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Drew Smith

Scientist and writer

Location icon United States of America

Science writing that is clear, concise and correct.

Portfolio

Second-best hand: failure and success in a biotech startup

Unpublished
Chapter 1 - Stonewalled

Success in science is usually told as a story of lone geniuses whose foresight, creativity, will and brilliance break down barriers and master the problems that defeat lesser beings. It makes a great story - or at least a story that is easy to tell - and is sometimes true. But the larger truth is that science is a social activity, even if most scientists are not very sociable. No one knows enough, alone, to solve a hard problem.

Science

New Scientist
Internal conflict: How we can make friends with harmful bacteria

YOU are home to 10,000 species of bacteria. The vast majority, more than 99 per cent, cause you no harm. Indeed, many actually help by providing you with nutrients, tuning your immune system, balancing your metabolism and warding off mood disorders. You depend on these bugs.

Apple
08/23/2017
What is the Scientific Rationale for Cooking Meat?

Cooking is an old and universal practice. It certainly is much older than germ theory (which was developed in the 1870s), so for most of the history of cooking, the rationale could not have been to kill germs. Fresh meat, particularly wild game, will not have much of a bacterial load, and cooking it would have little microbiological benefit. The need to be concerned about bacterial contamination of meat really only began with the invention of feedlots and industrial food processing.

Newsweek
08/20/2017
Rx won't address antibiotic resistance | Opinion

If we mean that pharma companies should combat resistance by promoting antibiotic stewardship and thus discourage the use of their products… well, that’s not realistic, is it? And if we mean that they should combat resistance by developing new antibiotics, then the answer is not much more encouraging.

International Business Times
06/30/2017
What Happens To Your Body When You Don't Finish Your Antibiotics

Doctors are taught that it is important to finish out a course of antibiotics, and they dutifully relay this information to their patients. But the determination of therapy duration is usually based on almost no evidence at all.

Apple
06/14/2017
What Risk Do Humans Face From Extraterrestrial Pathogens?

How deadly would a bacterium be to humans if it was brought from a completely different star system? originally appeared on , the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on , and Google Plus .

Apple
05/30/2017
Could There Be a Better Life-Sustaining Gas Than Oxygen?

Can humans make a gas better than oxygen to use as a substitute for life? Bacteria beat us to this, long before there were humans. In fact, they did it long before oxygen was abundant on the planet. Oxygen’s key role is to function as a terminal electron acceptor. In other words, it is like the positive terminal on a battery. Food (like carbohydrates) function as the negative terminal. Electrons flow from food to oxygen, and cells capture some of this energy along the way, similar to...

Apple
05/11/2017
How Did Complex Molecules On Earth First Start Replicating and Becoming Life? (Quora)

The RNA World hypothesis resolves the chicken-and-egg conundrum posed by the structure of growth shared by all living organisms. DNA encodes RNA, which directs the synthesis of proteins. Proteins do the biochemical work of capturing energy. This energy is directed into the synthesis of new copies of DNA, resulting in the growth of new cells and organisms.

Newsweek
05/20/2017
How much danger can Republicans expect in 2018? | Opinion

Which Republican House members are vulnerable in the 2018 election cycle following the vote on the AHCA? Quite a few. There are two big factors at play here. One is that the President’s party typically loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections, and this President is uniquely unpopular at this point in his term.

Medical Daily
02/13/2017
What's The Science Of Superbugs?

"Superbug" is an overused and misleading term which lumps together bacteria that are resistant to some antibiotics but not particularly virulent with those that are both resistant and virulent. To illustrate this point, consider common soil bacteria belonging to the genus Streptomyces.

Medical Daily
02/13/2017
Is Exposure To Bacteria Beneficial For The Immune System?

Imagine a tug of war, our immune system on one side and bacteria on the other. Our bodies put just enough energy into our immune systems to ensure that there is an even match - that there is a stable balance between the two sides, what physiologists call “homeostasis”. Most diseases involve a disruption of homeostasis, either as a cause or a consequence.

Forbes
02/10/2017
Can A Superbug Cause A Global Pandemic?

