Bill Gates channels inner ‘Star Trek’ geek to riff on shapeshifters for Mosquito Week

Bill Gates channels inner ‘Star Trek’ geek to riff on shapeshifters for Mosquito Week

1:53pm, 15th April, 2019
Anopheles mosquitoes are carriers for the malaria parasite. (CDC Photo / James Gathany) It’s at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a time to focus on the global campaign to eradicate malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. And if delving into the nuts and bolts of developing an effective malaria vaccine doesn’t grab you, how about adding a “Star Trek” angle? That’s exactly what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is doing in . When I was younger, I loved science fiction. The author I read the most was Robert Heinlein (“The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” was a favorite). — Bill Gates (@BillGates) As a teenager, I remember watching an episode of the original Star Trek where the bad guy is a shapeshifter who turns himself into a second Captain Kirk. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) There’s an epic scene at the end where Spock has to figure out which one is the impostor. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) Shapeshifters are not just the stuff of science fiction, though. We have them right here on earth. — Bill Gates (@BillGates) To kick off , I wrote about the world’s deadliest shapeshifter (and what scientists are learning about how to beat it). — Bill Gates (@BillGates) How did Gates go from science fiction to epidemiological fact? Even Mr. Spock would find the logical progression fascinating. The malaria virus is transmitted by a tiny parasite that mosquitoes carry from host to host as they go about their bloodsucking ways. It’d be nice to have a vaccine that can train your immune system to recognize the parasite and fight it off before the virus takes hold of its victim. Unfortunately, the parasite has developed its own defense against that strategy. Gates noted that the parasite is designed to shuffle up to 60 different proteins to present a new molecular “shape” to your immune system every few days. That throws off the mechanism that makes it possible for the immune system to recognize and attack an invader. This is why it’s so hard to come up with an effective vaccine. Gates compared the challenge to a scene from a “Star Trek” episode titled in which Spock has to decide which of two identical-looking Captain Kirks is actually a deranged shapeshifter. Spock could just stand by and wait for the right moment while the two Kirks duked it out, but Gates said it’s tougher to fight real-life shapeshifters: “You might think we could create a vaccine that simply recognizes all the different shapes of the parasite. Unfortunately, that’s not practical. The only vaccine we have ever done that with is for a type of pneumonia. It is very expensive to manufacture and covers only a dozen shapes or so, versus the 60 shapes in one malaria infection and the many hundreds across all malaria parasites worldwide. “The malaria community (including our foundation) has been working for years on a vaccine to protect you in stage 1, before the infection takes hold. This vaccine, called RTS,S, teaches your immune system to hunt for a bit of protein that is always on the surface of the parasite. Unfortunately, the protection provided by RTS,S is not strong enough for long enough to help us make real headway toward eradication. And there are other forms of protection (such as bednets and insecticides) that are more cost-effective for saving lives.” So is it futile to look for a vaccine that’s effective enough and inexpensive enough to shut down the shapeshifters? Gates said advances in biotech are keeping hope alive: “For example, scientists are working on new approaches that we hope will trigger the immune system to create long-lived, antibody-generating cells. Another promising idea is to create synthetic antibodies rather than trying to get your immune system to make natural ones. These have revolutionized the treatment of cancer and inflammatory disease, and they could do the same for infectious diseases like malaria.” Gates said investments in bednets and other non-vaccine strategies for prevention and treatment have already reduced malaria deaths by 42 percent since 2000. His foundation also backs research into . “When I see how far we have come and how much we have learned, I am as optimistic as ever that we can beat this clever shapeshifter,” Gates wrote. Check out the Gates Foundation’s website to get an , and keep an eye on Gates Notes for, including a of from past years.
GeekWire Calendar Picks: The GeekWire Bash is a week away; International Women’s Day; and the future of Star Trek

GeekWire Calendar Picks: The GeekWire Bash is a week away; International Women’s Day; and the future of Star Trek

8:04pm, 28th February, 2019
Did you spend years in your parents’ basement playing ping pong? Or foosball? Or Catan? If so, join the GeekWire team and 2,000 Seattle area geeks on March 7th for the annual — the most unique and fun event on the Seattle tech calendar. Presented by First Tech Federal Credit Union, the Bash is now open to geeks of all ages. Grab tickets , and join the GeekWire team for robotics, video games, virtual reality, sumo wrestling and a zipline. A limited number of spots in the ping pong and foosball tournaments are available . The GeekWire Bash is a great team building activity whether strategizing over tabletop games, soaring through the air on the zipline or cheering each other on in other offbeat activities. Group tickets available. Some of this year’s featured activities: —Get a sumo face ready and try to not hit the mat, thanks to sumo sponsor NTT
.—Bring kids to explore the new featuring STEM-oriented activities.—Pop into the open play ping pong area.—DJ Morgan of KEXP will keep the energy high from the First Tech DJ Booth.—Tabletop gaming is back with partners at Meeples Games providing intro Magic lessons and sharing their mobile game library.—Dodgeball meets laser tag in a virtual world: Be one of the first to experience multi-player arena VR at the VRcade by Virtual Sports.—Watch more than 200 kids in 4th to 8th grades compete with their autonomous robots in the first annual ! Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A full-day celebration of the best science fiction and fantasy films of the past year at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian in Seattle; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday, March 9. Getting women to land and stay in tech jobs continues to be a challenge despite active efforts. is a place where women and men can gather to celebrate women in tech. This year’s theme is “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See” and hopes to bring visibility to women leading successful careers in the technology sector, hopefully leading to more interest among younger women to enter the field. This event is free to the public and takes place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on March 8. : A presentation from industry leaders in a number of fields at Google in Kirkland; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, March 11. : A presentation of techniques about content and even body language in technical interviews at North Seattle College in Seattle; 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, March 11. : A presentation offering advice for entrepreneurs interested in the Life Sciences at the Agora Conference Center in Seattle; 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 13. : A presentation by Mark Altman author of the two-volume History of Star Trek, takes a look at where the franchise might be headed in the future at the ACT Theater in Seattle; 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 14. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .