Tuesday, April 19, 2011


It is on the radio and TV everywhere, bed bugs. They manifest more and more hotels but also houses in the US. And now, I found one in my own bed. Pfffff. Baaaaah. Buuuh. IIiiieeek. After I woke up with three bites at my neck (it was three so I knew it wasn't a Vampire) I decided to actually check my bed linen before I went to sleep. And there just beneath my pillow, right where I lay down my pretty face, a bed bug, buuuh! It was crawling for its life, but I was faster, smashhh! And to really give it a blast, I flushed it down the toilet, wooshhhh!

Now I left work early and after intensive vacuuming and seven laundry machines later, laundering everything that was even close to my bed (not too difficult in a 20 m2 room) I am finally ready for the nasty stuff, bed bug spray. I did not find any other bugs or their feces (which looks a lot like the black sand from the beach, so I decided to be an optimist) and so I am hopeful that I probably only had one, under the best circumstances, male bug. But who knows, I guess I will only find out within the next months. It feels funny, that I will be the guinea pig in this little experiment and the readout is the number of bites I get. I really hope not to get more bites, because they are really painful. And although I put it out here, it is sooooooooo embarassing! 


I was reading the latest book about HeLa cells and to be honest I was shocked. Not so much of the history of HeLa cells and the social tragedy the Lacks family had to go through. Of course I feel with them and all the terrible things they had to endure, but I believe they would have met the same challenges with or without the history of HeLa cells. Wether they would have any right to the proceeds deriving from the research performed with the help of HeLa cells seems to be a matter of debate, I personally do not believe so. However, if you want to help people that are in need and did contribute to science without their knowledge you can give to the Henrietta Lacks foundation. But even more than being sorry for the Lacks family I was shocked by what doctors did back then and what doctors possibly still do in other parts of this world, where nobody looks at their work.

HeLa cells are cells derived from the cervix carcinoma of a woman named Henrietta Lacks. The cells were removed without her knowledge from her tumor in 1951 and are growing in cell culture labs around the world since. They were the first cells that really kept growing and are now the basis of many drugs and scientific progress. I think it is out of question that she and her family should have been asked permission or at least informed of the usage of her cells. Being uneducated and entrapped in religious superstition (no offense please) they believed that their mother was actually still alive, cloned and had to suffer from all kind of treatments, AIDS and other diseases, nuclear bombs and outer space when they finally learned about the cells many years later. Through a long struggle over many years they tried to raise awareness and receive the credit her mother deserved for her "donation".

To come back to where I started from, I learned that doctors back then did, sometimes cruel, experiments on African Americans without their knowledge and often without the knowledge of the public. They seemed just to do whatever they could think of, and this was after the whole world condemned the cruel experiments Nazis did in concentration camps! One of the doctors just injected HeLa cells into patients and prisoners, partially without their knowledge, not even to think of their permission, to see if they would develop tumors. And guess what, they did develop tumors, some of them reoccurring after removal.

Who knows what is happening in hospitals and labs around the world nowadays. Once again an example of how terrible humans can be. The book presents many other examples of these kind of experiments. How could these people sleep at night?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Many Little Makes a Mickle

When I was a teenager I wanted to change the world; bring peace to everybody, take from the rich and give to the poor. Finding myself growing up I have to realize that I first gave up hope and now even forgot about changing the world. Now and then these old feelings come up and I wonder how can it be that this world is so unfair and encounters so many challenges. Can I not do anything about it? Then I get lost again in my own everyday little troubles and forget about it again. 

It started about 5 years ago, when my sister in law moved from Argentina to Germany. She started to learn German and to continue her studies in accounting. Next to it she also studied English and French. She had to acclimate to live in a new culture without her family with a foreign language. And what did she do? She went volunteering in a home for elderly people. I was really impressed. Comparing myself to her with my self-pitying, the world is so bad attitude I even felt a little ashamed. Immediately I had so many resolutions, but they all came to nothing. The farthest I came was to look at websites that organize volunteer work. Indeed it took me about 5 years to kick myself in the pants, to stop being a couch potato to start doing something.