Death rates from bacterial infections dropped over 90% from historic levels before the introduction of penicillin. Sanitation and vaccines are far more effective methods to control bacterial infections than antibiotics ever were or ever will be. Boring old soap and water, filtration, bleach, and alcohol kill superbugs just fine. None of these things are in short supply.

Forbes
01/20/2017
How Many Possible Combinations Of DNA Are There?

How many combinations of DNA can a human embody? The number is essentially infinite. Using an estimate of mutation frequency of around 2 x 10^-8 per base pair per replication event, we get 60 novel mutations in every living human being. There are 7 billion humans, so we know that some 420 billion different variants are possible. And that is just the number of new changes that arise in a single generation. The number passed down and recombined from previous generations is much larger.

Forbes
01/10/2017
Why Genomics Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

I am skeptical that genomics will have much impact on improving human health. An immediate objection to this skepticism would be that genomic-driven advances have simply not had enough time to work their way into tangible treatments. It has only been 15 years since the first human genome was published. Fair enough. But the obvious follow-on question is, how much time is enough time?

Forbes
12/08/2016
Did Elizabeth Holmes Lie To Investors, Or Did Theranos's Scientists Lie To Elizabeth Holmes?

It’s unlikely that there was much actual lying involved at Theranos, but there was a great deal of deception. Entrepreneurs always paint the rosiest possible picture for their investors: the technology is nearly ready, the markets are huge, the demand for the technology is so strong that a tidal wave of profit will soon wash over the company. Experienced investors expect this kind of hype and know to discount it. Their mistake, in the case of Theranos, was that they didn’t discount it...

Medical Daily
12/08/2016
Should You Always Treat A Staph Skin Infection With Antibiotics?

The question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Drew Smith. Antibiotics are not especially effective in treating skin infections. This is true for both topical and systemic antibiotics [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] . Incision and drainage is typically just as effective in treating uncomplicated infections.

The Huffington Post
10/21/2016
Do We Inherit Our Intelligence From Our Mothers?

Is it true that intelligence is inherited from the mother? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Answer by Drew Smith, Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, on Quora: The first rule regarding new studies of the inheritance of intelligence is to be very suspicious of all studies of the inheritance of intelligence.

Forbes
06/14/2016
The Myth Of The Post-Antibiotic Era

What would a post-antibiotic era be like? The worst-case scenario would be that it would be like 1940, only without a raging World War.

Forbes
Is Your Smelly Trash An Airborne Bacteria Hazard?

Am I breathing in germs if I'm smelling the garbage in my kitchen garbage can? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Forbes
10/06/2016
Will Gene Therapy Ever Replace Traditional Pharmaceuticals?

Will gene therapies ultimately become more prevalent than traditional drugs? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Answer by Drew Smith, Formerly of NeXstar Pharma, SomaLogic and MicroPhage, on Quora: It is hard to imagine how this could happen.

Mental Floss
11/18/2016
How Do Antibiotics Work?

How do antibiotics work? Drew Smith: Antibiotics have been around for a long time now, and we know which bacterial proteins they attack. ß-lactams like amoxicillin inhibit the enzyme that crosslinks peptidoglycans in bacterial cell walls. Fluoroquinolones like ciprofloxacin bind DNA topoisomerases and prevent them from coiling and uncoiling bacterial chromosomes.

Medical Daily
11/04/2016
What Happens To Your Body When You Don't Finish Your Antibiotics

This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Drew Smith, Pharmacology Research and Development. Doctors are taught that it is important to finish out a course of antibiotics, and they dutifully relay this information to their patients. But the determination of therapy duration is usually based on almost no evidence at all.

Forbes
10/31/2016
Mono Isn't The Only Thing You Can Catch From Kissing

Can you contract a disease by kissing someone even though they don't have a disease? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Answer by Drew Smith, former R&D director at MicroPhage and SomaLogic, on Quora: Can you contract a disease by kissing someone even though they don't have a disease?

