But how long can animals abstain from food? Let us look into these examples.

1. There were dogs that remained alive for 38 days without food. The longest survival record is 117 days.

2. Rats may survive after 5 to 6 days. Guinea pigs may last for 7 to 8 days without food, while rabbits can live for 15 days under strict fasting.

3. Spiders undergo incredible fasting, spinning webs daily from substances generated by their bodies. Spiders have been observed to exist without food for 17 months.

4. Unicellular organisms such as amoebae and paramecia can exist without food from 4 to 24 days. As a result they undergo diminution in size.

5. The larvae of a beetle, Trogoderma tarsale, that infest cereals can live for as long as five years without food.

6. The condor, like all other vultures, is capable of fasting for days. It gorges itself however, when it finds food.

7. Scorpions are known to have starved for 368 days.

8. A freshwater fish, Amia calva, can fast for 20 months.

9. Ticks can exist in an active state for as long as four years without eating anything.

10. A boa constrictor may remain inactive for months after a full meal. So with the anaconda in the Amazon jungle.

Deeper mystery shrouds our knowledge of Dormancy

It is practice to irradiate potato and onion before they are stored in order to retard sprouting. If radiation does not kill the embryo how does it induce dormancy?

Locusts may suddenly group and coalesce into a swarm. Like birds and other animals, migration is an adaptive mechanism to escape extreme conditions of the environment. Are these organisms not equipped with the gene for dormancy?

Deciduousness (complete shedding of leaves) of certain trees like the narra, occurs periodically but not necessarily jibed with the dormancy period. In fact some trees are even more luxuriant when other plants are dormant. We have little knowledge about the biological clock that dictates dormancy among different species of organisms.

Episodes of the Red Tide phenomenon caused by dinoflagellates, such as Pyrodinium, Peridinium, and Gonyaulax, are unpredictable. What predispose these organisms to bloom? How do they stay dormant in between seasons of occurrence?

This leads us to the epidemic cycles of certain human diseases. How do influenza viruses stay “alive” during off-season? What made H1N1 virus (swine flu) spread into pandemic in so short a time? When will its virulence subside?

How does HIV remain passive in an HIV positive patient? Bubonic plague devastated medieval Europe in three major waves killing one-third of the population. How do we explain alternate virulence and dormancy of the causal organism?

What really induce flowering? How does potassium nitrate induce flowering of mango during off-season? Why is it that old folk cut notches on the trunk of trees that are “lazy” to bloom? Then for whatever reason, the wounded trees come alive with flowers and fruits.

As I was writing this article, some birds came flying by and perched on a nearby talisay tree singing melodious songs that herald a new season - amihan. The Siberian winds have arrived. In the Northern hemisphere it is time for hibernation, in the South hemisphere it is aestivation. For many birds and animals, it is time for migration.

Except for humans, all living things take heed of Nature’s call. ~

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Revolutionizing the Burger

Dr Abe V Rotor
Rice burger with patty filler and a peel of lettuce  
Lavish triple serving of different makes and side dishes 
                         
Traditional burgers from single- to triple-decker, extravagantly stuffed 
Big bite - but how? Obese-setting serving, likewise an oversize mug. 
Hybrid breakfast or big snack. Perhaps brunch (breakfast-lunch)

NOTE: Today, burger meat can be grown in the laboratory from stem cells, on the principle of cell differentiation and growth. Stem cells are produced by living things.  They come from various sources in the body such as embryonic cells (fertilized egg), stem cells from bone marrow and adipose tissues. In plants, meristems (apical, lateral and intercallary) are the equivalence of stem cells in humans and animals. 

The author believes that Stem Cell Farming (SCF) will be the next Agricultural Revolution, anent Genetic Engineering that produced GMOs (genetically modified organisms such as Bt Corn, Golden Rice, and other transgenic organisms)  Bt is the initial of Bacillus thuringensis, a soil bacterium, whose gene for caterpillar-resistance has been spliced into the genes of the corn. 

The author also believes that Stem Cell Farming will set a new frontier of production from land-based agriculture, and aquaculture, which have already reached their limits. Single-Cell Protein (SCP) Farming, such as Spirulina and Chlorella culture, will continue independently but will form a triumvirate with GMO Farming, and Stem Cell Farming, in Postmodern Green Revolution. This consortium deviates from conventional farming which, in the last three decades, evolved into Modern Agriculture, the Green Revolution of the industrial age. Because of its heavy dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, hybrids, mechanization, intensive and diversified systems, people realized the harmful effects to health and environmental.  This is the main reason people are attracted to Natural Farming, that is, the production of food virtually the return to traditional farming, the age-old farming system prior to the modern era.  

Scenarios on Current Trends in Agriculture: 
1. Stem cell farming will ignite rage and ethico-moral controversy. What with the wild thought of human stem cell hamburger! 

2. GMO farming has stirred worldwide controversy since its early stage. Worldwide, countries and organizations are calling for its restriction, if not total ban. 

3. Genetic engineering has given rise to a new and most destructive form of pollution to the living world - Genetic Pollution, which is destroying the integrity of natural gene pools of plants, animals, and microorganisms. 

4. Genetic pollution spreads through pollination in plants and mating in animals, albeit induced mutation. GM plants can pollute whole fields. The mechanism is true to animals, consequently populations. There is no way of stop genetic pollution once it has set in, unlike conventional pollution. 

5. Farming the sea will continue with harmful ecological consequences. Like deforestation on land, marine vegetation, from mangrove to seaweeds and sea grasses will greatly suffer, even as the cultivation of seaweeds like Eucheuma and Calerpa, is now a lucrative industry. 

6. Fish farming of marine and freshwater species has expanded into off shore floating cages and plantation-size fish pens. Wild species in captivity proved to be successful in groupers, mullets, and lately, the salmon which has virtually lost its homing instinct through genetic manipulation.  

7. Hydroponics (soiless farming) and aeroponics (farming on multi-storey buildings) continue to "bring agriculture into the city," as more and more people move into urban centers. 

8. Home gardening and backyard orchards are back with the objectives of recycling, self-sufficiency and sanitation, not to mention aesthetic beauty. This trend goes hand in hand with the revival of traditional societies, as people are tired living in the city.   

9. People are becoming conscious of their health by avoiding chemically grown plants and animals, aware of the harmful effects of chemical residues, "Frankenfood"  (GMOs), toxic metals and antibiotic residues, among others.    

10. Wild food plants like Amaranthus, Portulaca, Corchorus and Mollogo have found their way to the dining table and market.  So with many native varieties of fruits and vegetables on one hand, and native breeds of animals and poultry, on the other. ~

Take Heed of Your Biological Clock

“There is a time for all things.” - William Shakespeare

Dr. Abe V. Rotor
Each one of us is governed by a built-in clock within us. Everything we do is “timed;” it has a schedule. And this living clock controls our actions and behaviors. It is the key to survival; a tool in evolution so that it is ingrained in our genes. If that is so, are our biological clocks
then synchronized?

Generally, yes. And that is why we all respond to common rules that society has set for us. We respond to the seasons of the year, each characterized by events we celebrate. We have standard working hours, and curfew. Weekends are set aside for rest and leisure. Summer means vacation. We observe three meals a day, coffee breaks, siestas, and the like menstrual cycle, estrus periods, stages in growth and development – all these are controlled by inner rhythms dictated by that biological clock. So patterned are our laws and rules that we know well the best season to plant or to hunt, to plan weddings and inaugurations, to travel, to go to school, to have a date, to meditate, to be merry.



 Our biological clock varies individually,
but we have many things in common, as there are differences that spell our personality.      


There is a saying, “There’s time for everything.”
                                                                                                    
                                                                                                               
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven.

