Sunday, February 28, 2010

What color is a Polar Bear?



What color is a Polar Bear? The answer to this question seems pretty black and white, when in reality the answer is that polar bears are transparent…yes, that’s right, polar bears are transparent. The long, thick hairs that protect the polar bear and keep it warm are hollow and transparent. The reason they appear white is because air spaces in between each hair scatter and reflect all the colors of the visible wavelengths of light, rather than absorbing it. Because of this, polar bears appear white.
Oddly enough, there have been some cases of polar bears being green! This has happened in a few zoos around the world. It is caused by algae growth in the pools that are in polar bear enclosures. However, the algae that turns the polar bears green isn’t on the surface of their hair, it’s inside it! Ewwww!!!!
Also, in Argentina a polar bear turned purple when it was given medication to treat a skin condition!!

It glows in the dark!

While swimming off the coast of Puerto Rico, the water glows with every stroke. Every stroke through the clear water left a wake of white-ish blue light. This was caused by tiny organisms, known as dinoflagellates. On a warm summer night, lightning bugs fly around sporadically glowing in the dark. A jellyfish swims through the ocean, glowing as it makes it way around. How do they do that, it’s so cool! The answer is that these organisms all contain proteins, which produce bioluminescence, which is a natural phenomenon, in which living organisms convert chemical energy into light energy.
In 1962 scientists identified two proteins which allow organisms to glow, one produced blue light while the other—green fluorescent protein, or GFP—turned that blue light a brilliant green. GFP has been used to tag genes and cancer cells, so that they can be tracked throughout the body. But what is really cool is that scientists have inserted the GFP into different animals, such as mice, rabbits, cats, pigs and dogs, so that they too can glow in the dark! [1]
Follow the link and heck out this video to see a glow in the dark mouse! It’s awesome!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Women Should Drink Beer

Yes you read the title right. Women really should drink beer. A study in the February issue of the Journal of Food and Agriculture tells about how the silicon in beer can promote bone health. In beer silicon is present in the form of orthosilicic acid (OSA). Scientist have long known that OSA is important for building bone and connective tissue. Of the OSA in beer 50% of it can be used by the human body and its also known that OSA is present in bananas but the human body can only use 5% of it. There was a wide range of silicon in the 100 beers sampled in the study but there was an over all average of 30mg/L of silicon in beer. Humans naturally take in 20-50mg a day from overall consumption. Drinking two beers could achieve that daily amount but taking more in can definitely do the body no harm.

So now we have that information on silicon in beer, but why should women drink beer? Well as women age its also well known that their bone health decreases after menopause, making it easier for bones to break and fracture. We know this as osteoporosis. Sure men are capable of acquiring osteoporosis, but it's seen more in women. There have been studies before this one on beer and silicon on women and healthy women and it focused on 1700 women tested for bone health. In that study they looked at bone health in the each woman's hands. What was found was that the women who enjoyed a cold one had thicker and better bone health in their hands.

Having these two studies should tell women that beer is good not only to drink but could possibly fight the onset of osteoporosis in their future. So those of age women out there go and enjoy a nice cold one for bone health!

*Resources to come*

Arsenic's Link to Cancer

Being the tox nerd that I am, I actually enjoy learning about how drugs are metabolized in the body, finding out what makes tetrodotoxin (puffer fish venom) so deadly, and speculating as to why I developed an eye twitch ever since I accidently spilled atrazine on my arm last Friday (true story). I'll get that checked out...after more blogging! I'd like to take this time to impart some toxicological knowledge upon the masses. It's well known that Arsenic is detrimental to one's health. It has been used as a pesticide because it inhibits several essential metabolic enzymes. However, this must not have always been the case as women in the Victorian Era would mix arsenic with chalk and vinegar to improve make their skin complexion lighter. Pain is beauty I suppose. But I digress, arsenic exposure has also been linked to cancer. The mechanism as to why arsenic causes tumor growth has been unknown up until a recent discovery published in the journal Cancer Research. They found that arsenic causes tumors in mice and bladder cancer patients by affecting the awesomely named "Sonic Hedgehog Signaling Pathway". Chronic exposure to low arsenic levels in water can over-activate the signaling pathway which can cause tumors to form in the bladder. Stay thirsty my friends.

Thinking About Applying to Med-School???

