Did You Know?
Sperm whales produce a black, smelly substance called ambergris which changes to a pleasant smell when exposed to air. It is rare and expensive but is used as a base in some perfumes. Ambergris also has a folk reputation as a soothing odor for nervous complaints and inhaling ambergis based products is believed by some to increase brain function. Judging by how much these people shell out for ambergris based products, if anything, it seems to impair brain function.
Drugs and enzymes
St. John’s Wort, a herbal remedy for mild depression has been found to increase the amount of cytochrome P450 enzymes produced by the body. These enzymes are responsible for the metabolism of many drugs. If the levels are increased, blood levels of drugs drop. There have been cases of reduced cyclosporine levels in heart transplant patients, reduced HIV protease inhibitors in AIDS patients and reduced anticoagulant effects when coumadin was used. Obviously herbal remedies can cause serious adverse reactions with prescription drugs
"Mild Cold Training" & Weight Loss
Researchers from the University of Maastricht have proposed a new solution for the obesity epidemic. Instead of changing lifestyle habits or restricting calories, Dutch researchers suggest “mild cold training.” It seems that as the temperature drops, the body starts to burn fat stored in “brown fat” cells to produce heat. That should lead to weight loss, in theory at least. Still, cutting calories may be more appetizing than rolling around naked in the snow.
Dolores Krieger, a nurse, is the mother of Therapeutic Touch. She claims that humans are surrounded by energy fields which become disturbed when they are ill and can be massaged back into place by a skilled therapeutuc touch practitioner. “Krieger claims that a skilled therapist can store energy in a cotton ball between her hands. The cotton will retain the energy for several hours to be used by “healees” to “unruffle” their maladjusted energy fields.” Attempts to show scientifically that humans have energy fields have failed.
Bourgeonal is an aromatic aldehyde used in perfumery with a fragrance resembling that of the Lily of the Valley. What’s so special about this fragrance? It is secreted by the ovum within the female genital tract as a chemo-attractant allowing sperm to locate the egg more quickly. In vitro studies have actually shown that bourgeonal odour causes sperm to swim twice as fast! That’s not all! In 2010, a Swedish study showed that bourgeonal is the only known odour substance to which males have a higher average sensitivity than females. Scientists believe that males express the same olfactory receptors in sperm cells as in the tissues of the nose. For those females seeking a partner, perhaps it may be wise to sprinkle on a bit of bourgeonal.
Are you ready for purple ketchup? What about purple pizzas? Scientists in Britain have recently developed a new type of genetically modified tomato enriched with anthocyanin, the pigment also found in blueberries. Various animal studies have shown that this compound, an antioxidant, has proven to be effective in fighting cancers. Perhaps in less than two years’ time, we’ll be seeing purple tomato juice for sale in North America. Consumers stand to benefit directly from this application of genetic modification.
Monks and Beer
In the Middle Ages much of beer brewing was carried out by monks. Water is a source of many disease causing organisms which cannot survive in alcohol. Trial and error demonstrated that beer drinkers were much less likely to get sick than water drinkers. Monks must have been a happy lot.
Mixing meat and milk
Orange juice follies
The orange juice market is huge. Unfortunately some processors try to cut corners by extending the juice with sugar, pulpwash and water. But the ruse can be detected by some clever science. Oxygen in nature occurs as two possible isotopes, O-16 and O-18, which differ slightly in mass. The natural abundance of O-18 is only about 0.2%, but it is more abundant in water in growing plants because the heavier isotope is less likely to evaporate. So a juice diluted with water from non-biological sources will have a different isotope distribution and this can be detected by an instrument called a mass spectrometer. The authorities have already used this method to put the squeeze on some OJ fraud artists.
James Bond’s Martinis
Seeing Through the Carrot Myth
The common myth is that carrots are good for your eyesight. But where did this myth originate? During World War II, the British Royal Air Force started a rumor that carrots gave their fighter pilots sharp vision and accuracy. This was not true. Radar was responsible for their success against the Luftwaffe. But the British wanted to keep this a secret from their enemies. So naturally, they planted a false trail. Yes, it’s true that carrots are excellent source of beta-carotene, the body’s precursor for vitamin A, but studies have shown vision benefits will only be seen when there is a deficiency of vitamin A. Nonetheless, there are many studies suggesting that carrots lead to a variety of health benefits; therefore, it’s not a bad idea to incorporate carrots in your diet. Don’t overdose though, unless you fancy an orange countenance.
A Vital Force
A single experiment in 1828 destroyed the theory of Vitalism which held that “organic substances” found in living systems could not be made in the laboratory because they were empowered with a “vital force” that could not be duplicated. Chemistry professor Friedrich Wohler heated ammonium cyanate, a compound that was clearly “inorganic” since it came from a mineral source and converted it to urea, clearly “organic” since it could be isolated from urine. This showed that there was no vital force in organic compounds and that they were amenable to laboratory synthesis. The way was now open for the synthesis of numerous biomolecules.
The original mistletoe, Viscum album, (different from the ornamental North American version) got its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “mistel” for “dung” and “tan” for “twig.” Dung-on-a twig really is an excellent description of the plant’s origin. Mistletoe would often appear on a branch where birds left their droppings which contained mistletoe berry seeds that had passed through their digestive tracts. Interestingly, birds are not bothered by the seeds which are highly toxic to humans.
Cholesterol's Link to Breast Cancer
Past studies have suggested that a connection may exist between diet and breast cancer. A paper published in the prestigious journal, Science, proposes a possible explanation. It seems that a cholesterol metabolite (27-hydroxycholesterol), mimics the hormone estrogen. In 75% of the breast cancer cases, estrogen directly promotes tumour growth. Therefore, in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer, patients should maintain healthy cholesterol levels via a healthy diet or if needed, statin drugs.
Airplanes & Turbulence
Turbulence during a flight may make plates crash to the floor but it doesn't make planes crash. Airplanes are built to withstand turbulence, but people aren't, so it can make for a most unpleasant experience. Temperature changes attributed to global warming are expected to make for more turbulent skies.
Xylitol often appears in candies and gum as a low calorie sweetener. It has the added benefit that unlike sugar it does not support the growth of bacteria that can cause cavities. Xylitol’s name derives from the Greek “xylan” meaning wood because the compound can be derived from the bark of trees. The musical instrument known as the “xylophone” also owes its name to “xylan.” This percussion instrument consists of a series of wooden bars of increasing lengths, which when struck creates the sounds of the musical scale.
Cranberries are commonly associated with Thanksgiving but in early America they played a varied role. Besides the berries serving as food, the plant’s leaves were commonly used for tea or as a tobacco substitute. Native Americans also combined cranberries with dried meat to prepare a special “energy bar” called pemmican that could be stored well and during wintertime provided a good source of fat and protein. Cranberries also had medicinal applications. Natives relied on cranberries as laxatives and “blood purifiers.” They were also used to treat child-birth related injuries as well as to reduce fevers and stomach cramps although there is no evidence that any of these actually worked.
Nutmeg is a spice introduced to Europe by the Arabs during the middle ages. Its essential oil has been used topically to treat arthritis pain and orally with small amounts of honey or sugar, to alleviate gastrointestinal problems. However, nutmeg contains myristicin which is chemically similar to MDMA or “ecstasy,” and can cause hallucinations when ingested in large doses. During the 19 century, nutmeg was a commonly used abortifacient. Its misuse led to many recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning, which is commonly characterized by body aches, severe depression, heart palpitations, convulsions and dehydration.
During Magnetic Resonance Imaging the patient is placed inside a giant magnet and is exposed to radio waves. Hydrogen nuclei in the body behave as tiny magnets and orient themselves with the external magnetic field. They are forced out of alignment by radio waves and the time it takes for them to realign gives clues to disease processes. The term “nuclear” referred to the nucleus of hydrogen atoms and had nothing to do with radioactivity. Public fear of radiation forced the name change from “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging” to “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).”
Eggs and Salmonella poisoning
Salmonella poisoning from eggs is a real concern causing an estimated 350 deaths and 700,000 cases of food poisoning every year in North America. To prevent multiplication of the salmonella bacterium, the internal temperature of an egg should be kept below 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C). This is almost impossible in the fridge door and certainly impossible in a cupboard. The best place is in the original carton at the back of a shelf in the fridge. Eggs should be used within a month.
Ali Maow of Somalia has the distinction of being the world’s last recorded victim of smallpox, a disease he acquired in 1977. For the first time ever, through a program of vaccination and quarantines, health authorities have succeeded in eradicating a disease from the world. A sample of the smallpox virus is still kept under tight security by both the American and Russian governments for potential research purposes, but chances are that the curse “may the pox be on you” will be an idle one.
The pitohoui of New Guinea is the only known bird that produces a poison. Its feathers contain batrachotoxin, a nerve toxin also found in South American poison dart frogs. The pitohoui rubs its eggs with its feathers, protecting them from predators
Nitric oxide is a messenger chemical used by the body to relax blood vessels and has therefore been studied for its potential to treat angina and high blood pressure. One way to increase levels in the body is through the administration of the amino acid arginine. But so far, the appropriate amounts for ingestion have not been determined. Nevertheless products containing arginine are being promoted to the public for the “treatment and prevention” of heart disease. They are supposed to be used “under the advice of a physician,” but are available over the counter so there is no control over their use.
Acetone-free nail polish removers
Some nail polish removers are advertised as containing no acetone. These products use ethyl acetate as the solvent because it has less of a tendency to dehydrate and discolour nails. Dehydration is a problem because when nails lose moisture they become brittle. The disadvantage of non-acetone nail polish removers is that they take more time to remove the polish. But investing the time pays dividends.
Many athletes regularly smear a black greasy substance known as "eye black" underneath their eyes to reduce glare from the sun or stadium lights. Amazingly, this trend was started by the most famous baseball player of them all, Babe Ruth! Back then the smudge was made by burning a wine cork. The product of that reaction was soot, a form of carbon. Today’s EyeBlack is still based on carbon, but it is combined with beeswax and paraffin for easy spreading. Some fans even apply the product for a feeling of being part of the action.
Gout is a real pain in the toe. It strikes when crystals of uric acid build up in a joint and irritate the surrounding tissue. Where do they come from? Components in the diet! Foods which contain compounds called purines are the usual culprits. Organ meats, sardines, anchovies, mackarel, asparagus, mushrooms and beans fall into this category.. Alcohol is also a no-no. Drinking lots of water, on the other hand, is great. Sour cherries as well as blueberries contain anti-inflammatory substances that can ease gout, or so some people claim. Not as effective as colchicine, which believe it or not, is derived from the autumn crocus!
A woman became allergic to her husband after twenty five years of marriage. She developed pain all over her body every time he approached her. The cause? A pain killer! The husband was a dentist and his unfortunate wife developed an allergy to the anesthetic he used in his office. There was enough of a residue on his clothing to cause a reaction. The couple was forced to live apart until the mystery was solved. Eventually it was. The answer then was simple. The dentist took off his work clothes before coming home. Presumably, he put other clothing on.