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down,
and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather
stones together;
   

                                                                                                          
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain
from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence,
and time to speak;
                                                                      

                                                                                             
 Talisay tree in autumn; honeybee at sunrise
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war,
and a time of peace.
- Ecclesiastes

Yes, we are governed by inner rhythms which are classified into the following:

Ultradian Less than a heartbeat
  • Fluctuation of energy
  • Attention span
  • Brain waves
Circadian (daily) day
  • Blood pressure level
  • Sleep wake cycle
  • Cell division
Circaseptan (weekly ) about a week
  • Rejection of kidney, heart, and pancreas transplants
Circatrigintan (monthly) about a month
  • Menstrual Cycle
Circannual (annual) about a year
  • Seasonal depression
  • Susceptibility to some diseases
Living organisms take heed of their biological clock - except humans, in many cases. ~




We always aspire to be happy. "Laugh and the world laughs 
with you; weep and you weep alone."  (Emma Wilcox)



   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Universe on Canvas

Painting and Verse by Dr Abe V Rotor

Primeval Nature in acrylic by AVR 2011 

The beginning of time, when and where
in the cosmos, among the stars
and galaxies, distant to virtual infinity,
begins on my canvas.

I begin with the gases forming into clouds
combining in swirling motion;
here I see light and energy and matter -
the first communion in nature.

In union, not in nothingness, creation takes place,
stars are born, so with the rainbow,
trees into forest grow, diversity of life evolves,
and take shape on my canvas.

The shape of the universe through the mind's eye,
the shape of all things, big and small;
if they are just but one in the hands of nature,
could all on a canvas be mine? ~


Also visit my other Blogs: [avrotor.blogspot.com]
[Living with Nature] [naturalism - the eighth sense]

Books - the Greatest Treasure of Mankind

Dr Abe V Rotor
 Author inspects piles of books ready for storage, selected ones will be 
donated to reading centers, while others will be simply discarded as scrap.

Books, once the privilege of a few in pre-printing machine era, each page painstakingly handwritten, each book a well-kept treasure. 

Books, the authority, the final say, unquestioned, un-refuted, else any one rising contrary faces punishment, including death or damnation. 

Books, the diary, the ledger, the document of conquest and discovery, of battles fought, often in favor of the writer and party.   

Books, the novels that carry the greatest stories of all times are called classics, for which they are regarded timeless for their universal values.

Books, the epics of Homer, stories of the Grimm Brothers distilled from oral literature passed through generations to the present. 

Books, written ahead of their time - Galileo's astronomy, Darwin's evolution, Martin Luther's Protestantism ignited dis-pleasured of the Church.

Books, bedtime stories, baby's introduction to the world, legends and fantasies that take young ones to the land of make believe. 

Books, the record of ultimate scholarship, are the epitome of the greatest minds in thesis and dissertation, theories and principles. 

Books, the precursor of the Internet, the framework of the i-Pod, Tablet, Galaxy, and other gadgets that man becomes a walking encyclopedia. 

Books, the progeny of the earliest forms of writing like the cuneiform, hieroglyphics, caves drawings, etchings, scrolls of the Dead Sea.     

Books, that gave the idea and structure of the Wonders of the Ancient World, and the significance and belief for which they were built. 

Books, that grew with knowledge, brought new schools and movements in arts and philosophy, in unending search for truth. 

Books, the most widely read, the Bible; the shortest, Albert Einstein’s e=mc2, and book-to-cinema versions of Spielberg, Lucas, Cecile de Mills et al. 

Books, the greatest treasure of mankind, its collective attributes as humanity, the very stimulus of man's rationality to rise above other creatures - and himself.

Books, that brought about man's disobedience to his creator, playing god, and questioning if god made man, or that man made god.  

