Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: April, 2003

In response to a gender relationships essay:

Hm. Interesting points, but I view this a little differently. True, there are differences between men and women, but I think that the belief that one gender is inferior to another is due more to the conditioning by society than biology. When a fetus is in its first weeks of gestation, it looks no different than any other fetus of the same age. Physiological changes only occur when there is a hormonal shift.

“Animals for the most part wish to copulate more than they wish to be involved with offspring. This is biological.” I would have to say this is only true in particular animals–like fish and insects–that produce a lot of offspring so that there’s a chance that few survive. Dawkins’ idea of the “selfish gene” supports this but there is a corollary. Certain “altruistic” actions can also be due to the selfish gene such as what many mammals do–taking care of offspring. This also increases the chance that genes will be passed on.

Actually from this, I would think that intuitively males would benefit from monogamy not because of “copulation opportunity” (polygamy is better suited for that) but to increase the probability that his offspring will survive to reproductive age.

Females may have the necessary equipment to have children, but unlike bees that can still have viable offspring from unfertilized eggs, humans cannot. An egg must be fertilized by the sperm. Both maternal and paternal elements are required. Experiments have shown that fusing two eggs together or two sperm together do not give viable offspring.** In this instance, both male and female are equal and essential and no one can claim superiority over the other.

That said, I find your friend’s comment disturbing. What basis does he have for saying that women assert control through manipulation? What statistic supports that? And if women are viewed as “desired commodities” that will only continue if things like female infanticide isn’t abolished.

**Note for those of you curious about this experiment: Fusing two eggs or two sperm together have been done in mice. No offspring resulted from such fusions as the resulting zygote died very early in development. The reasons for this are the maternal and paternal factors that the egg and sperm bring. These factors activate or inactivate particular genes that the corresponding gamete contains. If two egg nuclei or two sperm nuclei fused, then all those genes would be either on or off (not one on and another off) and the resulting phenotype would look like either the entire gene was deleted (i.e. off) or there was an extra gene (i.e. on). Actual deletions and extra chromosomes in humans are usually lethal so you can pretty much guess that this would do the same thing.

Three Things In Mind

Aha! This clears up a lot of confusion that I’ve been having lately. Some people were saying that if you are starving, you will break down fats first. That’s wrong. You start breaking up muscle first because it has the amino acids necessary for catalyzing the metabolic pathways–including the pathway for breaking up fats. So for people starving themselves, they’re only breaking down muscle–something that people can’t afford to waste.

So what makes you woozy when you drink a beer? Apparently alcohol blocks gluconeogenesis in the liver–that is, the pathway for generating glucose. Your brain is notorious for using up most of your body’s energy but it can use it only in one form–glucose. So alcohol stops the liver from creating glucose and the brain doesn’t have it’s normal supply of energy.

I’ve been reading Brown and Goldstein’s Nobel lecture (pdf) on the discovery of the cholesterol transport pathway. Awesome stuff, but it’s probably more than a little technical for the usual folks though.

Last night was not one of the better ones. I awoke at three in the morning to loud clomping and slamming sounds. Apparently my roommates like to wear clogs and use unnecessary force on doors. They were also talking rather loudly. I couldn’t get back to sleep and the rest of the day I spent in a light-headed haze. I’m still in a haze.

I listened to more people relate similar stories about their roommates. Is there something in the water or air out here in the boondocks that make roommates go psycho? Or is this just an inevitable part of getting older–that one becomes more intolerant of other people’s idiosyncrasies?

Tuesday Too:

1. How are you going to honor, or what are you going to give the earth on Earth Day?

People should honor the earth every day, not just on one day.

I know, it’s a cop out answer. Well, I do recycle and reuse things. I use mass transportation–but mostly out of necessity and not from choice. The ecologists on campus should be all over this, but so far, I haven’t heard so much as a peep from them. (And what’s on the campus calendar today? Not a celebration for Earth Day. Nope. Just some philosphy thing.)

It’s also a bit depressing as I realize that in lab, I will be generating more biohazard waste today than you (the reader) ever will.

2. How come there’s only one “real” question, and how come there are three Tuesday Toos in a row?

I would guess that the answer is 42.

“Eh. He gives a lecture here at least once a year.”

This apparent nonchalance was directed toward Dr. C. Everett Koop–a Dartmouth graduate, well-known pediatric surgeon, medical school professor, and 13th Surgeon General of the United States. And no wonder. Although it was open to all biomedical Ph.D. and medical school students, there were probably less then ten grad students of my ilk in the whole auditorium. (I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. A few years ago, I went to a seminar where Venter announced the sequenced human genome, there weren’t any other undergrads around. Not one.)

There was no indication on what Koop would talk about, but I went anyway, partly because I was curious, and partly because this was, well, the former Surgeon General of the United States. I remember his image on billboards during the 80’s and it is particularly interesting to note that during his term, conservatives accused him of promoting promiscuity and homosexuality when he stated that using condoms would help prevent AIDS.

The title of the talk was “Everything That I Needed To Know About Medicine and Health I Learned While Eating Pizza In Medical School.” As you can imagine, most of it was a mixture of dry humor, seriousness, and preaching about not smoking (did you know that the most effective way to get people to stop smoking is not the glamorous advertising but just having your doctor telling you point-blank, “Stop smoking or you’re going to die”?).

The salient topics being discussed, however, were public health, prevention, and chronic disease. A rather startling statement was, “Most Americans consider prevention to be un-American.” I always thought prevention was supposed to be common sense–but Koop reasoned that people thought prevention was un-American because it gives them no choice. They’re forced to say, “No.” Instead, people want the freedom to make choices for themselves, even if they’re bad ones like taking up smoking or not wearing a seatbelt or over-imbibing.

But choices aside, in today’s technology, people are living longer–some not due to good health, but to medicine’s “success” at treating acute disease (which would kill the patient outright) so that patients will “only” have to live with chronic disease. However, chronic diseases pose their own problems, such as long-term care. How on earth are we going to care for the elderly population? I’ve read somewhere that very few medical students go on to specialize in geriatrics. The majority of nursing home care is abysmal. And family, certainly, won’t be able to cover everything–especially with the aging baby boomer generation. Koop remarked that perhaps the baby boomers will help change the system, especially since there are so many of them and they are beginning to realize that, yes, they are getting old (about one baby boomer is turning 50 every 7 seconds).

I could be like all those other grad students and say, “Eh, who cares about all this stuff?” and bury myself back into work, but the truth is, I have to care even though I’m not a medical doctor and don’t plan to become a public health official. I have parents too, and I knew since I was very young and my grandmother was still strong enough to hold me in her arms, that I would have to take care of them when they are old. And in the end, when my turn comes, who is going to take care of me?

An Additional Observation: So when Koop mentioned the CDC, I overheard medical students whispering to each other, “What is the CDC?” Good grief. What are they teaching in medical school nowadays anyway?

Flame retardants pose poison risk to Americans. (via Dave Barry) In this article, the author cites an experiment where PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether), a flame retardant, disrupts brain development in mice. Well, I looked up a paper where another experiment was done–this time PBDE was added to a strain of cancerous breast cells expressing the estrogen receptor. This experiment showed that PBDE hyperactivated the estrogen receptor. Now I understand–hormone levels in pregnant women are messed up with PBDE. And didn’t I say before that hormone levels affected brain development?

Darn it, I’ve got to stop looking up everything. I need to read a trashy novel or meditate or something.

Unconscious Mutterings

  1. Milk:: Shopping
  2. Itch:: Scratch
  3. Raisin:: Bran
  4. Contempt:: Sneer
  5. High:: Jump
  6. Take:: Out
  7. Hamburger:: Yuck
  8. Frilly:: Dress
  9. Tigger:: Trigger
  10. Creek:: Water

And today, boys and girls, I will explain my answers since I’ve been explaining so many other things lately (so might as well do this too).

  1. Milk and Shopping – I ran out of milk yesterday so I need to get some. However, all the grocery stores nearby are closed on Easter.
  2. Itch and Scratch – Don’t you automatically think of scratching an itch?
  3. Raisin and Bran – Two things that don’t really go together, but they don’t taste great alone either.
  4. Contempt and Sneer – I always visualize someone sneering when I see the word ‘contempt’.
  5. High and Jump – I was remembering one of those explodingdog pictures where a stick person with a red balloon was standing on top of the building saying, “No, I can’t do it!”
  6. Take and Out – Takeout. Actually, this is quite unusual. I’ve only done takeout once.
  7. Hamburger and Yuck – I don’t like eating hamburgers.
  8. Frilly and Dress – Excessive lace and satin and all those other things that will make you turn green in the face.
  9. Tigger and Trigger – A misreading.
  10. Creek and Water – Self explanatory.

So my answers aren’t particularly weird. Does this mean I’m not crazy?

(An interesting paradox are the statements ‘I am not crazy’ and ‘I am crazy’ which when somebody says it, means the opposite. Personally, I think craziness is more about actions, like peeping into people’s windows for no good reason, than words.)