Perhaps you may remember the scene in Jurassic Park III where the dung-covered main characters attempt to retrieve a satellite phone from a gigantic heap of dinosaur dung. It seems the dung saved these characters’ lives! Once the Ceratosaurus sniffed the smelly dung-covered humans, it simply walked away. Is there any real science here? Interestingly enough, there may be an evolutionary connection between dung and the fight or flight response. There’s a theory that in times of danger, the fight or flight response physiologically causes urination and diarrhea. Supposedly then, when danger presents in the form of a predator, an individual covered in vomit, diarrhea and urine would be an unsuitable prey, thus leading to their salvation. So, should you encounter a bear or lion in the wild, those bodily fluids you jettison may just save your life.
Mints for Gas
Restaurants often offer mints to their patrons after a meal. This is an old tradition geared to reducing the chance of untoward gaseous emissions. Gas builds up in the intestine in various ways. Air can be swallowed. Carbon dioxide can be produced when the acid contents of the stomach mix with naturally occurring bicarbonate in the small bowel. Hydrogen and methane along with some odiferous sulfur compounds are produced by the action of bacteria on indigestible food components in the large intestine. The bottom line is that if there is a build up of gas, it has to come out one way or another. Peppermint contains natural oils that act as a “carminative,” meaning that they allow sphincter muscles to relax so that gases can be expelled steadily rather than in powerful explosive bursts.
On hot, humid summer days many women rely on waterproof mascara to keep their lashes soft and smooth. The main chemical responsible for smoothing the lashes is a type of silicone polymer known as dimethicone copolyol . This chemical adheres firmly to the lashes and repels water. In rare cases waterproof mascara can cause acne, skin irritation and eyelid dermatitis. Dimethicone copolyol is also added to deodorants to make the product spread more smoothly and is included in shampoos to add body and shine to hair.
John Augustus Larson was the inventor of the modern polygraph. Although, some list the polygraph as one of the greatest inventions, many scientists consider it to be pseudoscience. Yet, many countries continue to use the polygraph test as an interrogation test on suspects and for screening new employees. However, many people can beat the old-fashioned polygraph test. For example, when the interrogation commences, the subject can artificially increase their heart rate during the control questions. In general, many anti-hypertensives and anti-anxiety medications alter the heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure of the individual, thus leading to inconclusive results. Due to its vulnerabilities, new devices are being developed to replace the old fashioned lie detector test.
Paper Towels or Hand Air Dryers?
Many people believe that hand air dryers are more hygienic than paper towels because fewer people touch air dryers compared with paper towel dispensers. But studies show that in terms of hygiene, paper towels are the way to go. One study recruited sixteen volunteers who had their hands sprayed with a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria. After washing and drying their hands with either paper towels or warm air dryers, the volunteers’ hands were swabbed again. Perhaps surprisingly, hand dryers only removed 23% of the bacteria while paper towels eliminated 71%. It seems that due to friction, paper towels are more effective at dislodging bacteria from the skin’s surface. Generally, antimicrobial agents found in soap have too little contact time to exert their antibacterial effects during hand washing so bacteria are best removed by physical action as by rinsing and paper drying.
A Novel Approach
A novel drone system is currently being tested in Denmark. Don’t worry, it will be targeting weeds not people. The goal is to reduce herbicide use by limiting application to heavily infested areas. These drones are equipped with a special camera that detects wavelengths corresponding to the reflective signatures of specific weeds and crops. For example, thistle can be easily detected because it absorbs more yellow light than the surrounding beet plants. When the drone detects areas that may contain a dense population of weeds, it automatically sends a ground vehicle to that location to deploy a minimal spray of a herbicide. A great leap for “green” chemistry.
Originally, ARPANET linked together defence contractors, universities and research laboratories. But soon, a strange mix of military people, anarchists, academics, science fiction fans, hackers, hippies, and people who just plain loved new technology had all jumped on board. Very quickly, they started using electronic mail. Soon, email became the most useful application (the "killer application" that everybody had to have) of the ARPANET. The ARPANET had very few deep secrets: everything was "open" to see. Military strategists were used to believing that "important stuff" was secret, and so they thought that something as open as ARPANET was useless to them. So the military kept away. As ARPANET evolved, the computers became faster and more powerful, and the rules that governed how packets moved changed. But around 1982-1983, there was a change back to a single protocol. TCP/IP (otherwise known as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) was brought in to control the packets. This was a very important "invention." Becaue everybody could now follow the same standard (e.g., for labelling their packets), different small nets could talk to eachother. In 1983, the Defence Communications Agency split the network into two parts: ARPANET, basically for the universities and anybody else doing research; and MILNET for nonclassified military communicaions. Also in 1983, ARPANET was officially renamed "the Internet."
There are many good reasons why living organisms are adept at moving themselves around without tripping or flling all the time. This was such a crucial skill for survival that early on in our evolutionary history, the primitive brains of our ancestors were primarily concerned with coordinating muscles and senses. Any creature that fell over too much was eaten by predators pretty quickly, creating a strong evolutionary pressure toward animals that could move reliably. Only the creatures able to sense the location of their limbs in relation to the ground, would survive long enough to reproduce. So generation after generation of better-moving animals resulted in animal brains that could instinctively move over rough ground. We still have this primitive brain buried deep inside our own. In the missions of years of evolution since then, we've added layers of new brain material around this brain stem. Bit we have an instinctive ability to stand on our limbs, walk, and cope with rough ground that is given to us by the unconscious reptilian brain inside us. Without it, we would be much like one of our robots - stumbling, clumsy and prone to losing our balance (Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day, 2009).
