Tell me where it hurts

Our ability to feel pain allows us to survive, it’s our response to damage. It’s also hard to quantitate, hard to specifically target and this cloudiness affects more aspects of our lives than we are aware of. According to The International Association for the Study of Pain, it is an:

unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage

Here’s how it works:

As is obvious, addiction to painkillers is no joke. According to the CDC:

Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.  Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have also quadrupled since 1999.

For a brilliant account on the matter, check out Peter Grinspoon’s Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts his Addiction.  

Moreover, a recent report in Science alludes to the fact that exposure to opioids may lower pain tolerance on the long run, which is very bad news for people with chronic pain.

It is obvious that we would like to remove sources of pain away from anyone we love, and it has touched on key societal issues:


Besides religious constraints, legalising abortion seems to be acceptable in cases of rape or incest, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the foetus has medical problems. Some of the arguments also touch on the pain we might be inflicting on the foetus. Even though evidence points at no pain sensation before the third trimester, some states require anaesthesia administration to the foetus prior to the procedure, if not fight for its ban altogether. Poland has recently taken this fight to the streets.

Assisted Suicide

Canada recently announced legalising physician-assisted suicide to the incurably sick, joining a handful of other countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Albania, Colombia and Japan.

[Signature drink by E.]


Connecting Us Faster than Internet Ever Could

As eloquently as he put it, the last footage with blood donors lining up is worth commending. It’s officially World Blood Donor Day, whose slogan this year is “Blood Connects Us All”.

As we mentioned before, the FDA had partially lifted gay men blood donation ban. The catch is that they would have to be abstinent for at least a year. An article on Wired appeared recently, claiming that individual risk assessment should be a safe enough option. It bases itself on the Italian model, analysing data from 2001, when they shifted from a complete ban to a more selective one, showing to significant increase in risk.

Around the world, people are pouring their souls into linking donors to recipient, as best shown by this motorcycle blood delivery effort.

In a different approach, blood not only links us because of our mutual need but also for not symbolising weakness. Both women and men should feel concerned…watch the clip below, and Happy Blood Donor day everyone.

[Signature drink by E.]

How Many Donald Trumps do you Need to Hug a Tree?

The human rights organisation Front Line Defenders reports that, of the 156 human rights defenders killed in 2015, the largest single group, 45% of the total, were those defending environmental, land, or indigenous rights. Via The Guardian.

Some people are putting their lives at stake to lobby for our planet. This article by the guardian, from which the quote above was taken, really struck a nerve.

It’s World Environment Day. I’d like to take this as an opportunity to share some news that might shape our legacy as a human race. This is a reminder of our need to better communicate our science to make a impact that aligns with our findings and ethics.


Donald Trump would ‘cancel’ Paris climate deal Via BBC

This is a deal signed by 195 countries. This means that not only are scientists from those countries convinced but that pressure was able to trickle up to decision makers there. Even if you don’t believe that consensus, debilitating smog levels seen this year CANNOT be caused by anyone but us.

Same guy who produced this a couple of months ago:

Australia removed from UN world heritage climate report Via BBC

News about the impact of climate change on those iconic sites is said to negatively affect tourism. This is why any mention is now out of the official UNESCO report. The Guardian compares this to a Shakespearean tragedy, since information about coral bleaching and death is pretty well known both by scientists and the world opinion.

It may be an inconvenient truth to most; but that documentary was aired 10 years ago. Here’s an exclusive interview with Al Gore with Wired last week. Highly recommended!

[Signature drink by E.]

Bacterial Marathon

Imagine you’re relaxing on your couch, binge watching series or surfing the web (or both!).

Then an alien siren goes off declaring the end of humanity as we know it, the only way to escape being to run a full marathon. Sounds devilish doesn’t it?


Anytime we introduce antibiotics into our system, bacteria see that as doomsday, the war-term equivalent of carpet bombing. The only way to escape antibiotics is to develop the skills to evade it, or even survive through it:

  • Genetic mutation: Those lucky people who already could run that marathon.
  • Acquiring it from another organism: People who were training to run a marathon.

To understand what a doomsday looks like to a bacterium, let’s review how antibiotics work imagining a bacterium is a small town. I will also list some ways by which bacteria can overcome these obstacles:

Tactic Attack Defense
Tear down the fort walls Crippling production of cell wall ·         Pumping it out

·         Producing alternative proteins and metabolic routes

·         Taking in and destroying the antibiotic

Taking down bakeries, restaurants and food production. Interfering with protein synthesis
Jamming communication lines and transport routes. Messing up metabolism
Killing all the females and children. Blocking DNA synthesis

Finishing a marathon says nothing about our worth as a surviving human race. It barely indicates that few of us are physically able to run for long distances. If our goal is to challenge humanity to promote the best elements, we better rethink our strategy.

Similarly, surviving antibiotics only implies the presence of a defense trait in a bacterium. It implies nothing about its usefulness to a healthy gut.

Most oral antibiotics inevitably target the gut microbiome. With such destructive mass-killing techniques, both good and bad bacteria are bound to be wiped out completely. Antibiotic design keep evolving to better target specific bacterial populations but this is a never-ending race. There will always be harmful bacteria that can acquire resistance and survive our toughest weapons.

But why do we care in the first place, it’s such a tiny war on the scale of our organism?

Most of you have already heard about antibiotic resistance, and how it’s shaping our food industry and economics in general. In brief, over-using antibiotics exposes bacterial populations to more marathons, and more chances to get better at them. Not only do our faulty daily practices contribute to this problem but the biggest contributor is our animal stock. Being so terrified of sick chickens and cows that cannot be sold, the food industry constantly supplements their feed with antibiotics. The Pharma industry also can’t keep up, so we’re stuck in a cycle teaming with resistant bacteria ready to throw us back into the middle ages, before Fleming’s penicillin.

More links are sprouting between excess exposure to antibiotics and our brain activity. A recent report listed 3 lessons we learned:

  • Antibiotics disrupt communication between gut microbiome and the immune system. By also destroying useful bacteria in the gut, losing this population can affect our metabolism. This can also lead to a disruption to the signals going back to the brain. Going back to our tactics above, it’s like you’re isolating the population from its army.
  • Pressure towards resistance as was discussed earlier. Reports indicate that our gut flora acquire more and more resistance genes as we grow older, and more exposed to antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics aren’t the only solution.
    • Make use of bacteriocins: Bacteria’s own weapons to kill other bacteria.
    • Employ Gene editing tools such as CRISPR to excise those parts out of the genome.
    • Eradicate bacteria then re-supplementing good populations into the gut using fecal transplants.

What do you think? Any stories or analogies you want to share to communicate the issue of antibiotics resistance? Leave us a comment below!

[Signature drink by E.]

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The Robobees are COMING

If you’re following up with the series Arrow, you know how dangerous bees can be. Not just any bees; these are controlled by an evil mastermind!


However, regular bees are celebrated. In fact, pollinators, including bees, contribute to the production of 1/3 of most of our food. As most of you know, honey bee health has been steadily declining prompting a presidential memorandum to fight their mysterious die-off. Among the stressors are:

  • Parasites and diseases
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of genetic diversity

I started this post wanting to write about today being the international day for biodiversity. Bees and other species ought to be celebrated, we should be working on preserving the populations we have. How about creating a new one?

The day has come, robotic bees have moved from our TV screen into reality with this new project by a group of scientists at the Harvard Microrobotics Lab:

As stated by the group, some of the applications this robot can contribute to are:

  • autonomously pollinating a field of crops;
  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping; and
  • traffic monitoring.

Weighing very closely to a bee (100 mg), this tiny robot makes use of electrostatic adhesion to perch onto existing structures and save valuable energy in-flight. This tactic is exciting since it allows the bees to attach to multiple surfaces and makes detaching as simple as turning off the engines. This “passive” take off significantly lowers the disengagement forces, allowing for more stability and control.