If so...
DITCH THE MCAT PREP BOOKS AND PICK UP THAT X-BOX 360 CONTROLLER BABY!!! That's right, the study most males ages 5-33 have been waiting for,
the February issue of Archives of Surgery reported that surgeons who played video games did better on a standardized surgery exam than their slightly more focussed counterparts who spent less time playing video-games. The study looked at how well 33 surgeons and surgical residents performed on a test called the "Rosser Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program". This program gives each surgeon a score based on how quickly and how well they are able to complete several simulated surgery techniques. The scores of the each of the 33 surgeons were calculated, and the score results were compared with the amount of time each reported playing video-games. As unbelievable as it may sound, surgeons who reported spending at least 3 hours of mind-numbing quality time with their game system of choice a week made 37% fewer errors and were 27% faster than those who didn't. So take heed misguided med-students, your time is nigh. Kick back, grab a cold one, and by all means, trash talk the 14 year old you just pwned. In fact, don your head set proudly and let everyone know that the game ending shot you just made with laser like precision came from the person that will someday perform their tracheotomy.

In all seriousness, the implications of this study may not be as wild as they seem. Check out this video of a remote control heart surgery to see how a video-game enthusiast may someday save your life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gene Doping, the new Steroids?

            With the winter Olympics in full swing I thought an article on performance enhancing therapies might be an interesting topic for discussion.  In 2004, the human genome was completely decoded.  Since then, individuals have discovered a new way to manipulate the genome in a method called gene doping.  This methodology offers the opportunity for athletes to enhance their performance in a way that cannot be detected by the current day performance enhancing drug tests used to detect steroids.  

            Gene doping is a treatment in which a change is made that purposely alters an individual’s DNA though various ways such as pills and injections. One gene doping method that has currently been seen to be successful is to inject rodents with IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, a chemical manipulation of naturally occurring IGF. When this chemical is injected into rodents it causes the muscles that are ruptured during exercise to heal quicker thus allowing the animal to exercise more.  Therefore, should this process be applied to human models it would allow them to lift more weights since their muscles are healing faster . It is also believed that IGF-1 can boost that initial strength and healing process in muscles as well as artificially block myostatin production. This would allow the muscle to keep growing in strength without putting in half the effort as would normally be needed.


            Beyond the realm of IGF-1 injections, the option of pills exists. That’s right imagine taking a pill the size of a vitamin. You could go to sleep looking like Jack Black, and wake up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This treatment option has already been utilized to make pills such as the synthetic protein called Aicar. This synthetic compound was shown to enhance rodents who did not regularly exercise endurance by 44% in four short weeks.  On the other hand another artificial compound GW1516, improved endurance capability by 75%.

            So now that we know the technology exists for illegal gene doping to occur the question of how can we treat or prevent it from occurring arises. Many obstacles exist with testing for these compounds, which ultimately makes the concept of gene doping more attractive to the individuals who want to cheat. Just think now instead of using fourteen year olds passed on as eighteen years olds, the gymnasts can just take miracle gene doping pills making them agile as ever.  That’s good news for China….........just kidding.

One issue that exists with testing is the ability to determine a difference in gene make-up without an athlete's genetic code already on file for comparison. The only feasible way right now to conquer such an issue would be to have a urine and blood bank for athletes.  Although this solution seems improbable and complicated it has actually been announced that it will be used for the London 2012 Olympics.

            Although most of the debate for gene doping comes from the notion that it is immoral and unethical, serious health risks exist for those who use such drugs. The biggest risk sited is that it is unclear to scientists how a gene mutation could be stopped once started. 

So is it worth the risk?  Some say athletes have the right to prepare for a match by using whatever technology they want. However, it seems rather ridiculous that gene doping would be supported as a technological option when such up roar has already occurred the genetically perfect basketball player Yao Ming. Whatever the case, I’m sure athletes such as Apollo Anton Ohno and Lebron James will continue to amaze the sports enthusiasts for years to come. The question however exists as to whether the athletic amazement will come through natural hard work or through artificial compounds.  I guess the answer will come when swimmers start appearing with webbed hands and feet, and runners can sprint at twice the normal human speed. So not only will opponents be mad to see Michael Phelps in the lane next to them, but imagine he has frog like hands. This sounds like the myth of super hero tales yet with gene doping, it’s possible.


Could 2012 Really Happen?