St. John's Wort
The hypercium herb, or St John's wort as it is commonly referred to, is widely used for the treatment of mild depression. In fact, in Germany it outsells the synthetic drug Prozac. It has been shown to be effective and adverse effects do not seem to be a problem. However, it does interfere with the disposition of other drugs. In particular, it will generally reduce the activity of certain other drugs which may lead to a failure of treatment. This occurs because St John's wort is able to induce the enzymes that metabolize other drugs. The amount of the enzyme is thus increased, which leads to increased metabolism and excretion of other drugs. Therefore a drug given after the herb has been used may not reach the required therapeutic concentration, or will not be active for so long, or conversely more of an active or toxic metabolite could be produced. Thus drugs used for the treatment of blod clots (warfarin), asthma, and heart disease, and the contraceptive pill, can all be rendered less effective if taken with herbal medicine.
Why Breakfast is a Must
Many obese children are not hungry when they awaken (in part because many of them had a big snack or meal just before going to bed), so their body's degree of energy burning is not revved up before they head off to school. This is one reason, among many, that eating breakfast is is important for prevention and treatment of obesity, especially in children. Not eating breakfast has many other disadvantages. It means not performing well on tasks because of distraction due to lack of food. Not eating breakfast means the stomach hormone ghrelin, which conveys the signal for hunger, is not suppressed throughout the morning. Obese people rationaize not eating breakfast by saying that's one less meal's worth of calories. But that can't be further from the truth. Numerous studies show that people who skip breakfast eat more during the daylight hours, in part because ghrelin rises to high levels. This leads to overconsumption of calories at lunch, dinner, and prior to bedtime, all driving further obesity.
The Categorization of Pathogens
Some pathogens are much more dangerous to handle than others, which has led to their classification for laboratory purposes into categories. Category 4, the most dangerous, contains those potentially fatal viruses where no treatment is available, for example Lassa, Ebola, Marburg, smallpox. These call for total isolation and maximym security. Category 3 includes viruses such as hepatitis, HIV, rabies, bacteria like M. tuberculosis, anthrax, and plague, and some fungi and protozoa; these are handled in separate laboratories. The remaining pathogens, treatmable or easily prevented by vaccines, are worked on in safety cabinets; these are Category 2. Category 1 are non-pathogens. As a precaution against spread in the populations, most diseases in Categories 2, 3, and 4, and all zoonoses (diseases caught from animals) are notifiable, meaning that a doctor is obliged to report every case to the local healthy authority, allowing contacts to be traced.
Scientists are now beginning to believe that people who annoy us are actually changing the way our brain works when we look at them. According to a study done that the University of Southern California, our brain mimics movements of people that we are watching. For example, if someone stubs their toe, we feel a form of physical empathy towards them. However, this process changes when we look at someone that annoys us - someone we don't want to empathize with. In fact, if someone that annoys us begins to move, our brain perceives them as moving much slower than they actually are. Furthermore, we tend to feel empathy towards people that look like us, or anyone who reminds us of ourselves. Thus, when someone we don't like hurts themselves we tend not to feel physical empathy towards them.
Astronauts need to sleep next to a ventilator fan while they're in weightless orbit; otherwise, they might suffocate in their sleep. Reason being, is that warm air does not naturally rise when there is no gravity. And with no means of circulating this air, it is possible that the carbon dioxide we breathe out can form a bubble around one's nose. Eventually, this will deplete the available air supply, which in turn, could be fatal.
Fear of Killer Bees
In about 1956, biologists in Brazil imported a number of queen honeybees from Tanzania, intending to crossbreed them with local honeybees to produce a strain that made more honey and was better adapted to tropical conditions. In 1957, the Sfrican bees escaped into the wild, and the original plan backfired. Not only did honey production in the region drop sharply, but according to a 1965 report, hundreds of Brazilian dogs, pigs, and chickens were stung to death. In 1986, a Costa Rican student reportedly died after an estimated 8,000 killer bees stung him. The U.S. news media reacted with alarm, and Hollywood gave us such classicas as [made for TV movie] Killer Bees (1974), The Swarm (1978), The Bees (1978), and Killer Bees (2002). Even Saturday Night Live, countered this grim trend with a series of skits about killer bees, featuring the entire cast in striped bee costumes (50 Health Scares that Fizzled, 2011).
A "Light Year"
Is not a unit of time. Although the term “year” factors into the nomenclature, a light year actually measures extremely long distances and is used in mapping galaxies, planets, stars, and other astronomical phenomena. NASA states that light years are equivalent to about 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers and stem from how quickly a beam of light will travel in the span of a year.
Gulf War Syndrome
Many scientists now believe Gulf War Syndrome is a type of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Unexplained symptoms reported by veterans of the first Gulf War with Iraq in 1991 have caused heated international debate. The symptoms reported include fatigue, skin rash, muscle and joint pain, headaches, loss of memory, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms, and extreme sensitivity to commonly occuring chemicals. Interestingly, the key to the puzzle of Gulf War Syndrom (GWS) may be due to the particular combination of the numerous deadly chemicals that these soldiers were exposed to as a result of their posting (Toxic Overload, 2005).
The Introduction of Surgical Anesthesia
A dentist named Morton claimed that he could produce surgical anesthesia with this miracle compound and that he would demonstrate it at Mass General. With the observation gallery full and the men prepared to hold down the patient as usual during the surgery, the dentist appeared with the anesthesia machine he had invented to administer the ether. For the first time, a patient underwent major surgery while asleep but with his heart and respiration safely intact. Within a month the word had spread and ether became a powerful part of medicine and surgery.
