20 November 2009

Extraterrestrial FISHES?!?!?

Apparently, people are thinking that Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, could possibly support macroorganisms like fishes! The story is that there is likely liquid water underneath the ice-shell, and because life on earth can live to about -50 C, why couldn't there be life there? The water may also be warmed because it is thought that the gravitational force of Jupiter could cause enough flux to keep the core of Europa molten. The ice patterns on the surface indicate great tidal forces, and besides the cracking, the surface being so smooth and crater-less, scientists also figure that the ice is constantly turning over and able to introduce oxygen into the liquid water underneath. And if the core of Europa is molten, you could imagine there being structures like the midatlantic oceanic ridge, with black smokers and whatnot spewing out all sorts of chemicals from the mantle. And we all know that life eats that shit up (literally! har har).

I would also like to point out, though, that oxygen is toxic to most forms of life, and maybe you could get a macroorganism that would subsist on "breathing" something else. Oxygen just serves as an electron acceptor and microorganisms on our planet can "breathe" other things like Fe(III), and SO4 or CO2, which I guess also involve oxygen, but whatever...

Apparently the folks at NASA were so excited at the idea of liquid water on Europa that they purposefully crashed their Galileo probe into Jupiter, rather than potentially contaminate Europa. Unfortunately, though, the next probe that heads in that direction might be a ways off because of the technological challenges, like needing its own power source.

18 November 2009

One of the most truly horrible things I have ever seen

Honey > Sugar

I recently learned in the class I am taking on microbial diversity, by the great microbiologist Norm Pace, about the superiority of honey over sugar as a sweetener in regard to your Teeth! Tooth plaque results from biofilms formed by a common mouth microbe, Streptococcus mutans. This microbe produces a polysaccharide as part of the biofilm and can't use honey as a substrate in the transesterification reaction because it contains the monosaccharides frusctose and glucose, as opposed to the disaccharide in sugar, sucrose. Sucrose is the only known substrate of the polysaccharide-producing enzyme, dextransucrase. S. mutans is considered to be the largest threat to dental health because of this plaque formation, in addition to the lactic acid it forms as a metabolic product.

There was also a study that showed that people that chewed on a study-formulated manuka honey chew had lower levels of plaque and gingivitis than people who chewed sugarless gum. So honey not only can prevent plaque formation, but it appears it can reduce it! However, the study was done specifically with Manuka honey, which is honey produced by bees who collect nectar from Manuka (Tea Tree) bushes in New Zealand, the antimicrobial properties of which are measured with a seemingly meaningless unit called "Unique Manuka Factor." I could spin off into a Tea Tree oil tangent, but I won't.

Honey has long been used as an anti-microbial, however, with the advent of clinical antibiotics, its use has decreased. One study (Pubmed link) I found that showed that 30-100% honey solutions inhibited the growth of various kinds of bacteria. New honey works better than old honey. AND honey is as effective on wounds as clinical antibiotics. It appears as though its antimicrobial properties stem primarily from the presence of glucose oxidase(GOD), which catalyzes the oxidation of beta-D-glucose into D-glucono-1,5-lactone, a side product of which is hydrogen peroxide. (You would think that having an enzyme that acted upon glucose would reduce the sweetness of sugar, and oxidized product is apparently a little sour)

In addition, it appears that microbes and fungi can't grow in honey because of it's low (0.5-0.7) water activity. This low water activity just means that the water in the honey has a lower vapor pressure than that of pure water, and apparently many bacteria need a water of activity of around 0.9 and fungi, 0.7. I guess this is also why people salt meat, as it lowers the water activity of the meat to around .95.

I presume that these organisms need a certain water activity for osmotic reasons, and this "water activity" variable is something that food scientists made up, even though there are already purer measurements that could be used to explain this phenomenon instead. This seems like something that happens in science, different divisions have their own units of measurement that they like to talk about. I think a standardization in terms of units would be helpful for getting other scientists to understand, because the divisions in science are becoming more blurry and everything makes more sense anyway if you think about it in a multidisciplinary way.

So, anyway, eat honey!

11 November 2009

And now, the Center of the Galaxy!!!

