30 October 2009

Vegan Witchcraft (and Traditional Medicine)

I saw this conveniently-timed article today on a "Witches' Market" in La Paz. So I thought I could make my own seasonally appropriate post.

On the article itself: They mention surreptitiously putting powdered dog's tongue in a person's meal to make them fall in love with you. I'd think for many of us any effect would not last longer than finding out what we just ate, vegan or no.

Also, I liked this quote:
Garcia Fernandez says that most of the fetuses are the results of miscarriages, and the larger ones of still births. Some are obtained if slaughtered llamas happen to be pregnant.

Sure, It's still not vegan, but you could say it's vegetarian, depending on if you think life begins at birth or conception. I mean, some people think eggs are meat and not vegetarian.

What does this all have to do with science? Well, there is a short trip from love potions to traditional medicines for sexual dysfunction. Many traditional medicines have 'gone mainstream' to Western medicine (like aspirin, or even vaccines it could be argued), and in some places like China and India, there is less of a distinction between traditional and modern medicine.

There is a lot of work being done to give rigor and validation to these traditional methods. I tried a search for "traditional Chinese medicine" on PubMed and got so many results I couldn't pick just one.

Sure, many of these medicines are herbs like ginseng and ginko, but in China you can get a prescription for meat if you qi is low. Fortunately in this case, there are alternatives. Likewise, in the case above, the animal impact can be reduced. There is already pressure for alternatives to things like tiger penis and rhinoceros horn because of endangered species legislation and enforcement.

Now while I have spent this post showing how this related to veganism and science, what this whole mess needs is a booster shot of both. We need more science to prove that dog tongue does not induce love and rhinoceros horn does nothing more than accelerate the extinction of pachyderms (they are, look it up). This will reduce the number of animals killed for ingredients and the amount of humans killed by quackery. We need more veganism because there should be more pressure for animal-free versions of these medicinals. Whether it's of Western derivation, like a vaccine made with eggs, or of traditional origin, like herbs substituting for bear bile.

27 October 2009

Future of Vaccine Production

Heard this NPR story while getting my vehicle emissions test today. They don't have a transcript yet, but it basically shows how slow and inefficient current vaccine production with embryonated chicken eggs is. One tidbit I got is that one opts for the nasal vaccine and not the shot, you use only 1/100th of an egg as oppose to a full chicken abortion.

The hope is that they are starting to use animal cell lines, which while they may have originally come from an animal have long since stopped harming that particular animal. They mentioned a canine kidney cell line, as opposed to Vero cells (mentioned often on this site) as being a much better system for viral production.

Then they went a step further, and bring up a new caterpillar-derived system for making viral proteins for a vaccine. This was new to me. I was worried at first, because cell-free protein synthesis using wheat germ or rabbit reticulocytes ends up killing the heat or rabbit.

After some digging, I found that the system uses a cell line (and not fresh animals for each batch) from a moth, the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) with help from Baculovirus. Exciting stuff.

Further reading:
1) Maiorella, B., Inlow, D., Shauger, A., & Harano, D. (1988). Large-Scale Insect Cell-Culture for Recombinant Protein Production. Nature Biotechnology. 6:1406-1410.

2) Ikonomoi, L., Schneider, Y.-J., Agathos, S. N. (July 2003). Insect cell culture for industrial production of recombinant proteins. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology. 62(1):1-20.

Post Scriptum:
This post has been mentioned here. Thanks Mr. Dandelion!