Thursday, December 24, 2015


Today's final post in the series will be on the science behind Santa's sleigh. Scientists at the North Carolina State University have analyzed and researched how Santa is using the latest scientific resources and technologies on his sleigh (that aren't scientifically available to us yet) to deliver everyone's Christmas presents.

To deliver all the presents on time Santa's sleigh has to be a million times more advanced than any modern form of air transportation. The truss of the sleigh, including the runners, are made of a honeycombed titanium alloy that is very lightweight and 10 to 20 times stronger than anything that exists or that's being worked on in labs today. But it doesn't just stop there.... 

The truss can also morph, changing its shape slightly to improve its aerodynamics – allowing it to cut through the air more efficiently. The runners on the sleigh, for example, are a little bit flexible; this allows the runners to be tucked in to be more aerodynamic during flight, and then spread out to provide stability for landing on different surfaces – including various roofs around the world - no matter how step they are.

The sleigh also has the most advanced electronics which includes  laser sensors that can detect upcoming thermals and wind conditions to find the optimal path. This makes the flight smoother and more energy efficient and, as all aerospace engineers know, efficiency is essential.

Since the ride has to be smooth and effcient, the sleigh has been developed with a a nanostructured “skin” for the sleigh that is porous and contains its own low-pressure system, which holds the air flowing around the airborne sled onto the body, reducing drag by as much as 90 percent.
This post was written by the scientists at NC State University (original post below) who have been trying to get their head around these impossible aerodynamic features of Santa's sleigh.

- Merry Christmas!!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


It's the day before Christmas eve, so Christmas preparations are well under way. Who will be making homemade eggnog this holiday season? And will you be "spiking" it? If you will, beware of the risk of salmonella in raw eggs. 

With a statistic of 1/20000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella bacteria drinking homemade eggnog can be a bit of a hefty risk. Scientists at Rockefeller University conducted an experiment on eggnog and spiked eggnog (with alcohol added to it = 20 percent rum and bourbon) to compare the bacteria found in homemade alcoholic eggnog with those found in store-bought nonalcoholic eggnog. After culturing samples of both solutions and incubating them for 24 hours at 37 degrees Celsius (body temperature), The researchers found that while the store-bought product was brimming with a variety of bacteria, the homemade version was completely sterile.

“The bacteria we observed in the grocery-store product are likely harmless normal bacteria that are found in all dairy products,” says Fischetti, who is head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology. “In fact, they were probably in the cream and other products we used when we made our eggnog but were killed by the alcohol.”
When the scientists repeated the same experiment, but with a large dose of Salmonella bacteria, the results were indecisive. “In our 24-hour time frame, the alcohol in the eggnog did not kill all the bacteria, but we used 1,000 times more Salmonella than what you might encounter in a contaminated egg,” Fischetti says. 
To have definite results,the scientists would have needed to repeat the same experiment but with more realistic conditions.  


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Today's post is based around candy canes - but not candy canes exactly, more like Christmas sweets including licorice. Scientists have found that a novel molecule extracted from licorice root has the ability to stop some cancers immediately, according to a collaborative research study conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 

Mohamed Rafi, assistant professor in the department of food science at Rutgers' Cook College, discovered the new molecule, ß-hydroxy-DHP (BHP), in common dietary supplements made from licorice root, a natural remedy with curative powers which have gone down in history. Rafi tested the compound in the laboratory on tissues taken from prostate and breast cancer tumors.

The small and very specific molecule BHP belongs to a class of organic chemicals known as polyphenols that include potential anticancer compounds found in green tea and wine; its main target is cancer cells. It works by deactivating a protein associated with tumor cells known to encourage cell growth and multiplication- a characteristic of cancer. 

The paper which reported this discovery was first published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by Rafi and his colleagues. This research was published officially in 2003.  

The natural medicinal qualities of licorice were known and used throughout the years and have gone down in history, from the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and Hindus recognized the natural medicinal qualities of licorice. Tutankhamen was even buried with licorice root. Chinese medicine, today, even uses licorice to manage some cancers. However, the cancer-preventing qualities of licorice root have remained a mystery until Rafi's discovery in 2003.


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Monday, December 21, 2015


Today's post will be on walnuts. Walnuts also constitute a part of the Christmas platter and they're also good for you. Most of the health benefits of walnuts are known already but scientists have found one more to add to the list: lowering of diabetes and heart disease risk in "at-risk" patients. 

The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the Official Publication of the American College of Nutrition, and a publication from Routledge.

For the study, a sample of 46 adults aged 30-75 were selected. Participants had a Body Mass Index larger than 25, and a waist circumference exceeding 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. They were also required to be non-smokers, and all exhibited one or more additional risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The group was randomly assigned to two 8-week sequences of either a walnut-enriched ad libitum diet or an ad libitum diet without walnuts. Those chosen for the walnut diet were instructed to consume 56g of shelled, unroasted English walnuts per day as a snack or with a meal. 

The study results found that a daily intake of 56g of walnuts improves endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral adiposity. The addition of walnuts to the diet did not lead to weight gain. Although there still needs to be more research on this topic in the future.

Walnuts don't have as many calories as you thought... 

Walnuts, even thought they're good for you carry a lot of calories and could be fattening, but it turns out, thanks to a new study, that walnuts actually have 21% less calories than previously thought! 

The researchers  with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that a typical 28-gram serving actually contains 146 calories, 21 percent fewer than the 185 calories currently assigned by the USDA.  The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, was partially funded by the California Walnut Commission.


  1. Taylor & Francis. "Walnuts in diet can improve endothelial functions for overweight adults." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013. <>

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Sunday, December 20, 2015


Every year baubles get more innovative from your typical gold and sliver baubles to solar system themed baubles and finally gold and silver nano-baubles.

The nano-baubles produced by researchers, in Mexico and the US, are about 100 million times smaller than the typical baubles which are used to decorate Christmas trees.

The research was published December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Nanoparticles, where the scientists reported the formation of various sliver, gold and bimetallic nanoparticles which are only 25 nanometres in diameter. 

They utilized vitamin C (a.k.a ascorbic acid) and a soap like antiseptic which is usually used in high-end cosmetics. The reaction of silver nitrate and the gold compound chloroauric acid under these conditions led to successive reduction of the metals and the formation of different silver, gold and bimetallic nanoparticles. The precise structures of the nanoparticles were revealed using a high-resolution elemental mapping technique. The analysis shows the nanoparticles to have multiple layers, shells of gold within silver within gold, in the case of the bimetallic particles and some blending, or alloying, of the metals occurred.

Nanoparticles shape a larger part of researchers interests because nanoparticles can be used for a variety of things:

  1. Act as catalysts to speed up the rates of chemical reactions
  2. Act as novel drug-deliver agents in the body
  3. Act as quantum dots for analytical applications
  4. May be used in the fabrication of the components of future electronics devices beyond the silicon chip
Bimetallic nanoparticles are also really intriguing because of their structure, composition and very very very small size. This means they are able to have even more intriguing chemical, electronic and optical properties than single-metal nanoparticles. 

Gold and silver nanoparticles are particularly useful as their optical effects occur at visible wavelengths of light. The researchers added that if it were possible to fine-tune the combination of gold and silver in the same nanoparticles then it might also be possible to tune the optical properties of such particles.



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Saturday, December 19, 2015


Citrus fruits (including oranges, clementines, satsumas, lemons and limes) are best in season around Christmas time. But citrus fruits are not only delicious but they've also been proven to lower women's stroke risk, especially oranges and grapefruit, may lower ischemic stroke risk. 

The research published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association looked at how consuming flavones subclasses affects the risk of stroke. Flavonoids are a class of compounds present in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate and red wine. Women who ate high amounts of the flavonoids had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least amount.

Within their experiment, the flavanones came mainly from oranges and orange juice (82 percent) and grapefruit and grapefruit juice (14 percent). However, researchers recommended that consumers increase their citrus fruit intake, rather than juice, due to the high sugar content of commercial fruit juices.

The National Institutes of Health (USA) funded the research. However the scientists still need to research flavone consumption and its association with stroke risk, to further gain a better understanding about why the association occurs, the authors said.


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Friday, December 18, 2015


Working through the Christmas platter, today's post will be on cranberries. Scientists have been researching the antibiotic properties of cranberries. Particularly, they are shedding light on the biological mechanisms by which cranberries may have protective properties against urinary tract and other infections.

In 2011, a study was published in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology, where they tested proanthocyanidins (a.k.a PACs), a group of flavonoids which are found in cranberries. These molecules are thought to give cranberry juice its infection-fighting properties and prevent precursors of bacterial infections. But the scientific report actually showed that cranberry juice, itself, is far better at preventing biofilm formation, which is the precursor of infection, than PACs alone.
Camesano's lab explores the mechanisms that the virulent form of E. coli bacteria, the primary cause of most urinary tract infections (UTIs) in people, uses to form biofilms. This strain of E. coli is covered with small hair-like projections known as fimbriae that act like hooks and latch onto cells that line the urinary tract. When enough of the virulent bacteria adhere to cells, they form a biofilm and cause an infection. Previous work by Camesano's lab has shown that exposure to cranberry juice causes the fimbriae on E. coli to curl up, reducing their ability to attach to urinary tract cells. 
They incubated two different strains of E.coli in  two different mixtures of cranberry juice cocktails (commercially bought cranberry juice). The researchers also incubated E.coli separately in the presence of PACs, but not juice. Even though the juice cultures completely prevented biofilm formation, the PACs showed only limited ability to reduce biofilm formation, and only after extended exposure to the E. coli.

Further research...
Results published online, in 2013, in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology by Prof. Tufenkji and her team have reported that cranberry powder can inhibit the ability of Proteus mirabilis (a bacterium which is regularly found in complicated UTIs) to swarm on agar plates and swim within the agar. When they increased the concentrations of cranberry powder, they were able to reduce the bacteria's production of urease, an enzyme that contributes to the virulence of infections.

These results come after previous results gained by McGill lab, showing that cranberry derivatives are able to hinder movement of other bacteria involved in UTIs. Via a genome-wide analysis of an uropathogenic E. coli, the researchers revealed that expression of the gene that encodes for the bacteria's flagellar filament was decreased in the presence of cranberry PACs.
These findings are very important because the way a bacterium moves is the essential mechanism for the spread of infection; since infectious bacteria literally swim to spread in the urinary tract and to escape the host immune response.

Continuing their work, Tufenkji and her team, in collaboration with McGill professor Showan Nazhat, a biomaterials expert at the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering, found that cranberry-enriched silicone substrates disabled the spread of Proteus mirabilis. Published in the journal Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, point to potential use for cranberry derivatives to hinder the spread of germs in implantable medical devices such as catheters, which are frequently implicated in UTIs.



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Thursday, December 17, 2015


With Christmas being next week everyone will be buying their groceries for Christmas dinner, and Brussels sprouts are bound to be on some of your shopping lists - but they may not be your kids favourite veggies and here's why...

Scientists have published new research in the open access journal BMC Neuroscience. They've compared how domestic cats and humans perceive bitterness in food at a molecular level, and could explain why cats and children are sometimes such picky eaters.
It's thought that the ability to detect bitter chemicals is thought to have evolved because of its utility in avoiding toxic compounds often found in plants.  Cats are carnivores by nature so they don't consume a lot of plant-derived products; domestic cats, though, still come across bitter flavours in foods and medicines. 

The researchers at AFB International and Integral Molecular studied the behavior of two different cat bitter taste receptors in cell-based experiments, investigating their responsiveness to bitter compounds, and comparing these to the human versions of these receptors.

A receptor labeled as TAS2R38 is a bitter taste receptor in humans of which some people have 'supertaster' variants that give them an extreme sensitivity to bitter compounds, which could explain why children and some adults hate brussels sprouts and other vegetables. Comparing the cat version of the taste receptor with the human TAS2R38 receptor, they found that the cat taste receptor less sensitive to key bitter compounds. 

So, sometimes it's not that kids are fussy or that some people are fussy eaters, it just that some people taste receptors are much more sensitive to certain flavours, including brussels sprouts.

  1. Michelle M Sandau, Jason R Goodman, Anu Thomas, Joseph B Rucker, Nancy E Rawson. A functional comparison of the domestic cat bitter receptors Tas2r38 and Tas2r43 with their human orthologsBMC Neuroscience, 2015; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12868-015-0170-6

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Yesterday's post looked at Myrrh as a form of herbal remedy for high cholesterol levels in the body. Today's post moves onto frankincense which has also been found to have useful properties. Cardiff university (Wales, UK) scientists have been researching the potential benefits of frankincense to help relieve and alleviate the symptoms of arthritis (this research was published in 2011).

Scientists at Cardiff university have devised a treatment using a rare form of frankincense, Boswellia frereana, which inhibits the production of key inflammatory molecules which helps prevent the breakdown of the cartilage tissue which causes the condition.
The scientists commented on their results saying: "Having done this we are now able to further characterize the chemical entity and compare its success against other anti-inflammatory drugs used for treating the condition."
The hunt for new drugs to cure the symptoms of conditions like inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis is a priority area for researchers around the world. the Researchers at Cardiff university have been able to use innovative chemical extraction techniques to determine the active ingredient in frankincense. 

Cardiff University. "A wise man's treatment for arthritis: Frankincense?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2011. <>.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015


The fragrant myrrh of the Christmas story is the topic of today's Christmas post. Research published in 2009 has shown that myrrh may have cholesterol-lowering properties. The journal published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health discusses the hypocholesterolemic effects of myrrh and other plant products.

Myrrh already has been known to have many health benefits including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.  And this new research has shown that there are potential cholesterol-lowering effects. 
Previously myrrh has been used in a wide range of traditional remedies over the centuries as a mouthwash, for treating sore throats, bronchial congestion, as well as an antiseptic astringent, for soothing cuts and burns, and it was historically known to calm emotions. 
Working with lab rodents, Nadia Al-Amoudi tested various blends of plant materials, including Myrrh, on laboratory rodents with high cholesterol. She fed the animals various combinations of the plants as part of their normal daily diet and measured blood concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein), together with TG (triglycerides). She also recorded HDL (high-density lipoprotein). The results showed that the concentrations of LDL (a.k.a "bad cholesterol"), VLDL, and TG all decreased on this diet, while the HDL levels, (a.k.a "good cholesterol") fell.
Commenting on why she chose to study the effects of herbal remedies on cholesterol levels, Al-Amoudi said: "of all nutrients, fat is implicated most often as a contributing factor to disease," explains Al-Amoudi. "Excess fat in the diet contributes to obesity, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and atherosclerosis. So the change that most people should make in their diets is to limit their intake of total fat and so cholesterol, especially as hypercholesterolemia leads to deposits on the inside of arteries," she says. "However, certain herbal remedies are thought to help reduce cholesterol levels." 

Amoudi et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of some plants and their blend as studied on albino ratsInternational Journal of Food Safety Nutrition and Public Health, 2009; 2 (2): 176 DOI:10.1504/IJFSNPH.2009.029283

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Monday, December 14, 2015


Chocolate is an all year round necessity (I know for me it is) and also in Christmas, with chocolate advent calendars, chocolate coins etc... so that's the topic for today's post.  A study has shown that chocolate can increase brain characteristics of attention and significantly affect blood pressure levels. Over the years, chocolate has been known as a vasodilator, meaning that it widens blood vessels and lowers blood pressure, in the long run, but chocolate also contains some powerful stimulants. Researchers wanted to investigate if people who consume chocolate would see an immediate stimulant effect -preventing the sleepy feeling you get in the afternoon (whether at school or work).

Stevens and his team tested their theory on with 122 participants between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. The researchers examined the EEG levels and blood pressure effects of consuming a 60 percent cacao confection compared with five control conditions.

The research, published in the journal NeuroRegulation and sponsored by the Hershey Company, is the first to examine the acute effects of chocolate on attentional characteristics of the brain and the first-ever study of chocolate consumption performed using electroencephalography, or EEG technology. EEG studies take images of the brain while it is performing a cognitive task and measure the brain activity.
The results for the participants who consumed the 60 percent cacao chocolate showed that the brain was more alert and attentive after consumption. Their blood pressure also increased for a short time. "A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can't pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention," Stevens said. 
Steves also stressed that this will not work with milk chocolate, there has to be a high cacao content in the chocolate for the stimulating effect to kick in. 
The participants who consumed the high-cacao content chocolate with L-theanine, researchers recorded an immediate drop in blood pressure. "It's remarkable. The potential here is for a heart healthy chocolate confection that contains a high level of cacao with L-theanine that is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you pay attention," Stevens said.
The researchers hope, that in the future, the results of this study will encourage manufacturers to investigate further and consider the health benefits of developing a chocolate bar made with high-cacao content and L-theanine. 
Making a chocolate bar that is healthy and also, blood pressure lowering is also beneficial for millions of hypertension patients around the world. They would be able to regulate they're blood pressure with chocolate and stay alert at the same time and probably won't need vasodilating drugs.
  1. Michelle Montopoli, Larry C Stevens, Constance Smith, George Montopoli, Stephanie Passino, Somer Brown, Lena Camou, Katie Carson, Shannon Maaske, Kathleen Knights, William Gibson, Joyce Wu. The Acute Electrocortical and Blood Pressure Effects of ChocolateNeuro Regulation, 2015 [link]

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Countdown: Diamonds

‘Tis the season to be jolly and also the season of many engagements (which means lots of diamond rings). Diamonds are the topic for today’s post in which scientists have found that diamonds may not be as rare as they’re thought to be (don’t get too excited, though, that doesn’t mean cheaper diamonds – yet!).

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have published a new report in the journal Nature Communications which “[constitutes] a new quantitative theory of diamond formation”. The number of diamonds that are mined near the Earth’s surface depends on relatively rare volcanic magma eruptions that raise them from the depths where they form. The diamonds being studied here are ones that you can’t see with the naked eye; they’re only a few microns (1 micron= 1 x10-6 metres) across.

Sverjensky and Huang found that diamonds can be formed in the movement of fluid by the oxidation of methane or the chemical reduction of carbon dioxide. Oxidation results in a higher oxidation state, or a gain of electrons. Reduction means a lower oxidation state, and together they’re known as 'redox' reactions.  The diamonds will form with an increase in acidity during interaction between water and rock; encountering environments with different oxidation states.

The new research showed that water could produce diamonds as its pH falls naturally, when it becomes more acidic (under pH7), while moving from one type of rock to another.  Studies like this are helping scientists study how carbon works and how it’s able to change into diamond form and the carbon cycle on which all life on the planet depends on.

"Fluids are the key link between the shallow and the deep Earth," Sverjensky said. "That's why it's important."

1.       Dimitri A. Sverjensky, Fang Huang. Diamond formation due to a pH drop during fluid–rock interactionsNature Communications, 2015; 6: 8702 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9702

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Countdown: Christmas Tree Needles

I've just recently started a new job which took up most of my thinking space, I didn't really think about any Christmassy posts on my blogs.  So come December, Compound Interest started his Christmas 2015 advent calendar which is amazing and a really great way to integrate Christmas into chemistry (go check it out now!) and it also encouraged me to start my own mini-Christmas series.

So, I'm starting a countdown till Christmas. For the 12 days till Christmas, I will be choosing something related to Christmas and providing a little interesting scientific story on each Christmas-related thing.

The first post in the countdown is on how scientists have found  a way to keep Christmas tree needles from falling off. Researchers at Université Laval, in collaboration with Nova Scotia Agricultural College, have discovered what causes Christmas tree needles to drop off, and how to double the lifespan of Christmas trees in homes. The authors reported their findings in a previous issue of the scientific journal Trees. The scientists have discovered that the plant hormone, ethylene, is responsible for needle loss. After ten days the branches began to produce ethylene and, three days later, the needles began to drop. 

The chemical compound and plant hormone: Ethylene 

After 40 days, the branches were completely bare. To test that the needle loss was in fact due to the ethylene, the researchers used two chemical compounds that interfere with this hormone: 1-MCP and AVG. After the exposure to each of the chemical compounds, seperatelty, the needle retention period rose to 73 and 87 days, respectively. Tree buyers will benefit from this because the researchers found that the compound AVG (aminoethoxyvinylglycine) is dissolvable in water, which can then be added to the tree stand, prolonging the tree's lifespan indoors. Although this research has only been proven only on branches, they still have to prove that this works for the whole tree. 

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes Just by Losing Weight

Its not easy living with type 2 diabetes and regulating your own blood sugar levels, through diet and exercise. Around 9% of the worlds population live with type 2 diabetes, with 80% coming from poor background and developing countries and it is now being found in young adults and children, after it was renowned for being as an "adult-onset" disease.

Type 2 diabetes causes too much glucose in the blood due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin -- a hormone which breaks down glucose into energy in the cells -- together with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body responds poorly to insulin.

The scientific team at Newcastle university found that by reducing the fat accumulating in the pancreas, even only one gram of fat, via weight loss can reverse diabetes. 

Via bariatric surgery 

In the clinical trials, 18 people with Type 2 diabetes and 9 people who did not have diabetes were measured for weight, fat levels in the pancreas and insulin response before and after bariatric surgery. The patients with Type 2 diabetes had been diagnosed for an average of 6.9 years, and all for less than 15 years.
The patients with Type 2 diabetes were found to have increased levels of fat in the pancreas.
The participants in the study had all been selected to have gastric bypass surgery for obesity and were measured before the operation then again eight weeks later. After the operation, those with Type 2 diabetes were immediately taken off their medication.
Both groups lost the same amount of weight, around 13% of their initial body weight. Critically, the pool of fat in the pancreas did not change in the non-diabetics but decreased to a normal level in those with Type 2 diabetes.
These results show that removing the excess fat from around the pancreas will let insulin production return to normal, and reverse diabetes- the patients were now diabetes free.
Via draining excess fat out of the pancreas
Currently the only way to reduce fat in the pancreas is via calorie restriction by any means -- whether by diet or an operation.  In patients who had started with Type 2 diabetes, fat levels in the pancreas (pancreatic triglyceride) decreased by 1.2% over the 8 weeks. Very exact methods were needed to be able to measure this and a new method using a special MRI scan was developed. With an average pancreas for a person with Type 2 diabetes having a volume of 50 ml, this is the equivalent of around 0.6 grams of fat.
However, the patients who had never had diabetes saw no change in the level of fat in their pancreas demonstrating that the increase in fat in the pancreas is specific to people who develop Type 2 diabetes. Especially, individuals vary in how much fat they can tolerate in the pancreas before Type 2 diabetes occurs.
Transforming the ideology of Type 2 diabetes
Older studies by Professor Taylor and his team highlighted the importance of weight loss through diet in reversing Type 2 diabetes. Their research in 2011 transformed the thinking in diabetes as it was the first time that it had been demonstrated that diet could remove fat clogging up the pancreas allowing normal insulin secretion to be restored.
  1. Sarah Steven, Kieren G. Hollingsworth, Peter K. Small, Sean A. Woodcock, Andrea Pucci, Benjamin Aribisala, Ahmad Al-Mrabeh, Ann K. Daly, Rachel L. Batterham, and Roy Taylor. Weight Loss Decreases Excess Pancreatic Triacylglycerol Specifically in Type 2 DiabetesDiabetes Care, December 2015 DOI: 10.2337/dc15-0750

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Friday, December 04, 2015

One Paragraph on Personal Blood Sugar Responses | One Paragraph Science

A new study conducted by the Weitzmann Institute of Science has shown that personal reactions to food in individuals blood sugar levels are highly individual. The researchers monitored 800 people for a week (that's over 46,000 meals!). "We chose to focus on blood sugar because elevated levels are a major risk factor for diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. The huge differences that we found in the rise of blood sugar levels among different people who consumed identical meals highlights why personalised eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice." Prof Eran Segal and Prof. Eran Elinav commented on their research in Cell journal. Blood sugar, if abnormally high, is a risk for diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Personalised  eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy and on track with their blood sugar and medication; compared to universal dietary advice. The scientists created/designed an algorithm for predicting individualised responses to food based on the person's lifestyle (a person's lifestyle is particularly important to follow because it's significant to know if the food was followed directly by either sleep or exercise), medical background and the composition and function of his or her microbiome.  Testing this theory on a further 100 volunteers, proved that their algorithm was successful and worked for each individual. Professors Segal and Elinav are currently working on recruiting new volunteers who are in a high-risk group for developing diabetes. They aim to be able to prevent or delay the onset of the disease.

A Video Animation Describing The Study Here.


Weizmann Institute of Science. "Blood sugar levels in response to foods are highly individual." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2015. <>.

  1. David Zeevi, Tal Korem, Niv Zmora, David Israeli, Daphna Rothschild, Adina Weinberger, Orly Ben-Yacov, Dar Lador, Tali Avnit-Sagi, Maya Lotan-Pompan, Jotham Suez, Jemal Ali Mahdi, Elad Matot, Gal Malka, Noa Kosower, Michal Rein, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Lenka Dohnalová, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Rony Bikovsky, Zamir Halpern, Eran Elinav, Eran Segal. Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic ResponsesCell, 2015; 163 (5): 1079 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.11.001

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

One Paragraph on Biological Heart Pacemakers | One Paragraph Science

Patients with heart problems sometimes experience issues with regulating their heart beat and often require artificial pacemakers. but the problem with artificial pacemakers is that they aren't that great anymore and have to be checked and replaced periodically. A review article published on November 20 in Trends in Molecular Medicine highlights the promise and limitations of new methods based on stem cell and reprogramming technologies to generate biological pacemakers that might one day replace electronic pacemakers. Biological pacemakers, which are composed of electrically active cells, can functionally integrate with the heart and could provide natural heart rhythm regulation without the need for indwelling hardware. One way to work with stem cells; scientists can coax the stem cells into becoming cells found in the SAN (Sino-Atrial Node). The second way to work with stem cells; by directly programming supporting cells, already present in the heart - for example, fibroblasts and convert them into pacemaker cells to restore cardiac function. Animal studies have shown positive results, but there still needs to be more work and more research so that the scientists can understand the underlying biological mechanisms which control the development and maintenance of pacemaker cells in the SAN (functional analyses). The scientists are looking forward to rapid progress in the next few years.


Cell Press. "Can stem cell technology be harnessed to generate biological pacemakers?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2015. <>.

  1. Vasanth Vedantham. New Approaches to Biological Pacemakers: Links to Sinoatrial Node DevelopmentTrends in Molecular Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.molmed.2015.10.002

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Meat, Veganism and Science

Today’s post isn’t going to be a “pro-veganism” rant or anything like that. I’m aiming to provide a balanced overview on meat-eating. This post is going to be looking at meats, their pro’s and con’s and the recent research spreading around them and also veganism and I’ll leave the decision to which option could potentially be the best for your health, to you, the reader.


Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. It’s recommended that we try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat and also always cook meat thoroughly.

Proteins are complex substances, made up of chains of amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks that combine in different formations to make up the proteins in your body. There are 20 amino acids in total – your body can create some of these itself, but there are nine essential amino acids that you can only get from protein that you eat. After you eat protein, it’s broken down in the body into amino acids.  They are then transported in the bloodstream, where they’re rearranged into new proteins that are required for the healthy growth of all of our body tissues, such as your muscles (including your heart), internal organs (such as your lungs and liver) and skin.  Also, proteins are a great source of energy.


Saturated fats, found in meat, can block the absorption of essential fats which are important for maintaining cell structure. An increase in saturated fats in the body can cause cells to become more rigid and affect the flow of nutrients in and out of the cells.

Furthermore, if you eat a lot of red and processed meat, it is recommended that you cut down as there is likely to be a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. This has been proven in research published in the recent years and has been making news headlines as of late.

The Research...

The first piece of research has found that diets high in meat may lead to an increased risk of developing renal cell carcinoma (RCC) through the intake of carcinogenic compounds created by specific cooking techniques, such as barbecuing and pan-frying. The kidney is a biochemically active organ which is responsible for filtering many harmful toxins from the body, s it was essential to investigate the effects of dietary intake, including carcinogens, on kidney cancer risk.

A potential theory for the cause could be ingestion of meat-cooking mutagens, harmful compounds created when the meat is cooked in a certain way. Cooking meat at high temperatures or over an open flame, such as when barbecuing or pan-frying, is known to result in the formation of carcinogens, including 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenyl-imidazo(4,5-b) pyridine (PhIP) and amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo(4,5-f) quinoxaline (MeIQx).

However, the researchers don’t suggest that people should remove meats entirely from their diets, but rather consume it in moderation, as part of a well-balanced diet, complete with fruits and vegetables. They also advised that: when grilling or pan-frying meat, to try to avoid charring it as much as possible.

Studies on cancer risks of  different types of meat

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

Red meat.

The IARC classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Processed meats.

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. The experts concluded that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Overall effects of meat consumption.

The IARC working group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The most prominent evidence came from big prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.

"These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat," says Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC. "At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations."

On how meat-eaters defend their eating habits...

Researchers have found that meat eaters who justify their eating habits feel less guilty and are more tolerant of social inequality say, researchers. They found that the vast majority of omnivores defend consuming animals by rationalizing their behaviour using one of four rationalizations, which they call the 4Ns.

Typical comments used to justify eating meat include these 4Ns:

  1. Natural "Humans are natural carnivores"
  2. Necessary "Meat provides essential nutrients"
  3. Normal "I was raised eating meat"
  4. Nice "It's delicious"

Since veganism and vegetarianism are perceived to be the  healthiest lifestyle to live. More and more people are cutting out meats and animal produce in order to have a plant based diet.

In addition to weight loss, a vegan low-carbohydrate diet may also reduce the risk of heart disease by 10 percent over 10 years, researchers have demonstrated for the first time. The diet is a low-carbohydrate vegan diet. A lot of low-carbohydrate diets have been able to improve weight loss, but most highlight eating animal proteins and fats, which can raise body cholesterol levels. A diet that is high in vegetable proteins and oils may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering "bad cholesterol" levels in the body.

Finally, although some meats can cause cancer it's also beneficial to not completely cut out meat and other animal produce from the body because they do have some beneficial nutrients that are essential to the body. Even if some of the nutrients can be sought via other means, vitamin B12 is an essential one which can be found in  meat, eggs and milk. This brings us back to the saying "everything in moderation is good".


[3] Stephanie C. Melkonian, Carrie R. Daniel, Yuanqing Ye, Nizar M. Tannir, Jose A. Karam, Surena F. Matin, Christopher G. Wood, Xifeng Wu.Gene-environment interaction of genome-wide association study-identified susceptibility loci and meat-cooking mutagens in the etiology of renal cell carcinoma. Cancer, 2015; DOI:10.1002/cncr.29543

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Increased meat consumption, especially when cooked at high temperatures, linked to elevated kidney cancer risk: Individuals with certain genetic variations more vulnerable to dietary risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2015. <>.

[4] Véronique Bouvard, Dana Loomis, Kathryn Z Guyton, Yann Grosse, Fatiha El Ghissassi, Lamia Benbrahim-Tallaa, Neela Guha, Heidi Mattock, Kurt Straif, International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology, 2015 (in press) DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1

World Health Organization. "Processed meat can cause cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2015. <>.

[5] Jared Piazza, Matthew B. Ruby, Steve Loughnan, Mischel Luong, Juliana Kulik, Hanne M. Watkins, Mirra Seigerman. Rationalizing meat consumption. The 4Ns. Appetite, 2015; 91: 114 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.011
Lancaster University. "How people defend eating meat." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2015. <>.

[6] St. Michael's Hospital. "Low-carb vegan diet may reduce heart disease risk, weight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014. <>.

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