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.

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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.]

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Garlic Breath: The Why and The How

Garlic_Press_and_GarlicThe Mediterranean and especially the Lebanese cuisine is centered around that tasty white clove named Garlic. In addition, if you share with me the low self-control when it comes to the food you love and especially garlic, you will definitely know the feel of being busted with Garlic breath before a meeting or even a date. Consequently, you will start brushing, chewing, flossing… and wishing for a time travel just to undo eating that garlic melted chicken sandwich. Why does garlic give you that stinky breath and where the clove itself doesn’t even have a smell?!

The answer lies in the chemistry … more specifically those four compounds: Diallyl Sulphide, Allyl Methyl Sulfide, Allyl Methyl Disulfide and Allyl Mercaptan or as I like to refer to them as “The Sulfur Gang”.

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Ironically, none of these compounds exists in the intact cloves. It is after crushing the garlic that cellular enzymes are released and transform the compound Allin to Allicin that then gets transformed to The Sulfur Gang. Additionally, knowing that Allyl Methyl Sufide is broken down the slowest in the body means that it’s the “devilish” molecule behind that persisting garlic breath. On the other hand, it is worth noting that most of garlic’s health benefits come from this Sulfur Gang.

Now what happens next is the biggest issue, the Sulfur Gang gets absorbed to the blood stream and is eliminated in the lungs, sweat, urine … hence every excreted bodily fluid.

Interestingly, this was first described in 1936 when two doctors were testing the effect of garlic on esophageal cancer, and due to the disease they fed there patients garlic soup through the intestinal wall hence bypassing the mouth, where even then the patients “suffered” from garlic breath few hours after the soup.

Now, is there a way to eliminate that garlic breath?
Well the short answer is NO … all we can do is decrease it, but we can never eliminate it.

Here are few ways to do it:'Tim, honey, I don't know how to say this...But...It's...It's your breath...It reeks of mint.'

  • Brushing your teeth, gargle and floss hence physically remove The Sulfur Gang available in the mouth; although this method makes you feel fresh right away but the Gang is already in your stomach being absorbed and distributed to “the world”! so this method is not that effective
  • Eating lemon, which can partly neutralize The Sulfur Gang; partially is not a good enough
  • Eating any source of Chlorophyll, meaning any green herb, like for example: parsley, mint, cilantro… is the most efficient way to decrease acute and delayed garlic breath. The latter makes the oriental dish: baked/fried garlic chicken wings dipped in lemon and cilantro the best tasty combination ever

In fact, the way chlorophyll works in this case is very interesting, because studies have shown that its absorption to the body is not that significant. Chlorophyll actually chelates the sulfur Gang making it less available for absorption, and hence making it the most effective way in decreasing the acute and delayed garlic breath.

So if you got busted with garlic breath and realise you have a meeting coming,the key would be eating and chewing any source of chlorophyll right after eating garlic and hoping for a perfect chelation of The Sulfur Gang, or you know…. Cancel your meeting and enjoy your garlic!

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Time for a Smoke Break

It’s officially World No Tobacco day. Apparently the new trend is moving away from disgusting pictures into plain packaging to decrease the attractiveness of the product.

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Image via WHO

In recent news, cigarettes will cost $40 a pack in Australia by 2020 and CDC declared that smoking rates have gone down in 2015. Here’s a fun selection on smoking trends:

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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?

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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.]

Need to SEE it to Believe it

I think we all remember the first time we saw a wild animal. Whether it’s a tiger, elephant or a bear, moving from this to that was pretty impressive:

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In this case though, animation was devised to replace a phenomenon we could see. Instead of taking children to the zoo to introduce them to the ideas of bears, illustrations and animations replaced the real deal.

In other cases, illustrations are the only way we visualize concepts we know…until we can finally see.

No longer lost in translation: Biochemists watch gene expression in real time Via ScienceDaily

To understand the concept of translation in biology, instructors around the world are using simple animations like this one

or even more complex 3D renderings to facilitate the introduction. These videos were made possible because of indirect evidence gathered ever since Francis Crick first described it. In very abstract terms, knowing proteins are translated from RNA and trying to figure our the mechanism is like having a birds eye view of buildings, and trying to figure out what goes on inside from watching the people going in and out.

Going back to our news, the molecular events were finally caught on tape! Detailed images of transcription were also obtained by another group.

Challenges not only for the micro-world

These obstacles aren’t unique to biologists where technological advances are needed to zoom in closer than is currently possible. They can be inherent to many disciplines:

  • Too far: Detection of gravitational waves was recently celebrated not only because it gives proof of concept but also because of the instrument sensitivity we could achieve. Whether you’re studying stars, black holes or anything in space, having objects so far presents its own set of obstacles. Renderings and animations are a great tool to share the knowledge.
  • Too old: Archeologists have always faced this issue. The most accessible example would be dinosaurs. No one can be 100% sure of what they looked like, but the estimates based on fossils, bacteria and other determinants give us a pretty good clue.

In all cases, no one doubts the presence of stars, dinosaurs or translation just because we couldn’t see it happening with our own eyes. Modeling is a great resource, not only because it makes concepts easy to grasp but also because it evolves.

  • Our model of all eukaryotes assumes that they all would have mitochondria in their cells. A new report indicates that a eukaryotic bacteria was found to survive without them!
  • The world’s first wireless satellite was built and plans to test it are under way. We always assume we need some sort of cables, but look, people challenged the status quo and made it happen.

All are examples of how flexible life is, and how our views and models should always be 🙂

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Scientist of the WORLD

You don’t need a degree to be a scientist, at least not a citizen scientist.

For science enthusiasts around the world, here’s the fascinating world of how powerful you can be:

As SciStarter puts it:

citizen scientist is an individual who voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and resources toward scientific research in collaboration with professional scientists or alone. These individuals don’t necessarily have a formal science background.

According to a collection by scientific american, you can volunteer your time/energy to all sorts of projects, from logging your sightings of amphibians to evaluating air pollution for cyclists in urban areas.

Here are some projects people have contributed to:

We hope this inspires you. Let us know if you’ve been part of any projects in the comments!

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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.

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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.]

Zika Vaccine

This one is a vaccine you shouldn’t be taking.

I know you’re scared and want to protect your children and loved ones, but don’t buy into the hype.

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How would you feel if that vaccine were to cause autism or some other dreadful condition? Haven’t thought of that didn’t you?

Why not?! Some of you still put up a fight against other vaccines. Why stop now? Is it because this disease is fresh in your memory? Is it because you’ve seen the symptoms it may cause?

Well, too bad. That’s what people a while ago thought about polio, measles and smallpox. They also rushed to get some vaccine when it became available. But then a bunch of you forgot how much healthier it made our community. Let’s just throw it all away and to hell with vaccines.

Ladies and gents, there’s no vaccine yet for Zika. There are many for other almost-eradicated diseases. Stop trying to go backwards.

In any case, I won’t be as eloquent as Dear Parents, you are being lied to by Dr. Jennifer Raff. I highly recommend it from anyone suffering form the above condition.

This post is actually to update you on what we know so far, since our intro and its declaration as a global emergency by WHO.

‘Sweaty’ Billboard Kills Mosquitoes To Fight Zika Virus

A recent article via BBC mentions that the blueprints of this sweat secreting billboard are free to use and share. Advertising agencies in Brazil have developed a “Mosquito Killer Board” aimed at attracting and trapping the vectors in order to protect urban residents.

 

On another note, a new paper-based test for Zika is also out. This inexpensive apparatus promises results within a few hours, making efforts to combat this virus more timely.

What do you all think, let us know in the comments!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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