Books that enlighten man to care for the environment, guide the young and future generations to a better future, and lead man to save his own species from extinction. ~

Children of Nature

Dr Abe V Rotor
Kite flying season, detail of mural painting by AVRotor 2008 
Fly on my little kite
Ride on the wings of the wind
Over plains and dales;
Hear the whispers of the treetops,
And the secrets of the clouds.
Life by the sea, detail of mural painting by AVRotor 2007
This is the place I used to know,
Part of my childhood, part of me,
Where seasons come and seasons go;
Yet it is not my destiny
To grow old by the western sea.


Fishing on a Stream in acrylic, AVRotor
Nature shares her bounty in many ways: 
He who works or he who prays,
Who patiently waits or gleefully plays; 
He is worthy of the same grace.                                   

                       



I cast a line but thoughts never cease;
wind and silence, perfect twins
tell the world will never know peace
fishing all day by the ruins.

Fishing on a sunken pier, detail of mural, by AVR 20

Morning in the Forest

Dr Abe V Rotor 
Morning in the Forest in acrylic, AVR 2010

Weaned from his cradle and forebears’ bastion,
He ventured onto the plains yearning to be free;
And built the road to civilization -
Now he, Homo sapiens, ruled the plain and sea.

This self anointed king and conqueror,
Built temples and worshiped the Golden Calf;
Raped the land, sowed poison and terror,
Then sought divine grace on his behalf.

At the edge of the forest, there’s a new dawn,
The remnant of his abode long forlorn;
And he, survivor of the Armageddon
Comes home - the Prodigal Son reborn. ~

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Increasing Danger of Biological Warfare

Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Biochemical Warfare 

 Dr Abe V Rotor

- The US Postal Service ordered gloves and masks and irradiation systems for key mail-sorting facilities in Washington, New York and New Jersey, but questions as to whether these measures to prevent anthrax from spreading via mails are effective or not remain unresolved. Does zapping letters and packages with radiation really kill anthrax spores? What is the downside to irradiation? Are the postal workers really protected from anthrax and other biological warfare germs?

- As a precaution the US government has accelerated the delivery of 40 million doses of smallpox vaccine to add to the 15.4 million doses already stored. These will be enough to inoculate every American. One drawback is the possibility of side effects of the vaccine particularly to those receiving other medical treatments such as chemotherapy.

- African killer bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) claimed to have escaped from a laboratory have interbred with the domestic species creating an equally deadly hybrid that now threatens the US after spreading throughout Brazil, Central America and Mexico. A colony is made up of some 70,000 ferocious bees with the queen bee reproducing up to 5,000 a day to maintain this enormous population.

- E. coli is a familiar intestinal parasite. Naturally occurring outbreaks of Escherischia coli typically the result of fecal contamination in anything from hamburgers to swimming pools, sicken hundreds of thousands of people each year. What really trigger the outbreak of E. coli? What caused the epidemic that hit Tokyo three years ago?
Scientists at Louisiana State University, showed that E. coli could evolve to resist ionizing radiation by exposing cultures of the bacterium to the highly radioactive isotope cobalt-60. 

As I ponder over these scenarios I remember when I was a child seeing many people who were survivors of smallpox epidemic. The center of the epidemic was a town whose population was decimated. The mere mention of its name rings the sad memory of the early 1900s’ disaster. Lapog became virtually synonymous with the name of the dreaded disease. It was later renamed San Juan (Ilocos Sur).

My father told me that of the eight siblings in the family, only two of them survived the disease. Uncle Leo who was the oldest miraculously survived, and my dad who was the youngest was born after the epidemic had subsided.

In my mind I still can picture the faces of a dozen survivors. Pockmarks cover their faces, and may also cover the body, arms and legs, including the ears, nose, eyelids and lips which become somehow disfigured. Fingers and toes are deformed in serious cases.

But I remember how these survivors continued to live normal lives. I remember them as happy and hardworking in spite of the traumatic experiences they went through. Psychologists say there are many survivors of tragic experiences who find the new lease in life a new opportunity. Stories on how whole communities rise with these survivors uplift the spirit. I saw this miracle happen in the family and community I was brought up. Many people in many places I believe, can overcome painful experiences with this kind of spirit.

Conquest and Diseases
Christopher Columbus and his men allegedly introduced syphilis in the New World. The meeting of East and West during the era of colonization also resulted in the exchange of diseases. James Michener’s novel, “Hawaii,” relates how smallpox caused death and sufferings to the natives. To the novel’s principal character, the Reverend Hale, it was a manifestation of God’s wrath on the sinful and the non-converts.

While this incident helped him in his mission, the end proved that the English missionary was wrong - that God is not a God of vengeance. Whole settlements in the New World just perished to indigenous diseases that were unknown in their countries of origin. Scientists explain that these pioneers lacked the natural immunity to the diseases, in the same manner that diseases introduced into the Old World killed many people similarly because they did not have the natural resistance.

This is the basis why for many years until recently, the World Health Organization and many countries required the vaccination of travelers against certain diseases as a requirement in obtaining passports and visas.

These are of course incidents that we can dismiss as force majeure or historical events, which our faith and culture may accept. But what about in the case of war when man is pitted against man, nation against nation?

Man’s Inhumanity to Man

How different it is to think about war. Since biblical times war has always been associated with inhumanity – man’s inhumanity to man. It is the antithesis of culture, of civilization, the very institution that is supposed to eliminate this treat to society. Ironically war has plagued every civilization, and many a great civilization has been the center of human conflict like the epicenter of an earthquake. According to the historian Gibbon twelve great civilizations that include the Greek and Roman civilizations fell because of war. They never recovered again.

History is not replete of the fact that the more civilized societies have been the cause of the loss of peace, if not the whole destruction of the less civilized ones. The great Spanish conquistadores forever destroyed the great civilizations of the Aztecs and the Mayas, in the same way that the pioneers in the West forever destroyed the American Indians.

Early Biological Warfare
Carthage a thriving agricultural and trading center during the times of the Roman became swamp and subsequently into desert that we know today. How did this happen? The invading Romans drew saltwater into land flooding settlements and fertile lands, thus finally putting to end the powerful enemy.

“How The West Was Won,” is a story of the destruction of the American Indian civilization which had been flourishing for many centuries. The natives fought fiercely at the European invaders and defended their “nation” for years. But the pioneers knew exactly the key to their victory over the powerful Indian tribes - to annihilate the buffaloes, millions of them that roamed the Great Plains or what is known as the prairies. Because buffaloes provided the Indians their basic needs from food to shelter, famine ensued and the great American Indian civilization was ultimately reduced into marginal settlements. Buffalo Bill is reported to have killed more than three hundred buffaloes in a single day for which he earned his name and “reputation.”

What if China’s threat to send one million Chinese to fight and die in Vietnam had come true? I heard of this story during the Chinese-Vietnam conflict that preceded the Vietnam war. Should such unthinkable strategy happen, the task of burying the dead alone, more so in controlling pestilence, would certainly render the enemy country defenseless and economically bankrupt. On the part of the triumphant country it shall have somehow reduced pressure on its burgeoning population and rid the misfits. Many believe that war is a purification process of a society. Definitely it is not. The Germans lost thousands of scientists in World War II. Many soldiers who died in the Vietnam War were among the finest of the youth of their time in their respective countries.

But man has not had lessons enough. And war in its most ugly form using chemicals, biological agents, nuclear and ultramodern tools, is with us and it is all over the world now. For nuclear arsenals alone, the world’s total stockpile has the capacity to kill three times the whole population of the world. The world is witness to the recent wars in Iraq, Bosnia and Macedonia, Uganda and Angola and Afghanistan. It is happening with the Tamil Guerillas in Sri Lanka, along the Pakistan-Indian border, the Basques guerillas, the IRA in Northern Ireland, and other parts of the world. It is happening in our home ground with the Abu Sayaf and the NDF-NPA. War has many faces indeed.