As you can see the design is pretty impressive. The upcoming challenges for the team reside in the following:

  • Body: Portable power sources and wings that are more resistant to turbulent conditions.
  • Brain: Adding smart sensors to control and monitor the flight on-board.
  • Colony: Develop programming models enabling the bees to socially interact among each other. This includes coordination where a hive can explore a large area with very little overlap, while still compensating for any failing units along the way.

This project is inspired by Nature. As it was nicely summed up in this article, mini-robots at our service have already taken shape with cockroaches searching for earthquake victims and pills being swallowed for internal monitoring.

Greenpeace had released this video, as a cautionary tale against this kind of intervention:

to which the group has replied in an interview:

Having a multitude of options to deal with future problems is important. It’s hard to predict what exact solution we would need in the future. Flexibility is key.

Since we’re talking about biodiversity, why not let it inspire our solutions as well. No one method can be the perfect solution. Efforts should be concentrated on multiple fronts to achieve our goal in preservation.

What do you think?

[Signature drink by E.]

Liquid Ping Pong vs Menstruation

We’ve all seen videos of mostly Asian competitors whiz through a match of ping pong. What about one with liquids?

While liquid ping pong in space is cool, other forms of liquid might not be as desirable. Washing hair in space, especially for women, is extremely challenging.

These might seem like clever ways to solve the unwanted liquid issue on board, but other sources of liquid don’t look as easy to control: Cue the menstruation blood nightmare.

Although menstruation is a normal bodily process periodically experienced by almost all women in the world, not many are familiar with the process. We previously explained how it ties into the bigger circle of life, especially with all the tools designed around contraception. The problem faced by astronauts is the management of periods over long periods of time, an issue that was only recently brought up because of the expected long-duration trips to Mars.

The news last week was buzzing about one of the first scientifically backed recommendations for menstruating astronauts. Medically induced amenorrhea, or stoppage of menstrual bleeding, has been traditionally achieved by manipulating the hormones in the body. As with the case with military service personnel, women astronauts have expressed a desire to maintain this process. However, instead of having to comply with a daily regimen of pills, producing waste and extra cargo, Intra-Uterine Devices are suggested. A sub-type of those are hormonal implants which would be placed into the vagina, releasing enough chemicals to block bleeding.


With 50% of the 2013 NASA recruits being female, menstruation has joined the big table conversation.

Back here on earth, menstruation has also joined the economic conversation. Here are some highlights from this NYTimes article:

  • American women spent $3 billion on sanitary protection in 2014, up 2 percent from 2013, according to the market research company Euromonitor International

  • Menstrual products are expensive, and it’s absolutely debilitating if you don’t have access to them

  • Eight states and the District of Columbia have moved to eliminate sales tax on pads and tampons, and bills have recently passed in the New York and Mississippi State Senates

I’m sure you’ve heard the conversation stirring online. It reached NASA and legislation, are you still held back by it?

[Signature drink by E.]

Not Just Losing Pounds?! Lessons from the Biggest Loser

“I’m Ali Vincent. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to know how to do this.”

Is a quote from the first female winner of the Biggest Loser (US Ed.) on the night of her 8th anniversary. By that time, she had regained most of the weight she had lost, and was struggling with the reasons why.

Keep in mind, this is much different from our usual attempts at dieting. The show’s experience entails a bootcamp with 9-10 hours of daily exercise and a controlled nutritional plan. If anyone knows what works for weight loss, it’s them.


This might strike you as one person who has fallen back into old habits, despite having great knowledge on how to bounce back, but as a new study shows, the trend is there for those extreme weight losers.

This phenomenon, commonly described as the body fighting against weight loss, is partly explained by measuring Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Normally, the energy expenditure of a person is proportional to their weight. The bigger you are, the more your resting body needs energy to maintain your existence. Naturally, after losing a lot of weight, physicians monitoring the contestants expected a drop in the BMR.

However, BMR did not recover when the same people began to put on weight again. If anything it got worse. In some cases, contestants are spending 500 Kcalories less than a regular person with the same weight. When the recommended daily calories for a regular person fall close to 2000 Kcal, that’s almost a quarter that needs to be deducted to achieve the same end result.


This biological fact is still unresolved, as is the question of whether being fat is in your genes. Some redirected the issue to neuroscience. A study following twins proposes that dieting might lead to weight gain, after equalizing for genetic background. Of the proposed explanations are the release of anxiety fat-storing hormones and stress related binge eating.

The study also notes that this problem isn’t as pronounced with bariatric surgery patients, who also lose huge amounts at once. In their case, their BMR normalized in a more predictable way.

This poses the question, whether this phenomenon is due to the amount of weight lost or just the rate at which it is. This is naturally pending further investigation. Hopefully, this will lead to better approaches to weight control.

At the end of the day, sustained mindful eating is linked to better health outcomes, which is not necessarily true for shocking bursts of dieting. I’ve already shared my experience with it, how about yours?

[Signature drink by E.]

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Hocus Pocus Science

The science blogosphere is buzzing about John Oliver‘s newest section about scientific studies. I honestly think it was an epic performance, echoing so many themes we delved into earlier on here on Science Bar.

Both Chris and I agree to almost all of what was said in here. We love Science, we call each other to discuss its weekly updates and recommendations for being stuck in traffic. We believe that sharing that love is by education: showing PRECISELY BOTH the good and the ugly sides of it.

Yes, because unless you can, or would like to, differentiate between them, we have failed at our passion and mission.

Here’s our breakdown of some of the points, with references to our earlier posts trying to explain them.

Not all studies are equal

We’ve come down hard on so many topics where we blatantly show that science is not a democracy but a stricter form of meritocracy. Whether it’s homeopathy or organic food, evidence should be weighed not just on number of studies supporting it but on quality.

Pressure to publish

No scientist is rewarded for happily existing in a lab doing experiments. Most evaluations, from promotions to Nobel prizes, are majorly based on the amount of papers you publish and which journals that happens in. There’s also the pressure to publish a positive-finding story, because who really wants to know about that promising molecule that DIDN’T KILL cancer cells.


How scientists tend to tweak the p-values in their research papers is now commonly referred to as p-hacking. In other words, it’s playing around with data to establish meaningless correlations that show up as statistically insignificant.

Very few replication studies, no reward nor funding

Echoing what we said about p-hacking, just like no one wants to hear about a failed molecule, no one wants to hear about the re-invention of the wheel. Replication studies, aimed at affirming other people’s findings, are rare because no one would fund them, and honestly, almost no one would read them.

Media not taking its time to fact check

Why bother fact checking. If editors won’t do it, it doesn’t mean readers should be left gullible. We all know we’re inundated with so many stories everyday it’s really hard to tell the facts apart. Check the context and the sources provided, it’s as simple as that. I wrote about this specific issue in a two post combo called “Give Me One Reason [Part1] [Part2]”.

As YoutTuber and brilliant science communicator from SciShow Hank Green explains it “It’s common — and incorrect — to expect that science is “hard””

Scientists over simplify the facts.

Most of us clearly have a communication problem. We are not all Sheldons and recluses, but telling you what we do for a living can sometimes show as boring. At the end, so many either are content with just communicating with their peers or go to the other extreme and over-simplify their findings to gain popularity. In any case, yo-yoing between those 2 extremes has seriously affected our ability to communicate serious issues such as climate change – but we’re working on that!

Cherry picking science, vaccine, climate change

Most people still struggle with differentiating between theory and hypothesis. But science isn’t picking and choosing, it’s there as a body of evidence until something better comes along. Until you can provide a better explanation, you can’t just opt out of it because it doesn’t suit your world view.

The biggest risk isn’t people would just keep disliking math. The danger is two-folds more serious:

  • Draw incorrect conclusions affecting their lifestyles.
  • Conclude that no one knows anything really, including how dangerous vaccines are and what causes climate change. You can easily foretell how big tobacco is just too happy to indulge in the confusion.


What do you think of that video? Let us know in the comments!

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World’s Tiniest

Every nation wants to boast the tallest skyscraper, the biggest theme park or house the largest concentration of casinos. Big and Bold attract an audience. But what makes the tiniest so attractive to scientists?