Screens that smell like food are in our very near future? Invented by scientists at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in Japan, these s"smelling screens" makes smells appear to come from the exact spot on any LCD screen that is displaying the image of a particular food. It works by continuously feeding odours from vaporising gel pellets into four air streams, one in each corner of the screen. These air streams are blown out parallel to the screen's surface by fans, and varying the strength and direction of them manoeuvres the scent to any given spot on the screen. (New Scientist, March 2013)
Acute mercury poisoning from a large dose of a soluble mercury may cause damamge to the kidneys, intestines, and mouth, and the symptoms are vomiting, stomach pains, weak pulse, and difficulty in breathing. If a fatal dose has been taken, death may intervene before any of the most obvious symptoms manifest themselves, but usually death takes about a week, although some people have been known to last three weeks before dying.
During the Second World War, a psychiatrist concluded that showers and ice cream were an effective treatment for combat fatigue. Ice cream, he said, reminded soldiers of home. In army camps it quickly became a staple at Sunday dinner and the Navy commissioned the first floating ice cream plant, a barge that produced 5100 gallons an hour. But airmen had to improvise. Some of these guys stationed in Britain placed ice cream mix in large cans in the tail gunner’s compartment of bombers where the plane’s vibrations and cold temperatures yielded a velvety product. According to legend, one of these clever chaps was Irv Robbins. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The first scientific observation about breast cancer was made in 1896 when it was noted that the disease sometimes regressed if the ovaries were removed. Eventually this connection was understood in terms of estrogen, the female hormone produced by the ovaries. Some types of breast cancer cells are stimulated to divide by estrogen and therefore blocking this effect constitutes a form of treatment. Many anti-estrogen drugs have been tried with various degrees of effectiveness. Tamoxifen is perhaps the best known of these medications. Prostate cancer cells are also known to be stimulated by hormones, in this case by androgens, the male sex hormones which are produced mostly in the testes. It has long been known that eunuchs do not develop prostate cancer because removal of the testes lowers the level of male hormones in the blood. Indeed, prostate cancer is sometimes treated by surgical removal of the testes. Drugs known as anti-androgens constitute the pharmaceutical treatment of this disease.
This sounds distasteful, but is worth remembering. Believe it or not, vomit appears to be astonishingly effective at spreading viruses. Investigators were called in when 52 people at a hotel function came down with fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea three days after a meal. 126 people had sat down at 6 tables and one lady got very sick. The staff quickly cleaned up the mess, but the damage was done. More than 90% of people at the same table as the sick woman got sick themselves as did 70% of people at the adjacent table. People who got sick seemed to have inhaled or swallowed the infectious agent which was Norwalk-like virus, brought in by the woman. Just a single drop of material hitting a hard surface can produce an aerosol that can travel a long way.
The Stormy Petrel
The Shetland Islands are famous for sheep and wool. But did you know that they are also home to the stormy petrel? This unusual bird, so-named because it was thought to appear before a storm, has a very high fat content. Fat of course is an excellent fuel and burns readily to produce carbon dioxide, water, heat and light. Islanders used to catch the creatures, dry them, fix their feet in clay and thread a wick through their beak. Then they would light the wick and burn the dried bird for illumination. The Danes did the same with the “Great Auk,” a bird that has since become extinct. They inserted a wick into the dead bird’s belly and burned it. The less macabre were satisfied with burning whale oil. Aren’t you glad electricity came along?
Alexander the Great was known to use aloe as a purgative after being taught about the plant’s effects by his tutor Aristotle. Purgatives were highly valued at the time because it was believed that illness could be eliminated from the body by expelling the contents of the digestive tract. Aloe juice can do this very effectively. The juice can also be a mild remedy for skin disorders but this was not the main application in antiquity. Today various unsubstantiated claims are made about the ability of aloe juice to cure digestive ailments.
We can now add the newest element to the periodic table. It has been named Copernicium in honour of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the Polish astronomer who first hypothesized that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Don’t expect to have a bottle of it on a shelf though. Copernicium does not occur in nature, it is made in the lab by bombarding lead-208 nuclei with zinc-70 nuclei and has only a fleeting existence. The element has no practical use but its synthesis provides information that can improve our understanding of atomic structure.
Smooth ice cream
If you see a product label that lists “guar gum or cellulose gum” among its ingredients you would probably expect to chew rather than lick. But these substances are critical to making a smooth-textured ice cream. One of the biggest banes of ice cream lovers is the dreaded “heat shock” which occurs when ice cream is repeatedly removed from and put back into the freezer. Each time a little melts and refreezes to form crystals which give the product a crunchy texture. The added gums absorb water and prevent it from refreezing into ice crystals. Gums therefore provide the velvety texture that makes ice cream so appealing we eat enough of it every year to fill the Grand Canyon!
King Tut’s Sweet Tooth
Among the treasures discovered during the famous 1922 archaeological excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb was a jar of honey. Archaeologists tasted it (brave souls those archeoogists), and to their amazement, found it to be as sweet as, well, honey. Due to its low water content and acidic pH, this bee regurgitation is one of the few foods that does not spoil. The sticky goo starts out as flower nectar, containing about 60% water. Bees add enzymes that break down the complex carbohydrates to simple sugars and then store the nectar in honeycombs where the water content is reduced to about 18% through evaporation. Sweet chemistry!
Migraines and Genes
An international research team has recently linked the common migraine with a genetic risk factor. It seems that people suffering from migraines have a variation in their DNA, specifically on chromosome 8. As a result, a gene that normally codes for a protein that prevents the build-up of an important brain chemical known as glutamate does not function properly. Since migraines are thought to be triggered by an accumulation of glutamate, this discovery shows great promise for developing new treatments for one of the world’s most disabling conditions.