War Without Borders

Something unexpected and different happened. On September 11 this year the World Trade Center, a 110-storey twin-tower was erased from the skyscraper map in matters of minutes shortly after two planes commandeered by terrorists smashed into the superstructure signaling the vulnerability of our present system of capitalism. It challenged the economic powers of the world, particularly America.

The world woke up into a new age hitherto unpredicted - the age of Terrorism and the birth of a new nation without political boundary, but an invisible organizational network with its tentacles reaching global proportion.

This time intrusion into the enemy’s territory or defining the place of battle does not follow the conventional rules anymore. In fact there are no specific rules when we refer to the modus operandi of terrorists. Scenarios of war have thus changed after the September 11 attack.

This paper concentrates on the tools of biological warfare. Here are some of them.



First there is anthrax, the most serious and the first to hit the headlines after the bombing of the World Trade Center. It leads a dozen of similarly devastating epidemics of biological warfare potential.

Second, there is an attempt to revive bubonic plague that killed one-third of the world’s population in the Middle Ages. It was the Japanese who experimented in the making of bubonic flea bombs intended to spread the plague in major USA cities. The project was to breed the fleas which harbor the plague bacteria in its body, then scatter these to infest rats and other animals in the target area where they in turn multiply and transmit the pathogen to the residents. The bomb was successfully tested in China with hundreds of Chinese succumbing to the bubonic plague bacteria. Preparations were then made to attack the US. But the US had decided to drop the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bubonic flea bombs were never used. Japan hastily removed all the evidences of its evil experiment even before its surrender to the US.

Third, the threat of influenza which killed several millions at the first part of the twentieth century in the US and many parts of the globe has caused alarm as early as the 1980s after discovering a new strain of virus, a hybrid of the chicken and human influenza viruses. Based on the ratio of victims with the population in the first epidemic, scientists are looking at the possibility that some 60 to 100 million people could die of the new influenza virus strain should it strike in our times. In spite of utmost precaution to stave off the epidemic, scientists believe that we are not yet off the hook.

Biological warfare intends to use germs with historical epidemic background. Here is an outline of the basic facts about these most important potential epidemic diseases.

Anthrax
· Also known as malignant pustule, malignant edema or woodsorters’ disease
· Most common in South America, Australia, Africa and Russia
· Highly infectious disease of animals, occurring especially in cattle, sheep and other ruminants, horses and mules as well.
· Transmitted to humans through contact with any part of the inside or outside of the animal carrying the infectious agent
· Caused by Bacillus anthracis whose spores which are resistant to disinfectants and heat, may remain infectious even after 15 years in soil. Grazing animals can accumulate spores contained in the droppings of infected animals
· Humans acquire the disease through cut or wound of the skin, by eating infected meat, or by breathing in the spores contained in the dust emanating from the sick animal’s hide or hair
· Skin infection characterized by severe itching and appearance of boil, usually on the arm, face and neck. The inflamed area grows into an ulcer called a malignant pustule, which eventually bursts and produced a black scab. Fever, nausea and swelling of the lymph glands are accompanying symptoms
· Internal anthrax acquired through inhalation results in acute pneumonia. When infected meat is ingested symptoms of acute gastroenteritis occur
· Anthrax is effectively treated with antibiotics. Immunization against the disease has been made possible through the use of vaccine. Effective livestock management is key to the control in the spread of the disease.