The center of the galaxy is a giant black hole that is hiding inside of "Sagittarius A," which is this glowy spot in infrared and radio waves because of the heat emitted from matter "accreting" into the black hole. Accreting means growing bigger, which I don't really get, I guess things get bigger when they heat up? Maybe matter is accelerating towards the black hole, heating up and expanding before disappearing? No clue there. Well anyway, this picture is pretty awesome, I got it from the Sweet Astronomy Picture of the Day. While we are on the subject, I would also like to point out that the center of the galaxy is in the constellation of my astrological sign, Sagittarius, which we COULD say, if we were being sassy, either explains my massive ego OR that my heart is actually a black hole. Or that astrology is silly.

There is also this cool video that was on the APOD site:

I can't really watch videos very well on my computer anymore because all browsers on the Mac hate me, BUT what I can tell you is that it has this cool part where it shows the orbits of the closest stars around the black hole, including this star which gets 17 light-hours away from it!!! (Recall here that earth is 8 light-minutes from the sun) Well, anyway, I think the whole thing is pretty mind-expanding.

10 November 2009

A big day in Europe

Although I was alive when it happened, I do not really remember the Fall of the Berlin Wall. But there are some pretty nice pictures of the event and the celebration that happened today and for the past few days in Berlin. People in Europe seem pretty excited to celebrate this event, and I suppose it is for good reason. The only connection I feel for it though is that my family had a hamster named Gorby around that time. He was a plain brown hamster. It does make me think that maybe I should visit Berlin when I am in Germany over Christmas break.

04 November 2009

Remember the Time

Reminiscing about my last year of undergrad and the founding of an American Great, VG&B. Honestly, it mostly consisted of me, Kavi, Chris and Burney playing Star Wars Battlefront II and me getting my ass handed to me while taking over the galaxy (oh yeah, and beer too, hence the 'B'), but you know, I couldn't have been that bad seeing as how I did get the Wookie upgrade sometimes. When you have the Wookie, you can be really reckless because he has more defensive power, but he was SLOW. In any case, sometimes things got more exciting, such as the memorable time Petey and I made it to the pleasure dome in Smash TV, which is a classic arcade game that Kavi had on his hacked up Xbox. I have it on the SNES and its not that great to play, because I think the two joysticks on the Xbox are KEY. Anyway, the pleasure dome was a mythical place that we weren't sure existed, but there it was, at the end of the game. You go to a psychedelic temple and instead of collecting sweet prizes like cars and big screen tvs, you collect LADIES. And then you get to the final boss and its all over. Anyway, Kavi was big on making video blogs at the time, and he posted it on his blog back in the day. Click for SWEET VICTORY.

In addition to the great fun inherent in that video, you can see poor Georgie when she was a kitten and known as Dioge (D.O.G.). Sad little girl was shitting all over the place at that time, and they found out later that it was because she was drinking out of the toilet that had a bleach insert in it because they were bad about keeping her water bowl full (or feeding her for that matter). Honestly, I'm surprised she turned out as big as she is, or as healthy, and was able to grow into a semi-well-adjusted cat.

And now! We will play the game where you can hear all the songs from my work computer with the word 'remember' in them!!! And by 'work computer,' I mean the computer I sit in front of when I should be working. Yeah...
Remember the Time
I've Got Dreams to Remember
I'll Remember April
And now if my blog gets shut down, we know why.

02 November 2009

The Oceans, they are a-changin'

A gross sea slime produced by algae blooms is bogging down sad sea birds, forcing them onto the beaches where they die of predation or hypothermia. Such algae blooms are produced when there are unusually high local levels of nutrients; basically when things are out of whack. SO, what is up? There have always been algae blooms in the ocean, part of the cyclical nature of life, however this appears to be different. That's all. And THEN, a giant algae monster raises from the sea and consumes the plastic continent!!!

This reminds me... People talk about metabolic engineering of bacteria, I specifically talk about making organisms that eat plastic and oil and whatnot (& turn them into diamonds, but thats not really very practical (although it would make for an attractive beach!)). But of course theres the whole question of introduction of engineered organisms into the environment, and gene transfer between bacteria and archaea is really rather easy, so is something like this REALLY ok?! I don't know...