Stereochemistry refers to a branch of chemistry that studies the relative spatial arrangement of atoms within molecules. Some drugs are mixtures of different stereoisomers of a molecule in which only one has the ability to perform the desired function, though both forms contain the exact same chemical composition. Celexa, an antidepressant drug, can exist in two different stereoisomeric forms, in which one is 170 times more effective than the other! Some stereoisomers may even perform different activities. Darvon is used as a pain reliever whereas its stereoisomer, Novrad (Davron spelled backward!), is an anti-cough agent.
Bisphenol A (BPA) has been the subject of much recent controversy due to reports that it can cause birth defects, impaired sugar control as well as other health problems in rodents. Bisphenol A is a synthetic organic compound that exhibits estrogenic effects. Every year, over 22 billion tons are produced and used primarily to make plastics. BPA can be found in baby bottles, food can linings, dental sealants and much more. On September 23rd, 2010, Canada became the first country to officially declare bisphenol A as a toxic substance. This is an administrative move that allows for future regulatory action should this be deemed necessary. There are no current plans to restrict the use of BPA other than in the production of baby bottles.
Why is chicken breast white and dark meat dark? It all has to do with different kinds of muscle. Dark meat is a result of the predominant presence of slow oxidative muscle fibers used for sustained activity by active muscles such as found in the legs and thighs. These fibers have a continuous rich supply of oxygen and generate low levels of force over long periods of time. They contain high levels of a protein called myoglobin that helps facilitate oxygen transport from the blood. This iron-rich, red-pigmented protein, when cooked, turns into metmyoglobin and is what gives dark meat its color. By contrast, fast glycolytic muscle fibers are mainly found in chicken breast and other muscle regions that are not used actively. These muscle fibers lack myoglobin but are capable of generating a large force over a short time span.
The fruit of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant has been dubbed ‘miracle berry’ for its amazing ability to make sour foods taste sweet when consumed. This effect is due to miraculin, a glycoprotein found in the berry. When eaten, miraculin binds to a specific sweet receptor on cells in our taste buds. These receptors then become activated only when acid, found in sour foods, is present. The acidity of sour foods is therefore ironically what allows you to taste sweetness. Due to the strong binding of miraculin to taste receptor cells, this effect can last up to two hours!
Scientists at McMaster University have found a regular and long-term blood donor: skin cells. In a major scientific discovery, these scientists have managed to convert human adult skin cells into human adult blood cells. The conversion was direct as they were able to do so without converting skin cells to stem cells in an intermediate step. Experiments were repeated over a span of two years and performed successfully on both young and old individuals. This major breakthrough shows a promising future for patients needing blood for surgeries, cancer treatment and treatment of other blood conditions. It also opens the door for the possibility of converting skin cells into other types of human cells.
Before refrigeration butter would often spoil due to bacterial contamination. Salt was then added as a preservative. It works by dehydrating bacteria. Obviously since salted butter lasted longer, it could be produced more cheaply. Today, the salt is added only for flavor because bacterial spoilage is rarely a problem due to refrigeration. But the price differential has survived.
Chocolate may be about to get better, sweeter and even more irresistible. Scientists have succeeded in sequencing the genome of the Criollo chocolate tree. Due to susceptibility to diseases, cocoa trees normally give a low production of fine quality cocoa. However, following the genome sequencing, a number of genes have been identified, that once modified, may cause cocoa trees to become more resistant to infections. “Analysis of the Criollo genome has also uncovered the genetic basis of pathways leading to the most important quality traits of chocolate — oil, flavonoid and terpene biosynthesis”, said the researchers. With the genes of these production pathways sequenced, consumers can expect a larger production of fine quality chocolate to satisfy their sweet cravings.
For the first time in history, drastic changes will be made to the atomic weights of 10 elements in the periodic table. In nature, many elements exist as isotopes such that the same element can have different atomic weights. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry announced that the atomic weights of these elements will now be expressed as intervals, as opposed to the customary single value, to reflect the variation in atomic weight. Though tedious to correct all periodic tables found worldwide, these changes are important in research and the industry and is evidence of advances made to better understand the world that surrounds us. But don’t worry, these changes won’t affect your body weight.
A Novel Ice Cream
An ice cream parlor recently developed a new ice cream flavor: vanilla lemon “Baby Gaga”, made from real human breast milk. Though breast milk has been known for its nutritious content and benefits to newborns, human breast milk ice cream isn’t any more beneficial than ice cream made from normal milk. Once human breast milk has been pasteurized and turned into ice cream, all the original nutritious components are likely to be destroyed. This newly developed ice cream flavor did not meet with regulatory approval due to complaints from the public and the risk of passing on viruses and bacteria unnecessarily.
MRI Scans and Smoking
Our brains are pretty smart! A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan revealed that an MRI scan can detect the likelihood of a smoker being able to quit smoking. The researchers had heavy smokers watch a series of commercials about quitting smoking while undergoing MRI scans. The scans of smokers who eventually managed to quit smoking or who smoked less in the following month showed more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, a region thought to be predicative of behavioural change. These scans proved to be a better prediction of smokers’ future behaviour than their self assessment of the likelihood of success.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a recessive genetic disorder in which the body’s red blood cells assume an abnormal crescent shape inhibiting their ability to carry oxygen effectively. Natural selection continuously favours individuals that are better fitted to their environment; so it would make sense that the less favoured sickle cell gene should slowly disappear. However, in tropical regions where malaria is widespread, sickle cell anemia is still common, affecting 1-2% of the population. Moreover, as much as 40% of specific regional populations may carry one of the two alleles causing sickle-cell anemia. Turns out, there is an advantage in carrying only one single sickle-cell gene: heterozygous individuals, though not immune to malaria, are more tolerant of malaria infection. If infected, they will also show less severe symptoms and the infection is less likely to be fatal. Voila the silver lining!
