Posts Tagged ‘biology’

What if Lady Gaga Were a Science Grad Student?

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I was a grad student once, and EVERYONE feels like this at some point.

Great nerdy fun.

I’m Sick of these Mother F#@!in’ Germs on this Mother F#@!in’ Plane!

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sitting in the airport, patiently waiting for my flight home to board. Its late, I’m tired, and I just want to go home.

To pass the time, I decided to catch up on my news reading. So I open up Google Reader and one article jumps out at me for some reason:

6 Places Germs Breed in a Plane

Thanks CNN, like THATS what I need to see right now.

At least they admit in their opening paragraph that they are just trying to score readership by scaring as many weary travellers as possible.

We dug deep to identify the major germ zones on planes (and tips to avoid them). No, you’re not likely to contract meningitis, but better safe than sorry, right?

The article goes on to identify certain “hot zones” to watch out for germs (the lavatory is one, surprise!), and what kind of deadly viruses they may carry (i.e. the flu, and a “superbug”! Booooo!)

Ok, maybe its the skepticism in me, maybe its the sleep deprivation. But seriously, is anyone buying this?

The truth is that ANY high traffic area will contain germs. Every single one. The bus I took here had some. My workplace had some. YOUR workplace had some.

So does writing an article like this help us at all? I would argue no. As long as you practice good hygiene and common sense (get your flu shot!), you are no more at risk of catching anything on a plane than you are at any other public place.

So shame on you CNN for trying to scare innocent holiday travellers like myself just to drum up readership.

But you know what? I’m gonna forgive you. Why? Partly because its Christmas, but also because I know it will happen again and I’m just gonna have to deal.

Could you pass the hand sanitizer?

Excuse me, sir, but there’s arsenic in my DNA!

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Mono Lake, where the arsenic bacteria was discovered

Yes, the big NASA press conference was not about aliens, but instead about a very peculiar type of bacteria.

The discovery is being published in this week’s issue of Science, entitled ‘A Bacterium That Can Grow Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus’ and has already been written about by pretty much every science blogger out there.

So rather than bore you with my own re-hash of all the other posts I’ve read on this subject, I will direct you to the best one I’ve read so far. It is by Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Enjoy!

Mono Lake bacteria build their DNA using arsenic (and no, this isn’t about aliens) by Ed Yong.

Behold! The Non-Browning Apple!

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s lunch time. You take a bit of your delicious apple. A colleague asks for your opinion on something, and you forgot about your apple for a few minutes.

When you return to it, you find it has become brown and gross. You throw it away out of disgust.

But its possible this may not happen again, if a new breed of genetically modified apple which doesn’t brown gets approval for growing. A biotech company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland (OSF), based in British Columbia, Canada, has developed the apple and believes it will be a hit. Neal Carter, president of the company said

They look like apple trees and grow like apple trees and produce apples that look like all other apples and when you cut them, they don’t turn brown. The benefit is something that can be identified just about by everybody.

He says that the new type of apple will encourage it to be packaged in salads and children’s lunches, helping lead to more healthy eating.

How does it work? Well my biology is a little rusty, but basically what happens is this:

When you pierce the skin of the apple you expose the innards to oxygen. This causes a chemical reaction to occur involving enzymes which create melanin, the same pigment in your hair and eyes, and leads to the apple turning brown.

OSF has licensed a technology from Australian researchers which stops the production of a certain enzyme, polyphenol oxidase, which causes the browning.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out, but it will be awhile. The approval process for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can take years.

In the meantime, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent your fruit from browning. You could drizzle some lemon juice on it, as the acid helps prevent the enzymes from turning the fruit brown. Also, you could refrigerate the fruit before eating, as the cold temperature reduces the rate of the chemical reaction which produces that nasty brown colour.

My Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies: #4 – Jurassic Park

August 5, 2010 1 comment

#4 – Jurassic Park (1993)

In a science fiction top 10 list, you knew there had to be a couple Spielberg movies in the mix. So now I’ve given you two in a row.

When I was in the 4th grade, I literally watched this movie every single day for about a month. The special effects were incredible (for the time) and they hold up pretty well today as well.

And of course, like every nerdy 4th grade kid, I was pretty into dinosaurs at the time. I think this movie was a major factor in my decision to study science in my future.

The pacing of the movie is perfect, the characters are real and interesting, and the story line actually made it seem plausible that dinosaurs could be genetically engineered.

And the metaphor of losing control of our creation is what I think gives this movie a timeless quality. Its a story that will always be relevant to our daily lives, and thats one of the reasons I think it resonates with a large audience.

“We’ve made living biological attractions so astounding that they’ll capture the imagination of the entire planet.”


Full List:

#10 – The Terminator (1984)

#9 – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

#8 – The Fifth Element (1997)

#7 – Aliens (1986)

#6 – Blade Runner (1982)

#5 – E.T. (1982)

#4 – Jurassic Park (1993)

#3 – V for Vendetta (2005)

#2 – Star Wars Trilogy (1977 – 1983)

#1 – Back to the Future (1985)

Humans to Go Extinct in 100 Years?

June 25, 2010 1 comment

Grandparents say and do some funny things sometimes.

One of them once told me that our current member of parliament was involved with the Mafia, because he was Italian. Another keeps a BB gun near the back door so he can shoot the squirrels when they try to eat out of his birdfeeder.

But what are ya gonna do? They’re old. They can pretty much do what they want. Who is gonna stop them?

That’s why I’m gonna cut the Australian Professor in microbiology Frank Fenner some slack. He is 95 years old (Wow!). In 1980, he was the one who announced that Smallpox had been eradicated. A pretty famous dude with quite a distinguished career.

But last week, the Australian scientist said in an interview that “Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years…It’s an irreversible situation.”

Man, talk about a supreme downer.

Everyone knows mankind has its problems and that they need to be addressed if we are to continue our domination of the planet, but its already too late? Shitty.

But I actually don’t buy it. Sure climate change is a problem. Overpopulation and food shortage is looming in the (near?) future. But we are an industrious species. We are intelligent.

We harnessed electricity, have sent spacecraft out of the solar system, cured disease and built the iPad.

Once we set our minds to it, we can invent/build/create whatever we need too.

Perhaps more importantly though, once it becomes profitable to invent these things that will avert our disaster, corporations will jump all over it. Capitalism will save the world; you heard it here first!

So good for Prof. Fenner for speaking his mind, he’s earned it. I can’t wait till I’m 95 and can say whatever I want.

I can wear those awesome old-timey hats too.