For years movie directors such as Steven Spielberg have been producing disaster flicks showing worldwide catastrophe in one way or another. However, one of the most frightening new releases named “2012” focuses on the probability of the end of the world on December 21, 2012 based on the prediction of the ancient Mayan calendar.  According to their predictions the world will end on this date, which falls on the winter solstice.  On the winter solstice, the earth will be in perfect alignment with the sun as well as the middle of the Milky Way galaxy, which holds a black hole. The alarming part of this theory comes with the fact that it is supported by geo-physicists that predict a pole shift will occur resulting in worldwide catastrophe.  The video below shows a small portion of a history channel documentary that utilizes history professionals as well as a variety of scientists to determine the feasibility and probability of such an event occurring.

Probability of 2010


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Science vs. Ignorance

How many times have you been watching TV and seen the latest ads for weight loss supplements?  Sure the people in the ad are tan, with perfect white smiles and washboard abs. As they beam out at you from the television screen the announcer, who is usually a claimed doctor, informs you that just by taking this pill you will lose weight, no exercise required. However, if you merely peer at the faint white text located at the bottom of the screen you can clearly see that the fit models are merely actors as well as the doctors. In actuality these individuals have probably never even touched the product they are promoting.    This new trend of ads supposedly supported by “scientists” is part of a new wave called denialism.   This term coined by Michael Specter, describes the tendency of individuals in present day society to deny facts and statistics presented by the scientific community. For example, he sites the denial of H1N1 vaccine use despite the fact that nearly 40% of the adults in America have the virus.  He believes that this denialism spawns from promises made by scientists that can’t be answered immediately.  In all, skepticism spawns denialism that is only fed by politics and an individual’s hesitancy to believe scientific claims. (1)

In an attempt to combat the growing strength of scientific denialism, it can be seen that within the past few years when looking back at some of the most controversial movies as well as some of the biggest blockbuster movies, the plots seem to deal with some form of science that is currently under fire. Take for example the movie “The day After Tomorrow.”  Although the movie has big stars to help its cause such as Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhall, the plot speaks to the public in a manner that makes global warming much more than statistics in a newspaper. Although it is after all nothing more than a fictional story, the scenes of a tsunami drowning the inhabitants of New York City or tornados demolishing the infamous Hollywood sign can sometimes speak louder than the temperature statistics in science journals.  As a scientist however, it is frustrating to me to hear individuals in Ashland deny the presence of global warming. Just this past week in convo I heard someone commenting on how global warming can’t exist if we are getting pounded with all of this snow. What they fail to realize is yes, you will still get snow in the winter with global warming however, if they would simply study the melting of the glacial ice, or the diminishing of polar bear populations due to ice melt they could make a more educated judgment. 


Beyond the flashy fictional Hollywood stories on science documentaries have been released in the past few years, which also aim to target denialism.  Take for example the recent releases of “Super Size Me” and  “An Inconvenient Truth”.  Both films take the approach of targeting the general public in order to gain attention and science recognition. However, in order to truly combat denialism on hot topics such as evolution, global warming, and overall health, I believe scientists need to use a variety of mediums to make the information both understandable but also interesting to the public.  Spewing facts and figures in an attempt to inspire action or knowledge won’t help unless it is presented in a way that shows how they personally will be affected.  For example, take some of the conservative individuals who deny global warming. If you show them a picture of a polar bear on a small piece of glacial ice that more than likely is going to perish due to lack of terrain and food, they will more than likely turn the other direction. However, if you were to show them their favorite tropical resort getting destroyed by a hurricane strengthened by the warmer waters induced by global warming I guarantee they’d be more prone to listen. 


Denialism: The Integrity of Science is at Stake

I started this blog post by tearing a page out of George Orwell's "1984" for a reason. In his book, he depicts a dystopia in which the "Ministry of Truth" revises historical records and data in order to render the society incapable of making informed decisions based upon the truth [1]. As scientists, isn't it our duty to simply portray the truth based on research and empirical evidence? And yet this data is often undermined by public opinion and misinformation portrayed by the media. In the podcast by Michael Specter we listened to, he says that he doesn't even mention evolution in his book because he believes there is enough evidence supporting it that few people should doubt this theory. However, many do. Another crippling example of the anti-science movement is the impact it has had on vaccination campaigns. Many people, even to this day, believe that vaccinating their children children against diseases can cause more harm than good.
How do we as scientists combat this plague of denialism? Like any fight, it pays to know your opponent, and not to underestimate them. Just because a because a person's logic isn't entirely sound doesn't mean that they're any less smart than a scientist. My suggestion would be to find out the root their anti-science beliefs come from, and then support the scientific data on the topic in layman's terms. After all, the purpose of science is to promote knowledge. If science is misunderstood or becomes corrupted by popular opinion, the result is no longer knowledge but partial truths and propaganda. I think the most important thing to remember when combating denialism is to start small. The biggest impact will come from a collaborative effort among scientists to spread the truth to the masses in terms that anyone is capable of comprehending.

