Interesting Profiles? July 30, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Is there a good collection of recent interesting/informative mefite profiles? If not can you all suggest some to me?

I know we've done this in the past (1, 2) but it's been a while and many of the profiles linked in those posts have since been changed. Crunchland's, for instance, is apparently a shadow of its former self.

I'll start with some random examples, based on reading those older threads:
Mutant's profile is a finance course in itself
Jessamyn has a mini FAQ for frequent AskMes.
deezil has a malware fighting tool kit
robocop is bleeding has a bunch of short fiction
kattullus has some funny stuff about Metafilter's culture
peacay's profile is... eclectic
madamjujujive has a lot of links to member's personal sites (but some have gone zombie)
Cortex's has a pony
posted by Wretch729 to MetaFilter-Related at 1:21 PM (28 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

geneva uswazi's is so good merited a MeTa.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's a small list on the wiki and if someone wanted to update it, that would be great.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:30 PM on July 30, 2012

Ahh, the wiki, of course. Guess I have a homework assignment.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:32 PM on July 30, 2012

I know it's pretty dead but I am dissapoint that Cortex's profile does not mention Big Big Question.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:37 PM on July 30, 2012

Make that completely dead.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:38 PM on July 30, 2012

And I can also spell disappoint too.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:38 PM on July 30, 2012

Hit the showers, champ. You did your best out there.
posted by boo_radley at 1:44 PM on July 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Good job, good effort, IndigoRain.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:49 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

posted by elizardbits at 1:52 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

jessamyn: "There's a small list on the wiki and if someone wanted to update it, that would be great."

Seconding this. I last updated that section about a year ago, but it would be nice to see it expanded.
posted by zarq at 1:53 PM on July 30, 2012

I know it's pretty dead but I am dissapoint that Cortex's profile does not mention Big Big Question.

Sort of rehoming it as a static archive is on a very big "old web shit" to do list of mine, but pointing to it when it's years dead and the domain lapsed seems kind of silly at this point, basically.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2012

There's a recent MeTa thread about Jpfed's guide to reddit.
posted by brundlefly at 3:32 PM on July 30, 2012

dubitable has great jazz records linked, and the profile has this awesome statment: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue I DON'T CARE IF YOU THINK IT IS TIRED I LOVE IT AND I THINK IT IS AWESOME NYANYA I CAN'T HEAR YOU

Does it count if it is the users website(s) linked off their profile? If yes, then you can't go wrong with flapjax at midnite -- I got lost there a few days ago, but it was a very good being lost, a clicking link to link sort of lost

I don't have a clue what a phage is but it sounds interesting, like maybe it could be a plumbers tool. So I mostly can't keep up but I'm interested in Blasdelb's profile
posted by dancestoblue at 3:36 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guess I have a homework assignment.

Oops, I'm sorry, didn't mean GET TO WORK, more like "Here are some you might like to look at and anyone can add to this list so we have it for next time."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:58 PM on July 30, 2012

Fear not, I am nerdy enough that I don't mean homework assignment to be a bad thing. (Though I make no promises about when I get around to this one.)
posted by Wretch729 at 4:13 PM on July 30, 2012

Cortex's has a pony

That reminds me! The hair, cortex. The hair?
posted by likeso at 5:09 PM on July 30, 2012

cortex: "I know it's pretty dead but I am dissapoint that Cortex's profile does not mention Big Big Question.

Sort of rehoming it as a static archive is on a very big "old web shit" to do list of mine, but pointing to it when it's years dead and the domain lapsed seems kind of silly at this point, basically.

Years dead? It seems like only yesterday... I loved that site so much!
posted by IndigoRain at 9:02 PM on July 30, 2012

Just came across Wolfster's the other day and samsara's deserves to be in the company of deezil.
posted by mlis at 9:31 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I don't have a clue what a phage is but it sounds interesting, like maybe it could be a plumbers tool. So I mostly can't keep up but I'm interested in Blasdelb's profile"

Phages are just about the most awesome things ever.