At TSRI we have a Volunteer Group: Scripps Assists. I decided to join a group within Scripps Assists, which volunteers at the North Torrey Pines State Reserve. Because I do not believe in altruism I chose this project for completely selfish reasons: I wanted to be outside, I wanted to do some physical labor and I wanted to meet new people. But I did not only want to do something that I liked, I also wanted to do something which did not take too much time, so I would be able to do it continuously. The project at North Torrey Pines seemed to be perfect.

When I joined, the group was working at the Los Penosquitos Lagoon down at Carmel Valley Road. Drive north at N Torrey Pines Road the stretch along the right side of the road at the height of the North Torrey Pines State Reserve is the Los Penosquitos Lagoon. Widespread habitat loss in coastal San Diego County and the presence of unusual habitats has made TPSNR a refuge for a large number of plant and animal species. Because much of the Reserve is surrounded by urban development and bisected by public transportation and utility corridors, some of the natural processes have changed. There are about 390 acres salt-water habitat found in the reserve of which about 180 acres are impaired. For example freshwater inflow resulted in a loss of native species and an increase in non-native habitats. These are especially problematic, because they cannot support the sensitive ecosystem.

To reverse this development the Los Penosquitos Lagoon Project started 2.5 years ago. The goal of the project is to restore native species and to make the area self-sustainable again. We work together with a ranger and she and her team works on a 3 acres area in the los penasquitos lagoon. When I joined the majority of these 3 acres was completely covered with ice plant, this is a non-native and invasive plant, which you actually find along the coastline of California. There were hardly any other plants present. So the first goal of the project was to remove the ice plant. Just what I was looking for. Once a month I went out there in old jeans and a headscarf to get really sweaty and stop thinking. It is so relaxing

At the end of 2009 the whole area was freed from ice plant. When I am out there I hardly can believe how much everything changed. Most of the native plants started to vegetate the area independently others were planted by the rangers. The next part of the project is weeding. It is a pity, because usually we have to pull the most pretty flowers. Guess how much weed were pulled out from this area in 1.5 years? About 45 tons of pickle weed has been removed from this 3 acres site and Scripps Assists helped with that. Many little makes a mickle! Our ranger says we will have to weed the area for about five years until it will be self-sustained.

Now I try to be out there as often as I can. It is just beautiful. The sun is shining; it is quiet, only a few meters away different kinds of birds play in the water of the lagoon. Once a white egret came really close, only 2 m away from us, to observe what we were doing over there, it  was magical. I can nothing but enjoy these hours out by the lagoon. 

Little contributions matter, to yourself and to your environment. You might not change the world, but you change your immediate surrounding. It is Earth Month this month, take the chance and join one of the many volunteer groups in your neighborhood. It is fun, you will see. And remember many little makes a mickle.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Start Over Again

Once a friend told me, that you can start over again every day. It seems simple advice but I never really thought about it that way before. Now, I remember it often and it very much motivates me to revisit things I let slide. The past two weeks have been start over days for me. I worked hard in the lab, biked to work, I began running, swimming and working out at the gym after a long pause, I write my blog (yeah:) and today I also went indoor climbing. I dabbled in climbing about eight years ago, back in Germany. How can it already be eight years? Since then I was thinking about it now and then, but never came to really do it. A member of my toastmaster club, as I learned, was going climbing and so I got my climbing gear together and finally went today. It was great. At first I was a little bit scared, whether I could still remember all the security measures, but it came naturally and we had a lot of fun. Now I am comfortably tired and look forward to sleep like a baby!
As I mentioned before in my blog, I find it really difficult to make something a routine and I often have weeks like these. I start many activities and am all excited about them. No question, that from now on I will do whatever I want every day or every week or every month. But after a (unfortunately usually short) while my enthusiasm fades away and everything stops. However, the advice my friend gave me provides  comfort. It might still be difficult to develop a routine but there is always the chance to start it up again. In the end I just have to decrease the time between the start ups, right?
So this was not so difficult and I hope there will be another post before the end of the week. Now I will sleep my desired baby sleep.....