The Viagra Condom
Condoms are not used often enough, leading to more cases of STDs and unplanned pregnancies. But now a revolutionary new design may be able to encourage safer sex. A British biotechnology firm has developed an innovative product popularly known as the “Viagra Condom,” named after the drug with which it has no association. Known clinically as CSD500, the condom is lined with a vasodilating gel to increase blood flow and help maintain erections. The Viagra Condom isn’t meant for people with erectile dysfunction; its real purpose is to encourage men to use condoms more often. Firmer erections also prevent condoms from slipping off and causing accidents. Though still waiting for regulatory approval, this condom is projected to reach the market in the near future.
Plastic Bank Notes
First adopted in Australia in 1988, polymer banknotes have now become increasingly popular due to their improved security against counterfeiting and their enhanced durability. Many countries have circulating plastic bills and seven countries in the world have fully converted from paper bills to polymer banknotes. Polymer banknotes are made from bi-axially oriented polypropylene (BOPP): a polymer made from repeating units of propylene, capable of being stretched in two directions. Polypropylene is resistant to wear and tear and its surface allows for excellent printing, making it an ideal candidate for the production of banknotes. Though more expensive to produce, plastic bills last at least twice as long as opposed to their paper counterparts and can be recycled at the end of their distribution cycle.
The majority of people suffer from cellulite to some degree. However, women are more susceptible to cellulite than men due to the presence of female sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. In addition, there are other factors such as the septae structure differences in women than in men. Septae is a mesh-like fibrous connective tissue that is present directly underneath the skin. In women the septae are mesh-like which have a higher tendency of trapping fat cells, unlike the men's where the septae are smooth. Other factors that increase the risk of developing cellulite include stress, smoking and poor circulation due to a sedentary lifestyle. There is no cure for cellulite but there are many costly, ongoing treatments for the temporary decrease of cellulite. However, most agree that the best approach in reducing cellulite is consuming a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
The term “aromatherapy” was first coined in 1937 by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, whose badly burned arm was supposedly miraculously cured by the use of lavender oil. Jean Valnet decided to further investigate the medicinal benefits of essential oils by applying them to soldiers' wounds during World War II. Today, essential oils are still used for their healing properties and as a form of therapy with claims such as eucalyptus aiding in the prevention of colds and flu while a blend of ylang ylang with grapefruit relieving stress. Scientific evidence for such claims is very thin.
Many pharmacologists and scientists work with “medicine men” in order to discover drugs that originate from rainforest plants. For example, an African tribe introduced the world to the Madagascar periwinkle, which increased the survival rate for children with leukemia from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. South American natives have long used the Pau d'arco tree to treat pain, arthritis and boils and the napthaquinones found in various extracts are now being studied for their antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects. Regrettably, less than one percent of the rainforest plants have been examined and as the rainforest is disappearing potentially valuable drugs are being lost.
Experts believe that the polar bears are traveling south to escape the effects of global warming while the grizzly bears are moving northward thus leading to the creation of a new species: grizzly-polar bear hybrid. DNA samples taken from the hybrid that Jim Martell shot and killed in 2006 proved the first hybrid case in the wild. The hybrid is similar in appearance to its parents. It is smaller than a polar bear but larger than a grizzly bear. Furthermore, the hybrids' hair and feet are a blend of both. However, the hybrid has not been given an official name, suggestions include: the Grolar Bear, the Pizzly Bear or the Nanulak.
Paintball is game in which players shoot opposing players with paint from airguns. These paintballs require special non-toxic, water-soluble and biodegradable paint. It is biodegradable because this water-soluble paint can be easily washed away by rain. In addition, the solubility of this paint allows the paint to be easily washed from clothing, generally leaving behind no stains. This special paint is made from mineral oils, ethylene glycol, iodine, and food colouring. Once the paint is made it is encapsulated by gelatin. The paintballs are then cooled and hardened in a machine, allowing them to dry and take on a uniformly round shape. When the paintballs are dry, they can inserted into the specially designed airgun and expelled via the carbon dioxide cartridges.
Pliosaurs were large, extinct marine reptiles from the Jurassic Era. During this time they were the top predators of the ocean averaging from four to fifteen metres in length. The largest pliosaur fossil found was unearthed on Spitspergen, Svalbard in 2006. This immense 150 million year old specimen is characterized by its short neck, elongated head and long, powerful jaws. It differs from the long-necked plesiosaurs which are rumoured to fit the description of the mythical Loch Ness Monster.
Alarm Clock Headaches
“Alarm clock headaches” have the ability to wake a person from sleep due to the excruciating pain radiating in or around the eye on one side of the head. These cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headaches, surpassing migraines. Unfortunately, they are responsible for the deaths of many innocent people because victims tend to commit suicide during an attack or in anticipation of an attack. There are many treatments to lessen the unbearable pain, however it is imperative to seek aid from a physician familiar with cluster headache therapy.
Odori-don, also known as dancing squid rice bowl, is a Japanese delicacy. This dish features a whole intact and dead squid served fresh on rice, and uses soy sauce to create a disturbing illusion of bringing a dead squid back to life. Once soy sauce is poured over the dish, the sodium chloride in the soy sauce gets absorbed by the squid and attaches to chemical receptors. These sensors pick up the sodium chloride and change the voltage membrane producing an electrical impulse that ultimately triggers the contraction of the squid’s muscle. The tissues respond to this chemical stimulus since many of the cell metabolites are still intact in the recently dead squid. The result is the squid you are about to eat practically dancing its way off your plate!
Adderall and other amphetamine salt-based drugs are college students’ top study buddy choices. A survey study of over 100 American colleges revealed that up to 25% of students have used Adderall as a study aid. Normally used by people suffering from attention-deficit disorders, the drug is known to enhance cognitive function and allows students to stay fully concentrated for hours without being exhausted. The feeling of a heightened sense of motivation and focus makes it ideal for students needing to pull all-nighters and read hundreds of pages of assigned readings. The promise of a better GPA lures many students to get their hands on the drug by any means, even if drug use may lead to addiction, mood problems and complications with normal functionality
Most babies are born with blue eyes because at the time of their birth melanin has not been 'deposited' in the iris. Melanin is a light-absorbing biopolymer synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine. It is responsible for determining eye colour and is encoded by genes, therefore, babies of Asian, African and Latino descent, normally, have more melanin indicating that their eye color is brown at birth. After six months, the babies' genes determine the melanin production in the iris. This will dictate if the eyes remain blue or turn gray, green, hazel or brown. A long term study concluded that peoples' eye color can continue to change into adulthood.
Orange and red lightening above Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela produce a spectacular phenomenon that is visible for more than 500 km. This phenomenon commences one hour after dawn and lasts for 10 hours. Unlike normal thunderstorms, this thunderstorm always occurs in the same place and can be observed 160 nights per year. The origin of the Catatumbo Lightning is unknown. However the Wari, an indigenous group native to the area, believe that the origin is due to “an incredible amount of fireflies that gathered there to pay tribute to the parents of creation.” Generally, many find this legend to be an unacceptable explanation; hence many scientists like Melchor Centeno, Andrew Zavrotsky, Nelson Falcón have attempted to resolve this enigma. However most of their theories proved to be unsuccessful thus research is still being conducted in order to obtain conclusive scientific explanations, but for now the most acceptable theory proposes that the winds from the Andes Mountains collide with ionized gases, such as methane, causing them to rise up and then creating electrical charge.
In January 2010 the lightning disappeared unawares but then reappeared in April 2010. Many scientists have proposed that this disruption was caused by climate change, deforestation and the development of agriculture around Lake Maracaibo. These speculations have not yet been proven and the perplexity behind the Catatumbo Lightning phenomenon for now continues to be a mystery.
During the 1970's in Moscow, Russia excimer lasers were first developed, consisting of both reactive and inert gases. When excited electrically, the mixture of these gases produces a dimer. Thus 'excimer' combines the terms “excited” and “dimer.” This laser disrupts chemical bonds of organic tissue when it produces energy in the ultraviolet spectrum; because it neither burns nor cuts material the excimer laser has many applications. Most applications are medicinal, it's most famous use being LASIK eye surgery. In eye surgery the laser is targeted to a specific area in order to safely correct one's vision. Furthermore, eyes will not be damaged by heat because excimer laser are cool lasers meaning that no heat is generated. Excimer lasers are progressively being refined and will continue to play a major role in surgery, micromachining and the production of microelectronic devices.
Fingerprints have been used since ancient times as a method to confirm identities. Although individuals are born with a unique set of fingerprints, these unique fingerprints can disappear. The disappearance of fingerprints can occur in cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy and are administered chemotherapy drugs such as capecitabine (Xeloda), 5-Flurouracil (5FU) and doxorubicin liposomal (Doxil). Small amounts of the chemotherapy drugs can leak out of the capillaries causing redness and desquamation on the hands and feet. If hand-foot syndrome develops it is imperative to minimize heat exposure to the hands and feet. In addition, it is highly advisable to communicate with a medical professional as such alternative chemotherapy drugs may be administered in order to prevent the worsening and/or the development of these symptoms.
Victims of Alzheimer's disease experience a continuous degeneration of nerve cells. Most of the nerve cells affected are responsible for releasing acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter believed to be mainly responsible for memory and learning. In order to prevent the loss of acetylcholine, galantamine, a competitive and reversible cholinesterase inhibitor is used as a medication. Galantamine reduces the activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase thus preventing the degradation of acetylcholine and maintaining an increased level of this neurotransmitter in the brain. Studies have shown a slowing of memory loss but galantamine is not a cure for Alzheimer's!
Annual Pee Outside Day
Sigmota, a town in Sweden, holds an “Annual Pee Outside Day.” The purpose of this is to save on water that is normally used to flush toilets. Peeing outside for one day cuts water use by 50% for that day. Citizens are urged to be discreet and not make use of windows. Placing a brick inside the holding tank of a flush toilet can also lead to significant water savings with no loss of flushing effectiveness. This is more convenient than scampering outside, especially for the 50% of the population for which tree and walls are not an alternative to the toilet.
MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cell Line
A breast cancer cell line known as MCF-7 is used by researchers around the world. The name comes from the Michigan Cancer Foundation where the cell line was first established in 1973 after isolating the cells from Sister Catherine Frances, a Catholic nun. Aside from use in breast cancer research, the cell line has also proven to be valuable in testing for estrogenic activity. Cells can be exposed to various chemicals and their rate of multiplication assessed. Compounds with estrogenic activity trigger more rapid multiplication, the extent of which can be monitored by isolating and quantifying the amount of DNA in the newly formed cells.
A Leg-Raising Experiment
Bladder cancer in humans has been associated with cigarette smoking. Since dogs can also develop this deadly cancer, they can serve as model for evaluating treatment methods. In a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beagles were exposed to a carcinogenic chemical from cigarette smoke. It turned out that those dogs urinating every four hours had only one third as much carcinogen left in their bladder as the animals voiding every eight hours. Indeed some surveys on humans have also shown that in rural areas bladder cancer is less frequent than in urban areas. The suggestion has been that men relieve themselves more regularly when they do not have to search for a bathroom. So where’s the nearest tree?