They are the viruses of bacteria, think herpes, influenza, smallpox, or HIV but for bacteria. This is what they look like, this is what they do, and to really make sense of them the story starts with an aggressively stubborn French-Canadian microbiologist named Félix d'Herelle.

After he and his brother lost family's fortune on a doomed chocolate factory, he left for South America where he made a decent living inventing new processes for converting tropical plants such as bananas and sisal into distilled liquor for western markets. However, while he was in Mexico he noticed something interesting, after the the swarms of locusts that devastated local agriculture passed through, sick locusts could be noticed to have been left behind. It occurred to him to isolate the pathogen to see if he could use it to combat the swarms. His technique ended up working so well that in 1911 d'Herelle was invited to travel to Argentina as a microbiologist to address the locust problems there.

The problem was MASSIVE, every other year locusts would create the modern equivalent of billions of dollars worth of damage to cash crops and generate famine on the extraordinarily fertile pampas. It was so bad, and Argentina was rich enough then, that plans were being drawn up to import most of the world’s silver to build massively long 4 meter high walls across the pampas to stop the plagues. Apparently they'd have done it to if they thought they could stop theft, and on top of this the Ministry of Agricultural Defense had grown to a 3,000 member strong bureaucracy dedicated to extraordinary campaigns to defeat them.

d'Herelle's plan was again to spread diseases of the locust itself ahead of the swarms to use the same terrifying scale that made farmers so helpless, against the plague. He ended up getting funding to find sick locusts, cultivate the disease though serial transfer between 100 locust cages, and thus isolate 100% virulent and contagious strains of a cocobacillus. When thousands of these carcasses were spread out ahead of a swarm they were brought to an epic halt within a few days. After two years of d'Herelle's efforts the plagues ceased to be the issue that they once were in Argentina and the Pasteur Institute sent out his cultures to Columbia where several successful trials were conducted, as well as Cyprus and Algeria where they had significant effect.

All of this must have primed him to the idea that pathogens, or at least problem species, might have their own pathogens that we could team up with for productive effects, thus perhaps contributing to one of the most brilliant examples of deductive reasoning in modern science. At one point while he was in Paris before 1917, d'Herelle noticed something odd in a lawn of dysentery bacteria he had grown on a petri dish, a glassy clear dead spot. He must have thought this was interesting and so he plucked the spot from the plate and spread it out over a new lawn of the same bacteria, which then would not grow. Presumably figuring that he had isolated a new toxin of some kind, he made serial dilutions of it to see how just how toxic it was, and it did something toxins had never been known to do before. Arranging the plates in a row from highest dilution to lowest dilution, for a toxin, one would expect to see progressively but evenly damaged growth as one went down the series. However he saw first low numbers and then high numbers of the same glassy spots that mathematically followed the series. He quickly made a leap of judgment that would be challenged by many of the finest minds in the word until he was proven right by one of the first electron micrographs ever taken, that this wasn't a toxin at all, but a discrete organism. The problem was that his phages were far too small to see with a light microscope, no matter how powerful, as visible light has a wavelength of around 600nm and phage are around 25-250nm (thus using light to get a sense of what phage look like is kind of like using the blunt end of a telephone pole to get a sense of what a grasshopper feels like).

While d'Herelle continued to work with phages, which I will get back to later, the next big advances in understanding what phages really are would wait almost a decade for a mass movement of out of work physicists who, having suddenly run out of things to do when we figured out to much of physics, came to biology the 1920s to the 1930s. They brought with them a mechanistic view of how the universe works that they used to cause massive transformations in how we understand and interact with biology, and most used phages. One of the most influential of these scientific interlopers was a charismatic guy named Max Delbrück who quickly reasoned that, if we were ever going to understand how life works, we would need to start with the simplest organism possible and work our way up. He isolated seven bacteriophages against E. coli B, originally just his lab strain, and named them in a series T1(previously) through T7. The central idea was that he and his growing number of colleagues1 would focus on truly understanding how these phages worked and use that knowledge to generalize to Escherichia coli, then the mouse, and then us. An essential component of this was the "Phage Treaty" among researchers in the field, which Delbrück organized in order to limit the number of model phage and hosts so that folks could meaningfully compare results. What came out of their original focus on these phages, in many respects encapsulated in Erwin Schrödinger's What is life?, has shed light on so much as to truly redefine our self-understanding as a species, much less medicine:

  • The Luria–Delbrück experiment elegantly demonstrated that in bacteria genetic mutations arise in the absence of selection, rather than being a response to selection. Evolutionary biology has made so much more sense ever since.

  • The Hershey–Chase experiment showed once and for all that nucleic acids were in fact the heritable molecule.

  • The two guys who discovered the model for the structure of the B form double helix were phage folk. Incidentally they published it in easily the snarkiest, most badass, and likely most important published scientific paper ever, written as an accessible single page. The structure of DNA, and its relationship to function that they discovered, is true for all of life.

  • Most of the central dogma, was also figured out using phage, from most of the functions of RNA to the triplicate nature of codons

  • So many of the enzymes, molecular tools, we now take for granted come from phage

  • Delbrück turned out to be absolutely right to start simple, and his branch of Biophysics turned into molecular genetics (as opposed to the Drosophila variety) and split off into modern genetics, molecular biology, protein biology, molecular physiology, bioengineering, as well as genomics and the various other –omics. It all started with phage, but around the 70s phage biology did start to die as old professors dies and retired while their students became leaders in all of these new and exciting fields. However, I promised I’d get back to d’Herelle.

    His discovery of phages was long before antibiotics, when bacterial disease killed almost everyone eventually and in horrific ways without much anyone could do for the sick. d'Herelle instantly saw the value that this pathogen of bacteria could have for patients, just like the value his coccobacilli had for farmers. He soon found a chicken farm with chicken typhoid that he successfully treated with phage isolated from the farm itself. He then isolated bacteria from the stool of a bunch dying French cavalrymen at a military hospital, isolated phage against them, amplified those phages, purified them as best he could, drank a bunch to demonstrate safety, and then gave it to the cavalrymen who each very quickly recovered.

    Phage therapy exploded quickly, the major pharmaceutical companies of the United States and Europe, including Eli Lily which is still around, pumped out cocktails as quickly as they could and marketed them aggressively. However, no one really knew what phages were, much less how they worked, and most of the commercial entities profiting from phage didn’t seem to much care. This ended up giving phage a very well deserved bad reputation among physicians who tried preparations that we now know to have been heat or acid killed, or against the wrong pathogen, or against the right pathogen but with the wrong host range, or advertised as being effective against absurd things like gallstones and herpes and understandably decided the whole thing was bullshit. Many physicians considered the question settled with a pretty damning article series published in JAMA in 1934, before antibiotics became available a few years later making the question at least seem largely irrelevant for most pathogens (Though successful phage therapy of typhoid fever continued in the 50s when effective antibiotics were finally found against S. typhii, and in France until the 80’s when poorly worded AIDS related legislation killed it).

    Phage therapy did, however, survive and thrive in the Soviet Union after Stalin ended up reading d’Herelle’s first two books in the early 1930s with great interest. In 1934 he invited d’Herelle to set up a phage institute in what is now the Republic of Georgia with a Georgian microbiologist, George Eliava, for the purpose of studying phage and providing the Red Army with a reliable supply. While d’Herelle is said to have been initially enamored with communism, he was soon soured on it when Eliava was suddenly kidnapped, murdered, and denounced by Beria (it likely had as much to do with Beria demonstrating that even Heroes of Soviet Science were not immune to his power as anything else, but the oral history remembered by Georgian phage biologists is that Eliava slept with an opera singer that Beria had his eye on). Despite the institute’s decapitation with the loss of Eliava and the fleeing of d’Herelle, the women they trained took over and turned it into one of the great centers of Soviet medicine. They conducted large and well-designed, particularly for the era, studies to establish phage as a standard of care and then slowly expanded that standard as new needs arose.