Suppose the lights went off on the last floor of the skyscraper. No one would be able to tell what’s wrong/how to fix it without examining the smaller scale; the microcosm. Exploring the microcosm, one element at a time may help gather enough evidence to support a conclusion about the structure as a whole.

In a recent video we shared, TED attempts to answer why fish swim in such a harmony. The answer lies in investigating their individual decision making process:


In the world of cancer, targeted therapy has been a hot topic for a while now. Clinicians are not only targeting each cancer based on the markers it uniquely expresses but also on its genetic background. Despite these advances, the variety of cancer types and sub-types has spawned the belief that cancer can no longer be classified as one disease. For this purpose, the recent announcement of the first computer program to detect DNA mutations in single cells is very exciting. Scientists are no longer treating the tumour as a whole, but are targeting its constituents one at a time.


Going even deeper, cells themselves are not homogeneous bags of life. Each cell hosts a well-differentiated polarity, allowing for different functions at different sites. Image it like an open space office, if everyone didn’t have their dedicates spaces and tasks, most of the work wouldn’t get done efficiently. Cells are hubs for chemical reactions and the obvious varying agents within a cell would be the concentration of a certain substrate and the pH. A new report shows scientists are also investigating temperature: chemists are now using DNA to build the world’s tiniest thermometer. These molecules would bend in different ways depending on the surrounding heat state, allowing researchers to map different areas within a cell and correlate


Yes, Sony just filed a patent for that. You soon (not sure how soon) will be able to zoom, focus and snap pictures using a smartphone like device connected to those babies.

I’m pretty excited about those nano-developments; the tinier the better. For more stories you’d like to see here, let us know in the comments!

[Signature drink by E.]


Secret Message from INSIDE YOU

Liquids make you happy, whether it’s a drink or a swim in the ocean.


Images make you happy, we use them so often *just now* in blogging and everywhere else to capture your attention.

Imagine my excitement in learning that images can now be contained in liquid!!!

Scientists store digital images in DNA, and retrieves them perfectly Via ScienceDaily

What scientists at the University of Washington were able to show is an improvement on a booming technology. Technology enthusiasts around the world have been excited about storing data in DNA for a while now, and this is only one of multiple steps leading up.

Here’s a brief introduction to the topic:

The amount of data we produce is HUGE

As a primer, the size of digital data is expected to grow to 40,000 EB by 2020. For non-IT people like me, an EB is an exabyte equal to one quintillion (1018) bytes, or one billion gigabytes.

Where are we planning on keeping all of this?

Information storage in DNA was first introduced in 1995. For successful transmission of information, the storing medium should act similarly to most of our backup drives: It should be durable, be produced by a company that will keep supporting ways to improve it (unlike the floppy disk) and allow for several backups to be stored. The proposed strengths for using such material for information storage were the following:

  • Stability: DNA has stood the test of time and is here to stay.
  • Genetically pivotal: Since this molecule is so central to our understanding of nature, techniques will always be improved upon to decode and write it. Lately, CRISPR is a great example.
  • Redundancy: DNA allows for repeats of information to be stored, as several segments already are in our own genome.

The initial challenges were in transforming these computer 0 and 1 into biological ACTG. In simple terms, this reminds me of the “secret languages” we used to invent when we were kids.


However, the stakes were not only in writing in DNA, but also reading from it.

What’s been done so far?

Both reading and writing in DNA have come a long way. Scientists can now write more precisely than ever. They can also place “bookmarks” and use them as postal code to be able to read and parse the information properly when retrieving it.

Multiple groups are working on this non stop. One in particular managed to encode 5 computer files in 2013:

all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets (ASCII text), a classic scientific paper (PDF format), a medium-resolution colour photograph of the European Bioinformatics Institute (JPEG 2000 format), a 26 s excerpt from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech (MP3 format) and a Huffman code used in this study to convert bytes to base-3 digits (ASCII text), giving a total of 757,051 bytes (Shannon information 5.2 × 106 bits).

Going back to our initial story, the team at Washington University not only  but were also able to design a way to retrieve them…ERROR FREE

[Signature drink by E.]