Tuesday 14 June 2011

From international boundaries to broomsticks

From Wordle-images

I talked today with Chris Little, who is a training consultant to the surveying and construction industries. We had wide ranging talks on topics that ranged from vehicle tracking devices to the resolution of international boundary disputes (where's the line on the ground!).

His company is Chris Little Training Services Limited and it provides courses from basic surveying skills to use of GPS and mapping software. But what does this actually mean?

"Most recently, I helped a company in Great Yarmouth use a theodolite and level to ensure the verticality of on- and offshore drilling derricks. For the company this meant significant time savings in both fitting the drilling equipment and the prevention of costly mistakes.

For many companies in the construction and fabrication industries, the biggest cost is often the mistakes made by their staff, as this comes out of bottom line figures.

I have also been involved in high precision industrial measurement, using surveying equipment that is capable of sub-millimetre accuracy. This is relevant for industries such as the repair of rail vehicles, the aligning of industrial gantries and pipe-work fabrication in the nuclear industry.

Some of the most unusual and interesting projects, though not major in themselves, included being involved with the filming of the last Harry Potter film, and position of a flying character (who can be a bit of an ogre) in a present stage play in London!"

With a hectic schedule and the possibility of international engagements, the easiest way to get hold of Chris is at chrislittletraining@hotmail.co.uk or +44 7932 383932

Friday 10 June 2011

Marcus Orlovsky at The Inspired Group

Emotion, passion and feeling - essential ingredients in our lives, ambitions and businesses, that seem to be absent along the fact oriented, evidence based route that we are supposed to use. Marcus Orlovsky skipped from education, through advertising to successful businesses and back in his presentation to The Inspired Group, at the invitation of Ann Hawkins. One moment we would be comparing two adverts for seat belt use - the fact based "Clunk Click" campaign of the 70s and a contemporary, never screened emotive one which had a significant part of the audience sniffing discretely into their hankerchiefs. The next moment we were following Marcus's dizzying rise to megabuck business, sometimes sailing very close to the wind in terms of what I personally consider ethical business.

What came through consistently, was Markus's passion in three key messages.
First; We have a great responsibility to inspire, enthuse and enable children to strive for distant horizons.
Second; That leadership is inspirational and enabling.
Third, Dare to Dream.

What's more he was willing to go out proactively to promote these messages, with passion, and be an example in daring to dream, encouraging leadership and being committed to providing an inspiring environment for children. (Read more on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/miltoncontact/status/79638202373255168).

Wednesday 8 June 2011

New Author Debz Lowry in final stages of completing first book

I am sitting in the Cafe Diem in Milton Country Park with a remarkable lady, Debz Lowry, sipping our cups of tea and looking out over the lake with the wind rushing through the trees.
Debz has a remarkable life story which she is in the final stages of writing up in her new book, "Dark Seeds 3am". Did I say one book? Debz's eventful, sometimes traumatic, but always uplifting life with a supernatural twist, cannot be bounded by just one book.
Brimming with energy, what was an initial short conversation has expanded into a fascinating couple of hours, exploring the possibilities ahead for Debz.

Friday 3 June 2011

Ion Torrent sequencing technology helps identify German E.coli outbreak as new strain

From Wordle-images

As a former molecular biologist, I take my hat off to BGI-Shenzhen who managed to sequence the DNA of the virulent German E. coli strain within 3 days. The analysis of the the bacterium's DNA sequence suggests that this is a new type of E. coli strain O104 that contains pathogenic genes from two known nasty strains.

It binds to the stomach wall, produces toxins that cause severe diarrhoea, haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) - which results in the destruction of red blood cells - and can affect the central nervous system. In addition, the bacterium contains a whole series of resistances to common antibiotics (described as aminoglycoside, macrolides and beta-lactam antibiotics).

The rapid result was achieved using a new method of DNA sequencing, called Ion Torrent, by Life Sciences.

When I started sequencing, we used radioactivity to detect and score DNA sequences. By the year 2000 this had been replaced by faster, safer methods using different coloured dyes. Ion Torrent does away with any unusual additives, it measures small changes in pH (acidity).

The principle is clever and simple:

  • As usual, you begin with your test DNA which has been split into single strands.
  • Synthesis of the complementary strand is then primed in a special microwell plate.
  • The sample is flushed with a solution containing an enzyme (DNA polymerase) and one of the four DNA building blocks (A, T, C or G).
  • If the base can be added to the primed complementary strand, it releases a hydrogen ion. This can be measured and recorded as a small pH change.
  • If the base is not added, there is no release of an ion.
  • The well is then flushed with a second base and again the change is noted.
  • The process is repeated, gradually giving the sequence.

Using existing technology, where lots of different DNA fragments can be sequenced in parallel, the process can proceed very rapidly.

The different sequences for the DNA fragments are then matched like a giant jigsaw string until you have the full sequence of an organism.

Having this molecular information for the German E. coli type will help doctors and agencies come up with better ways to search for the source of the outbreak and also plan for prevention and treatment.