Bubonic Plague
o Known as the Black Death in the Middle Ages which ravaged Europe and Asia
o In some places as many as two-thirds of the entire population died
o So-called from the blackening spots which broke out from the skin during the course of the disease
o Characteristic symptoms are fever and swelling of the lymph nodes mainly the groin and armpit
o It is caused by the plague bacillus (Pasteurella pestis) which is transmitted from sick rats (Rattus rattus norvigicus) to humans by flea bites (Xenopsylola chopis)

Small pox
· Highly contagious, often fatal that once ravaged mankind in epidemics. Just one infected person could cause the virus to radiate from a family to a neighborhood to a city in a matter of months.
· Smallpox cannot be treated effectively once symptoms begin. 30 percent of those infected will die.
· WHO declared the eradicated of smallpox in 1980. Routine immunization for protection against the disease was stopped as early as 1971.
· First signs: chills and high fever, severe headache and backache, followed by rash which eventually covers the entire body and turns into pus-filled blisters
· The blisters in turn dry up to form scabs which very often leave pockmarks.
· The disease may be accompanied by vomiting, convulsion and diarrhea Complications include other skin infections such as boils and abscesses, ear infections, pneumonia and heart failure
· Disease is not transmitted by animals
· Disease has been eliminated through world wide vaccination programs, although a mild form still exist in Ethiopia
· The disease has been largely eliminated by extermination of rats. Antibiotics such as oxytetracycline, streptomycin and chloramphenicol are effective in its treatment

Other Potential Bio-Warfare Organisms
There are many organisms that can be used in biological warfare. A terrorist attack aimed at crops and livestock would be less dramatic but might cause more disruption in the long run.

Potato Blight – also called late blight, a worldwide serious disease of potato and tomato in cool humid countries caused by a fungus, Phyhtopthora infestans In Ireland 30 percent of the population starved to death, died of typhoid fever that followed - or emigrated during the period 1845 to 1860. Tomato blight caused by the same fungus destroyed 50 percent of the crop in Eastern US in 1946.


Aflatoxin in corn is caused by Aspergilus flavus. It is used to destroy crops as well ruin human health. Aflatoxin causes liver cancer.

Rust Fungi -
There are species of Puccinia affecting ceraeals and among them which is Puccinia graminis tritici consists of 200 such races to which wheat varieties are differentially susceptible. Although rust fungi are host specific and can only complete their life cycle in the presence of alternate host such as barberry in wheat rust, the potential fore biological warfare is great to consider that cereals comprise the staple of the mankind. The narrowing down of varieties for commercial cultivation exposes greater danger of rust diseases to spread out into epidemics.

Salmonella - In 1984 a cult in Oregon set off a wave of food poisonings. Gastroenteritis caused by natural contamination and careless food handling afflicts millions and results in 5000 deaths each year. Salmonella is a large group of rod shaped bacteria that invade the gastrointestinal tract, among them typhoid and paratyphoid germs.

Antibiotics are recommended to combat Salmonella infection. A recent incident happened in Rizal when hundreds of children who ate spoiled spaghetti were hospitalized. The religious group, which sponsored the feeding program, admitted fault to the incident. A similar case also happened two years ago. The owner of seven-eleven apologized for the incident and paid the victims.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease – The disease affects hoof animals from hogs to cattle. Its natural occurrence is worldwide and we have our own season in the Philippines that is during summer. Although the pathogen is not transmitted from animals to humans, losses incurred are usually heavy with the infected animal economically worthless.

Like in the case of mad cow disease, and chicken flu that affects humans, the infected animals are destroyed to prevent infection. Quarantine and an extreme sanitation program are the best defense in curbing the spread of the disease.

Mad Cow Disease – It is called bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE that has been determined in 1996 to infect humans in the form of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Eighty people in Britain have died of CJD and there is no data to show how many more will die because there are initial signs of acquiring the disease are not clear and that the gestation period of the virus before it reaches the brain is up to 15 years. It originated in Britain crippling the country’s giant cattle industry, then spread to the European and now it has reached Japan threatening some 4.6 million cows.

Coral destruction by an Echinoderm (right), a kind of marine biowarfare. Cortal reefs are the counterpart of forest on land.

Other biological warfare agents include potato beetles, which Britain suspected the Germans for dropping small cardboards bombs filled with the beetle pest on English potato fields. In the 1980s Tamil militants threatened to target Sri Lankan tea and rubber plantations with plant pathogens.

HIV-AIDS – So far 17 million have died and at least 25 million may follow. The heart of the epidemic is at the lower quadrant of Africa. AIDS is anti-Darwinian – it is society’s fittest who die, not the frailest, thus leaving the children and old behind. But recently more and more children become victims. There are 3.7 million children who have died of AIDS and AIDS has orphaned 12 million children.

An estimated 8.8 million adults in Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS and in the seven countries in Africa 1 out of 5 is living with HIV and 3.8 millions Africans are infected every year. There are 36 million adults and children in the world living with HIV/AIDS. Bioterrorism may be eyeing at the spread of the disease in the industrialized countries through the blood donation and immunization channels, other means notwithstanding.



Ebola – It is a highly virulent disease caused by a virus that originated in Africa infecting human and primates. Much of the information about the disease is a mystery but one thing sure is that it is almost one hundred percent fatal once a person gets the virus.

Contact of any kind, and even only through inhalation, the virus can be acquired in no time. One incident showed a member of a religious congregation who had been treating ebola patients suddenly died. Ignoring warnings other members attended her funeral. One of them got the virus and died later.

African Giant Snail (Achatina fulica) – brought by the Japanese to the Philippine during WW II. Pest of garden and field crops. Damage can lead to crop loss and consequently starvation. The pest persists to this day but seldom develops into epidemic proportion. The introduced Golden Kuhol thought to provide livelihood on the farm became a major pest affecting more than 50 percent of our lowland ricefields.

Protection Guidelines
Here are guidelines to protect yourself.

1. Keep distance from possible sources of biochemical materials such as spores of the deadly anthrax. Be wary of suspicious parcels.

2. Get help from authorities to get rid of suspicious looking materials. Curiosity kills the cat.

3. Be familiar with the locations of Bomb Shelters. Such shelters are found in big cities like New York, Tokyo and Tel Aviv. We do not have one in Manila, but there are places and buildings you can find temporary shelter in case of attack.

4. Don’t loiter in centralized air-conditioned places like malls. Avoid crowds and busy streets if you can.

5. Early symptoms should be treated immediately by a doctor. Anthrax for example has flu-like symptoms.

6. Keep resistance high all the time. Good rest, balanced diet, regular exercise are key to resistance against diseases.

7. Don’t be a victim of psychological war. Terrorism thrives on it. We have yet to coin a word for biochemical phobia.

8. Like Boy Scouts, remember “Always be Prepared” – for your own protection. Equally important be prepared always to help other people.

On September 11 many people thought Third World War had started. Well, the big wars we know started small. In our modern world an all out war is likely to employ all kinds of warfare – chemical and biological – and worst is the use of nuclear weapons. There are no defined borders and everyone is a potential victim. It will be difficult to detect the enemy and the tools of war he will use. The “morning after” exposes further destruction. Nuclear weapons have long years of half-life. It means radioactive materials will continue to kill, to make people sick. Even to this day, there are people in Japan where the atomic bombs were dropped 45 years dying due to radioactive fallout.

This is also true with bacterial spores. They have the capacity to re-infect and cause a second or third wave of epidemic. Even after the white flag is raised, still many people continue to get sick and die – physically and psychologically. In many cases it is beyond medicine to cure – or science to explain.

In early 1960s I was part of a research program at UPLB, then UP College of Agriculture, in promoting modern agriculture to farmers. Among the farm chemicals I handled were herbicides. By coincidence the US was developing a chemical called Orange Agent that I found out later was to be used in Vietnam. While this chemical can maim or cause death, its intended use is as a defoliant. By spraying the chemical trees lose their leaves, in fact their entire crown. When this happens a jungle would easily catch fire and in no time spreads out flushing the Vietcong guerillas from their hideouts.

It was my first encounter with biological warfare. The memory does not only linger, it has remained fresh. ~