Forbes
11/24/2016
Surprise: Probiotics Don't Do Much At All For Our Gastrointestinal Health

What distortions in my gut microbiome, can have a dramatic impact on my health? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Answer by Drew Smith, former R&D director at MicroPhage and SomaLogic, on Quora: Gut microbiome composition, with exceptions that I'll discuss below, is remarkably stable, particularly in adults.

Medical Daily
07/15/2016
Is Tuberculosis The Next Big Epidemic Of 2016?

From a North American perspective, the threat of tuberculosis is grossly underappreciated. TB was rampant in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was typically among the top three killers of the population at large - estimates range as high as 1 percent of the population per year[1].

Undark
04/12/2016
The Educated Guessing Game of Prescribing Antibiotics

I magine on your next flight across the country that you pull the airline magazine out of the seatback pocket and begin leafing through it. Tucked in the back, behind the stories about cutting-edge restaurants and pet spas, you find this description of the airline's operations: Empiric Airlines employs the best, most skilled and most experienced pilots in the industry.

Forbes
04/08/2016
Why it's time to put big pharma conspiracy theories to rest

For better (mostly) and worse, we have a market-oriented system of drug development. Markets don’t always get things right, and have their blind spots. It’s the job of governments to align market incentives with societal needs when possible, or create alternative institutions when not.

Forbes
03/18/2016
Superbugs and superhype

"Superbug" is a vivid but potentially misleading term. I understand why headline writers are attracted to it, but they often use it to conflate two very different aspects of infectious disease pathology: antibiotic resistance and virulence.

Quora
08/16/2015
What are the strongest antibiotics?

There are a couple of ways you could define "strongest". The first would be to determine which antibiotic is most potent - that is, can kill bacteria at the...

Outdoors

Trailgroove
The 40-year section hike

A heavy dome of hot dry air arched over California and the temperature was soon in the 90s. I hiked station to station between those trees still living, stopping to cool off in their narrow shade, wiping the sweat from my face before walking on. California is dying, I thought. The signs were everywhere — the desiccated springs, the withered sage, the digger pines on the south-facing slopes baking brown in a pitiless sun. Poor sweet California. Poor sweet innocent doomed California. It was a...

Trailgroove
In Praise of Dry Camping

We are drawn to water in all its forms - big muscular rivers driving down broad rolling valleys, placid lakes mirroring sky and sun, roaring waterfalls calling out the names of mountains, dripping springs whispering desert secrets.  We love water and we love being by water.  We sleep contented by murmuring creeks and brooks, gaze at sunset ponds dimpled by rising trout, stride down the margins of glacier-carved valleys rich with meanders and beaver ponds. Water is the source of life, its...

Trailgroove
The Deserted Sky Island of Texas

The badlands of West Texas are among the most thinly settled lands in the country. Spare and desolate, this region west of the Pecos is nearly uninhabited. Only 5000 people occupy the 8000 square miles that stretch between the Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas-New Mexico border and the Rio Grande. It is a land unsuited for agriculture or even grazing, with little grass or fertile land. What water there is can be salty and unpalatable, as likely to loosen bowels as to quench thirst. It is a...

Trailgroove
The Million Steps, Part 1: Finding the Trail

A long hike is more than a short hike extended. At nearly 500 miles long, it takes a million steps to get from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail. A million is, by just about anyone’s reckoning, a large number. And that means that long hikes are subject to the Law of Large Numbers: anything that is not impossible is inevitable. Hike long enough and you will see beauty on a grand scale as well as many tiny ones; experience freakish weather; fall down; get lost on an easily-followed...

Trailgroove
The Million Steps, Part 2: Following the Trail

There are no straight lines, no walls, no sharp boundaries. Although I’m in a place I’ve never been before, I feel at home, easy in my progress through meadows and woods, across streams, over hills, through passes, along ridgelines.

Trailgroove
Canyon Crux

It rained, and then it rained some more, and then it snowed. And then it began raining again. It was the first week in May in Boulder, a time when hikers start looking to the hills, and begin hanging up snowshoes and getting out the trail runners. It would be a month or more before the high country was open, of course, but some lower-elevation hikes - Lost Creek Wilderness, the first sections of the Colorado Trail - would be feasible with 3-season gear. Usually.