Good Afternoon, and welcome to Ask a Geek Anything, issue six, the spot in the blogosphere where we’ll attempt to answer all your questions that won’t get us pole axed in Portland .
AmateurBiologist asks- What’s the difference between a virus and a bacteria? And our Brilliant residential Biologist, Amanda Fuesting answers:
This is a question that holds a lot of potential for me to geek out, but in the interest of conserving space, I will try to focus on answering your question as simply as possible. I will be including links to further information at the bottom so that you can do some further exploration of your own.
Not all bacteria are harmful, and some are actually very helpful. They exist in every type of environment, and are living single-celled organisms contained within a cell membrane. They are capable of independent reproduction via cellular division. Thus, they don’t need a host to survive. They are also much larger than viruses.
There is a lot of debate as to whether or not a virus is actually alive, but the general consensus is that they are not. Essentially, they are genetic material wrapped in protein. Viruses are incapable of reproduction without a host, and are essentially parasites. They’re usually harmful. They reproduce by attaching to a compatible host cell and injecting their genetic material into the host cell. From there, the virus takes over the functions of a host cell, causing the cell to produce more of the viruses, which are released from the cell through lysis (cell breakage). There’s more to this, but it isn’t relevant to your question. Viruses are also smaller than bacteria.
This is a link to some neat information about microbes: http://www.uic.edu/classes/bios/bios104/mike/bacteria01.htm
This is a link that further explains the reproduction of viruses: http://biology.kenyon.edu/HHMI/Biol113/2virus.htm
This is a link to a page with some really neat pictures of bacteria of various types: http://www.bacteriainphotos.com/bacteria-photo-gallery.html
Cedar Sanderson asks- Where could I find relatively quick and easy materials for researching how a spaceship runs? I’m writing space opera and don’t want to go so in-depth that I’m writing Hard SF, but I want to have some interesting bits to throw in for the readers, too.
Our researcher without peer, Digital Pythoness answers:
There are a number of places to look.
http://www.tauzero.aero Tau Zero “[p]rovides the latest news about star flight (36,000 subscribers) News is extracted from the professional literature and shared in more accessible terms. The span of coverage includes:
What’s out there – exoplanetology, astronomy, cosmology, and more. […]
Technical advances for getting there – fusion drives, antimatter drives, ion engines, solar sails and magnetic sails, and more”
Another good source: http://www.icarusinterstellar.org/ (Taken from the website)
“Q: What is Icarus Interstellar?
A: Icarus Interstellar is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation dedicated to achieving interstellar flight by the year 2100. The organizations was founded in 2011 and received its tax exemption status in January 2013. “
They have a specific plan for how they are going about things, so you will get a more limited view than other sources. But you can get a sense of terminology, scope, and options based on their arguments for or against certain technologies. The state of our limitations on the project of spaceflight stands out in stark relief. As an added bonus, their comment boxes are informative, and seem quite civilized.
But these are not the only place you can look. It’s going to sound pedantic, but…
http://www.nasa.gov/ yes, they have gone in dubious and strange directions as of late. Talking about everything from Islam to AGW, you get the sense they’ve lost the sense of their original mission. Or perhaps they have lost sense, period. As far as I can tell, their space research is still valid. Their website is pretty, but not friendly to systems with limited resources.
This is why I point people to www.archive.org where a lot of documents about space flight, physics and other goodies are placed. Also, archive.org has better search facilities and takes less overhead for loading than NASA’s site. Caution: not everything posted on archive.org belongs there. Because the site accepts anonymous contributions, you can find dubious properties. Keep an eye out for that. However everything NASA publishes is released into public domain. Also, keep an eye on the dates for NASA documents. They published EVERYTHING there, and some of it is quite old.
One last resource is somewhat unexpected, but helpful for writers.
http://www.baenebooks.com/c-104-nonfiction.aspx Not everything here is free, but most of the article length essays are. In particular, the Free Nonfiction Bundles are always free, and have a wide ranging topics from the far future to the distant past. What you do pay for, the prices are minuscule compared to what you pay for academic works. It is clear I have to give Baen a little love for providing free quality materials for SF writers. It is a good idea to make sure they don’t have something available in your research repertoire. You could miss something excellent.
And finaly: Wyldkat, asks- Don’t know if this is falls under anyone’s prevue, but the feline is wondering why silver is lethal to werewolves? Is it just werewolves or does it also kill all ‘were’ kin? (my source books are not readily at hand)
Stand back, I’ll be handling this one personally. Well, Kat, glad you asked. As someone with great experience in this area, I’m in the position to help you out… See Lycanthropy of all sorts (yes I know, it’s speciesist to name all shifters after wolves, just because there’s more of them. Sigh. Get over it, they got the best press.) is an interspecies magiobacteria. Once the infection has run its course, it, not you, is what’s keeping you alive.
The good news is, it’s likely the last disease you’ll ever get. The bacteria kill all other infections like bleach! The exception to this rule being those few viral and bacterial infections that can cross species lines, like say Rabies. The bad news is that the bug is completely resistant to modern antivirus treatments, and antibiotics both strait and magical. The ugly news is that one of the earliest antibacterial treatments, silver in all of its forms, is something the bug isn’t immune to…
Now a small amount of silver, locally administered, is just going to kill the bug in that area… So really, what that means is you heal at normal rate, just like for a burn, and for the same reason, the local bacterial control is dead. Until the area is recolonized, that area is dead. (incidentally Silvadine cream is NOT recommended) Kill the bug in the area of the heart and lungs, well…. Yeah you’re screwed. Sever the spine, remove the head, ditto. Fast exsanguination, esp. by a silver weapon, which kills the bacteria at the cut, keeping the rapid healing thing from happening… can kill you. Otherwise, you’re good for a much longer life, as the bacteria doesn’t degrade at the same rate as human DNA (we’re not sure why, but the University of Mass. at Salem is working on it) Of course old age is NOT the primary cause of ‘Thrope deaths… File that under “misadventure”. Oh and as each magiobacteria is slightly different than it’s cousins, wounds caused by another ‘Thrope (unless it’s in your DIRECT line, and not more than a generation or two off) or the other well known magiobacteria (Magios Teppes, the one that causes vampirism) heal at human normal rates as well. So, I hope that answers your question, if not I can provide a few good papers on the subject.
Well, that’s all we have space for today, and we’re stopping the acronym and slang corner, until I get some more questions to fill it, so if there’s some acronym that you don’t know, but always wondered about, sound out!