[1]Orwell, George. 1984. London: Secker and Warburg, 1949

Monday, February 15, 2010

Denialism and the anti-science movement

In an effort to learn more about the anti-science/denialism movement I came across the term pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is something that claims to be scientific, but in reality lacks sufficient supporting evidence. I think that it is these pseudoscience type of studies that have led the public astray and given them false ideals, ultimately leading to the anti-science/denialism movement.

Watching a 5 minute commercial break during my favorite show, it’s common to see those and infomercial in which you’re told to buy a product from “so and so, a doctor”, but take a closer look, often the small print on the bottom of the screen reveals the truth, which is that everyone in the commercial is a paid actor and none of the claims are really true. This is the kind of information that the public is most commonly exposed to, and thus has led to the anti-science/denialism movement because the real science and facts haven’t been communicated or have been lost in translation.

A few topics that are often brought up in the antiscience movement are evolution and global warming. Evolution is a common topic due to the creationists that due to their religious views resist any suggestion or evidence that humans evolved over the course of many centuries. Global warming is another hot topic for the antisicence movement, and is constantly debated. Part of the reason for such heated debates over global warming is that people think that scientists are being alarmists, in order to call more attention and focus to the issue and their research. Articles predicting the cooling of the earth in the 1970s[1], as well as the misinformation given by the U.N. and other organizations on how quickly glaciers in various parts of the world are contributing to the denial of global warming. In the case of global warming, I think that the biggest cause for denial is that the public doesn’t want to change. They are comfortable living and doing all the things they are doing now, by recognizing the plausibility of global warming, they have to (well they should) in some way change their lifestyle for the betterment of society and the world.
Another contributing factor to the anti-science movement is that the public just doesn’t understand what scientists are doing and well. This is in part, is due to the inability of majority of the scientific community to communicate their ideas in a way that is understandable to the general public. The public doesn’t need to/ probably can’t understand every detail of scientific research that is going on, but we need to be able to communicate the general idea, so that the public is knowledgeable and can make informed decisions.

Scientists should try to bring out a little bit of their inner "Bill Nye The Science Guy" in an effort to better communicate science and expose the public to their research on a more regular basis.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A toxic chain reaction...

Besides devoting too much of my time to making beer, a large portion of my education at Ashland has been dedicated to the study of toxicology. I find it fascinating how chemicals interact at a molecular level and how they alter normal physiology at the biological level. I was fortunate enough to obtain an internship at the OARDC during the summer (check it out, great program) where I helped devise a new method to quickly detect several herbicides in rain water samples. This research sparked my interest in environmental toxicology. Recently I found a paper published in the letters section of Nature that explains how multiple agrochemicals can have an additive effect that causes them to disrupt the entire ecosystem. The paper, titled Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species, explains the detrimental effects of atrazine and phosphate on an amphibian population (Rohr et. al 2008).
The authors of this paper were confused as to why toads and frogs were developing strange limb malformations. They theorized that this was due to atrazine, but could not reproduce the results in lab. However, when they added elevated levels of phosphate which is commonly used on corn crops in combination with atrazine, they found that the amphibians would develop the malformations. The combination throws a one-two punch at the animals. The atrazine suppresses the immune system of the animals. The phosphate enriched environment leads to more algae and snails which increase the amount of larval trematoads. While the amphibians weakened immune system is thus more susceptible to the trematoad infections which produce the malformations (Rohr et. al. 2008).

Rohr, R. Jason et. al. Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species. 2008 Nature vol. 455 p. 1235-1239.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cancer Causing Drinks?

“Nobody puts baby in a corner.”  That line is quite possibly one of the most well-known and easily recognizable lines by the late Patrick Swayze.   As Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, awareness of the disease soon reached the public as he promoted both research and overall knowledge of the silent killer.  Recently, however, a break through has been made in an understanding of how the ailment is induced.  The study demonstrated that people who drink two or more sweetened soft drinks a week have a much higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.  For those not as familiar with this particular line of cancer, it is extremely virulent, often giving those diagnosed only a 5% chance of survival provided detection of the cancer is often only possible in its later more developed stages. (1)


In the study conducted in Singapore it was shown that people who drank mostly fruit juice rather than the sugar-laden sodas did not have the same increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, as did those who constantly consumed the sweetened beverages. The study was conducted using 60,000 people, however, it was still relatively inconclusive provided individuals who drink sweetened sodas usually have other poor health habits that could induce cancer. , Mark Pereira of the University of Minnesota was the ultimate coordinator of the study and he hypothesized that increase levels of sugar in the soft drinks could lead to an elevation of insulin in the body. The increased insulin amounts are believed to contribute to the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.  The correlation between insulin and pancreatic cancer development is further supported by the principle that insulin, which is necessary to aid the body in metabolizing sugar, the pancreas produces it.(1)


To further support the assertion that sugary soft drinks can lead to pancreatic cancer development, the study followed a total of 60,524 men and women in a Singapore Chinese health study. For a total of fourteen years, 140 of the volunteers developed pancreatic cancer.  It was further discovered that individuals who consumed two or more soft drinks a week had an 87 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.(1)


In an attempt to evade arguments from other scientists that the correlation between the soft drinks and pancreatic cancer was not applicable to other regions of the globe, Pereira asserted, "Singapore is a wealthy country with excellent healthcare. Favorite pastimes are eating and shopping, so the findings should apply to other western countries.”  Despite this assertion however, the study was not published without controversy.(1)


            Susan Mayne of Yale Cancer Center at Yale University suggested the study was based on a relatively small group of individuals and thus the association between the drinks and cancer should be supported cautiously. Furthermore, it has been shown that red meat can also attribute to increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer development. Consumption of red meat and smoking of cigarettes is another popular past time of Singapore, and both habits Mayne argues can further attribute to cancer development. (1)


            Despite the direct cause of pancreatic cancer development remaining unknown, it is still one of the deadliest forms of cancer. In the United States, around 37,000 people are diagnosed with this form of cancer, and of those diagnosed 34,000-fall victim to it. Of those who initially survive this disease only around 5% will survive it past the five-year mark.  In 2008 my Uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of fifty and died 5 months later due to the disease. Thus, research for this unknown killer is extremely important in order to aid those who contract the disease as well as assist those who have not yet developed this form of cancer in preventing its development.(1). Near the end of his fight with the cancer Swayze admitted, “"What winning is to me is not giving up, not matter what's thrown at me. And I can keep going."


Monday, February 8, 2010

Beer, the latest victim of Global Warming

Do you have a beer fridge? If you do,congratulation, you are contributing to the destruction of your favorite brew. A government commissioned study in Canada recently found that the use of extra household "beer" fridges, which typically use gas guzzling and coal-fired electricity are contributing to global warming, and increase in beer prices and a decrease in beer quality. [1]

Global warming is the average increase of temperature of earth’s atmosphere. It has been caused by the continuous burning of fossil fuels, as well as deforestation, leading to an increased concentration of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere, these gases prevent heat from escaping into space. NASA estimates that the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by 1.2-1.4 ºF in the last 100 years. If greenhouse gases continue to increase, as many climate models predict, the Earth’s surface will continue to increase, wreaking havoc on the climate. [2]

Global warming has always been an issue, with people arguing both for and against it. Regardless, there are many victims to the increased surface temperature of the Earth over the last two decades. Glaciers around the world are disappearing/melting, an increased number of hurricanes, decreased bamboo growth, as well as droughts and floods throughout the world. While all those effects really stink, most people really don’t care...but a new victim has emerged, that I think will start to get people’s attention…the effect of global warming on the world’s beer production and quality.

Climatologists at the Czech Hydrometeorlogical Institute in the Czech Republic say the quality of Saaz hops, which are the main ingredient of the best pilsner beers, has seen a drastic decrease in production and quality. The best of these Saaz hops contain 5% alpha acid, which is responsible for producing the bitter taste of pilsners, the concentration of alpha acid has decreased by 0.06% a year since 1954…this is only the beginning though, climate models predict that there will be bigger decreases in alpha acid concentration and hop yields, as air temperature continues to rise. [3,4]

These results however are not an isolated problem, many other regions in Europe (Germany, Slovenia) as well as Australia and New Zealand have all published similar stories.

Unfortunately, not only is the taste of our most beloved brews at risk, but so are our wallets. An increase in global warming has led to increased prices for various ingredients and higher quality ingredients, which ultimately is leading to an increase in price for consumers.

So, let's be a little more environmentally friendly and the next time that you reach for a cold one, make sure that you savor the sizzle of the hops on your tongue…because if we don't start caring more about the environment, that flavor might won't be around for much longer.

[4]Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, DOI: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2009.02.006

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crack is Whack, but could Red Bull really give you wings?

Giant pandas, just like humans need water to survive. Bamboo, which consists of 50-90% water, provides the majority of the water needed in their diet…but why not throw some Red Bull Cola into the mix?

Red Bull claims that it gives you wings, but it’s new cola contains a new promise…a kick of some cocaine! Introduced in March 2008, Red Bull Cola is a unique blend of all natural ingredients, and according to Red Bull, “ It is the only cola which contains both the original Kola nut and the Coca leaf. Therefore, it is a very special recipe. The result is a natural, not-too-sweet cola taste, which comes from using the right plant extracts.” These plant extracts range from mustard seed, orange and corn mint to coca leaf. [1]

Research institutions have tested and found traces of cocaine in cans of Red Bull Cola, each of which contains nearly 0.013 micrograms of cocaine. But don’t get too excited…you’d have to drink about 12,000 L of Red Bull Cola before you feel any of the negative and euphoric effects of the cocaine alkaloid. [3] (Haha, and I use to think that 2 liters of cola was a lot!)

Coca leaves are not new to society, around the world de-cocainized extract from the coca leaf is used as a natural flavoring. When used outside the Andean region, the cocaine alkaloid (0.8% of the plant’s chemical makeup) is required to be removed by international antinarcotics agencies and coca was officially put on the United Nations list of narcotics in 1961.

The use of coca leaves began thousands of years ago, high in the Andes mountains, by elite members of Incan society. Today the chewing of coca leaves is as common and important to many Andean cultures as coffee is in the United States. It is often used in religious ceremonies and was revered by the Incas as having divine origin.

While crack is whack, coca leaves have a variety of medicinal uses, including causing numbness of the mouth, it can suppress hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue, is an anesthetic that can prevent headaches, arthritis, and is very effective against altitude sickness. As well as being used for treating bleeding, malaria, ulcers and asthma. [2] The use of coca leaves in consumer products is also not new, they are used in chocolate and when Coca-Cola was originally introduced in 1885, an original ingredient was cocaine. Now however, Coca-Cola claims to use ingredients that have removed the cocaine alkaloid.

The use of the coca leaf in colas and various products isn’t a new concept. Last summer, I was backpacking through Peru and everywhere we went there were bags of coca leaves for sale and natives with wads of coca leaves stuffed in their cheeks, much like baseball players with chew…and in case you were wondering, it takes about 13 chemical reactions to extract, purify and create cocaine from coca leaves… (In Peru there were tshirts everywhere saying “Hoja de coca, no es una droga” TRANSLATION: The coca leaf is not a drug!)

The moral of my story is that crack is still whack, so instead pick up a Red Bull Cola and just maybe, it’ll give you wings!


[2] ^Weil AT., "The therapeutic value of coca in contemporary medicine," J Ethnopharmacol. 1981 Mar-May;3(2-3):367-76.


Stale Beer: 9000 Year Old Beer Recipe Revived

Although Panda Bear’s diet consists of 99% bamboo [1], I would like to assume (albeit incorrectly) that the other 1% of it’s nutritional intake is from the consumption of beer. As such, it only seems fitting that my first post to the Thirsty Panda Blog pertains to one of the most wonderful, thirst-quenching beverages known to mankind! About a year ago, I had a startling epiphany. Good tasting beer costs money, and as a college student, money is about as hard to come by as alcoholic beverages on the AU campus. For me, this posed a serious dilemma. I could either take up bank robbery, or stop drinking Great Lakes Winter Lager. Unable to find 11 people willing to knock over the Bellagio, Mirage, and the MGM Grand, I started doing research on how to brew my own beer at home. A year later and I’m proud to say that I operate a fully functional brewery out of my laundry room.

As a homebrewer, I have a deep respect for the science behind some of the most innovative beer in the world. That’s why I was intrigued when I read that the Dogfish Head Brewery is currently working on a beer that is based on traces of an ancient brew that was found on the inside of clay pots unearthed in China that date back nearly 9000 years [2]. Although the alcohol is long gone, it was inferred that the fruit juices and honey on the pottery would easily ferment in a temperate climate, based on a chemical analysis of the ingredients conducted by Patrick McGovern, andarchechemist at the University of Pennsylvania. His findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [3].
Based on these findings, the boys at Dogfish Head are working on a brew called Chateau Jiahu (the village the pottery was found in), using rice flakes and malted barley used in the mashing process to extract the fermentable sugars. Wild honey, grapes, hawthorn fruit and, chrysanthemum are then added to the boiling wort for flavor and further sugar extraction. Finally, sake yeast is added and the beverage is allowed to ferment. Look forward to a limited amount of bottles to be sold this summer.

[1]Ciochon, Russell L.; Eaves-Johnson, K. Lindsay (July 20, 2007). "The Curious Natural History of the Giant Panda Family". Scitizen. 2008-07-22.


[3] McGovern et. Al. “Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China” 2004 101:17593-17598.

Proper Introduction

For the four thirsty pandas it seems that a more proper introduction to our blog is needed. All four of us have a background in toxicology/biology. However, our blog will not be based solely on toxicology postings; yes we find toxicology interesting since we've majored in it, but we rather look at other things that interest us and are somewhat scientific in nature. Looking at our first two post you can see that there isn't any connection besides them being somewhat entertaining and obscure. Sure some postings will be more scientific than others and fall under many areas of science, but we hope to entertain you while you learn, too!

Zombies do Exist!

From  the early days of childhood nightmares, to the now present day block buster horror films, zombies have been a popular subject of terror. A zombie is defined as a creature that appears typically as a reanimated dead or a mindless human being. Although now commonplace in most horror books and movies, stories of zombies originated in the Afro-Caribbean spiritual belief of voodoo.  However, the undead reached popular modern day objects of terror largely in part due to  the overwhelming success of Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead  release in 1968.  A trailer of the infamous movie can be seen at the link below. (1)


Although zombies, still dominantly reside in horror stories, a group of scientists in Canada have actually conducted a study showing what would happens if zombies were to attack modern day civilization. This may seem like a ridiculous study however it is a valid experiment that ultimately demonstrated if zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilization unless they were dealt  in both an aggressive and rapid manner. (2) 

The study conducted was based primarily on a mathematical exercise carried out by the Canadian researchers.  The study even led to the publication of a  scientific paper in the book Infections Diseases Modeling Research Progress. The basis of the study started with the researchers’ fascination with the zombies of common films, video games, and stories in which they can turn healthy individuals into zombies by biting them. Although this study may seem rather ridiculous, there is some science behind it.(2) 

Much like the movie “ I am Legend”, a zombie type plague is in ways similar to a lethal and rapidly spreading infection.  Thus the researchers claim that although in this study the use of the mathematical model was for humor zombie hypothesis , the model could be used for aiding scientists model the spread of unfamiliar diseases through human populations.(2) 

The entire study was conducted at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University and was based on the question “If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win?”  In order to make the seemingly idiotic question applicable to science, Professor Robert Smith indicated that the zombie attack theory analyzed with the model was based on “ biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies.” Thus the zombie model was born.(2) 

In the model the researchers made the zombies slow moving rather than the more agile zombies of recent horror films. Scientists indicated slow-moving zombies were used in order to give the living individual in the model a fighting chance.  The analysis revealed that  if a strategy like that of “I am Legend” was taken in which  zombies were captured or cured would still lead to a zombie win. The only way that the researchers sited in their scientific paper for the living to win the war would be to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often". They also went on to add that  "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."(2)

To further give the study credit, Professor Neil Ferguson, a chief advisor for the UK government,  noted that the study did have parallels with some infectious diseases such as the recently spread swine flu provided its difficulty in eradication. Professor Smith went on to add that "When you try to model an unfamiliar disease, you try to find out what's happening, try to approximate it. You then refine it, go back and try again."(2) 

When relating the zombie model to how the data could be related to actual usable science the researches noted that the main difference lied in the fact that in the spread of real infections, individuals don’t come back to life like zombies do.(2)

Therefore as can be seen, although the study seemed rather silly and pointless, it can be useful in understanding how infections can quickly spread through populations when eradication becomes a difficult task. In regards to the zombies, the researchers left us with one bit of advice. According to zombie biology if you manage to decapitate them, then they are dead forever. So moral of the story,  a zombie will kill you unless you cut their head off first.(2) 




*all images from here*