    Over the last fifteen years or so, with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the exponentially growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, phage therapy is looking very exciting again. Unlike the ‘30s, we now have a decent understanding of phage biology as well as the infrastructure to keep phages cold until use, effective diagnostic tools, and most importantly, regulatory structures that shut out hucksters. The need is also dire, for example multi-drug resistant Staph infections kill more people in the United States than AIDS does.

    Basic phage biology has also been undergoing a resurgence as we discover just how important phages are to the global ecosystem, they are indeed the dominant organism on Earth outnumbering anything else by two orders of magnitude. Indeed, despite being just ~125 nm tall (check this out for scale), if one were to stack the 1031 phages on the planet end to end you would get a tower that would stand 200 million lightyears tall. Our oceans are remarkably free of cellular life and the reason is phages, as well as the other the viruses of microbes. For example the growth and death of algae blooms are centrally mediated by viral dynamics. Meta-genomics studies of the oceans pull out more predicted phage proteins than anything else without some fancy filtering, and even then they get a bunch. Phages are also teaching us a lot about the primordial origins of life, they are after all proto-cellular organisms.

    These days are exciting times to be interested in phages.

    Further reading:

    Abedon S., Kuhl S., Blasdel B., & Kutter B. Phage Treatment of Human Infections. Bacteriophage 2011; 1:66–85 (PDF)
    Krisch HM, Comeau AM. The immense journey of bacteriophage T4--from d'Hérelle to Delbrück and then to Darwin and beyond. Res Microbiol. 2008 Jun;159(5):314-24. Epub 2008 Jun 25.
    Fruciano DE. Phage as an antimicrobial agent: d’Herelle's heretical theories and their role in the decline of phage prophylaxis in the West. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2007 January; 18(1): 19–26.
    Chanishvili N. Phage Therapy-History from Twort and d'Herelle Through Soviet Experience to Current Approaches. Adv Virus Res. 2012;83:3-40.

    1Frank Stahl famously wrote: "The Phage Church, as we were sometimes called, was led by the Trinity of Delbrück, Luria, and Hershey. Delbrück's status as founder and his ex-cathedra manner made him the pope, of course, and Luria was the hard-working, socially sensitive priest-confessor. And Al (Hershey) was the saint."
    posted by Blasdelb at 5:21 AM on July 31, 2012 [30 favorites]

    If Blasdelb's comment doesn't make the sidebar, I'm a baculovirus.
    posted by exogenous at 11:17 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Careful there, exogenous. rtha can whip out her spreadsheet in a heartbeat.
    posted by likeso at 11:20 AM on July 31, 2012

    These profiles make me feel inadequate about my own profile. Alas, I do not have anything cool/funny to put in my profile.
    posted by asnider at 11:31 AM on July 31, 2012

    I am so absolutely exotic and funny and fascinating that its virtually impossible to catch my dancing star in mere words.

    Oh god, did I just type that? It was only two glasses of the Chilean red, I swear. Its all elizardbits' fault I tell you
    posted by infini at 12:49 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Does this count as a call-out? It's the one square missing from my MetaFilter bingo card.
    posted by Kattullus at 3:57 PM on July 31, 2012

    Its all elizardbits' fault I tell you

    She already gave you a gold star. Move along.
    posted by asnider at 3:57 PM on July 31, 2012

    I guess I could ask the mods to edit my post to "Kattellus has some terrible wrong bad stuff about Metafilter's culture, and he should feel bad! Does that count as a call out? Will you split the bingo winnings with me?
    posted by Wretch729 at 11:00 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

    The bingo grand prize is a real live pony. Splitting it would be kind of messy.
    posted by Kattullus at 2:13 AM on August 2, 2012

    Your lack of faith disturbs Damien Hirst.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 8:10 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

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