Update on my life: While I was coming back home, I caught one of the neighbors (you know, the crazy ones I always complain about) peeping into somebody else’s windows. This is quite disturbing–on so many levels.

* * *
As Promised: Evil Fava Beans Which May Not Be So Evil After All (As Well As Desktop Wallpaper)

So the professor with the wacky white hair says: “Don’t eat fava beans! They’re bad for you. Fava beans contain divicine which cause oxidative stress on your red blood cells and if you have G6PD deficiency, you could get really sick and even die!”

By saying a provocative statement like that without any additional explanation, of course I have to find out exactly what fava beans are doing to make people sick. I’m not so sure about the other students. Maybe they were wishing the class would end or maybe they were rolling their eyes thinking that the professor was off his rocker and that fava beans actually cause excess gas. Actually fava beans, or any sort of beans, will cause excess gas if you don’t soak them in water. Certain types carbohydrates found in beans move to your small intestine which lacks the enzymes to digest them. Only the bacteria residing there will be able to break them down via fermentation–a process that will inevitably liberate gas.

But we’re not talking about gas. We’re talking about this G6PD thing and red blood cells. Well, if you’ve ever taken a comprehensive biology course, you’ve encountered the metabolism pathway. And if you’re actually in biology, you pretty much have the glycolysis pathway and the Kreb cycle burned into your brain. To make a tedious biochemistry story short, the goal of these pathways is to convert the glucose that you have ingested to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the unit of energy used to power the processes in your cells.

In the very initial step of the pathway, glucose is converted to glucose-6-phosphate (G6P) by the enzyme hexokinase. Aha! That’s where the G, 6, and P come from. But how about the D? From G6P, the pathway branches. In one way, it eventually makes ATP. On another path, the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) catalyzes G6P through the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) and the resulting products are ribose-5-phosphate which will be used to make DNA and RNA and NADPH which will help reduce hydrogen peroxide.

Now we’re getting somewhere. G6PD is an enzyme that will be required to make NADPH. NADPH degrades hydrogen peroxide which is a strong oxidant–bad for the red blood cell because one of its primary functions is to carry oxygen because oxidants will cause the cell to burst. So if you don’t make enough G6PD to degrade oxidants, you will be anemic.

And what about those fava beans? The beans contain vicine and convicine which break up to divicine and isouramil when they’re being digested. In turn, these two compounds will produce hydrogen peroxide and the accompanying free radicals which will cause oxidative stress in the blood cells. So if you are deficient in G6PD and you eat fava beans, you get favism.

Amazingly enough, fava beans are particularly popular in the Mediterranean where there is a prevalence for G6PD deficiency. Why is that? Since most G6PD deficient people do not display symptoms until they eat fava beans (or do something to cause their blood cells to undergo stress) some researchers have speculated that this may help prevent malaria.

Malaria?! Now what does that have to do with fava beans? Actually, it’s a very reasonable hypothesis. Part of the malarial parasite’s lifecycle is spent maturing in red blood cells. If eating fava beans cause the cells to go anemic, the parasite will be blocked in that pathway because they will no longer be able to use the red blood cells.

And the wallpaper part? That refers to my desktop wallpaper which I changed recently. I was searching for botanical information on fava beans since I’ve never really eaten them before (you know, it’s sort of like how some people have never tried eggplant before simply because it never crossed their mind) and I ran across a comment that said they used explodingdog pictures as desktop wallpaper. Cool idea! So now this picture is on my computer.

How male or female is your brain?

On the Empathy Quotient Test:

You have a lower than average ability for understanding how other people feel and responding appropriately. Most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20. On average, most women score about 47 and most men about 42.

On the Systemizing Quotient Test:

You have a lower than average ability for analysing and exploring a system. On average women score about 24 and men score about 30.

Arg! I bombed both tests. Then again, those questions were, ahem, more than a little biased. Initially, I had believed I would score at least average on both the tests–or at least have a leaning toward systemizing–but no, these tests believe I’m an antisocial idiot.

What I think the tests actually measure is how male or female you are considered in society’s terms. In a previous post, I mentioned that you can tell how “male” or how “female” someone’s brain is by actually looking at physiological differences and that these physical differences are affected by hormones during development. However, I don’t think that having physically different brains prevents anyone preferring one type of thinking to another.

Then again, even to have “types” of thinking in existence in the first place is a shame. It’s much more interesting to know people with a gradient of rationalizing processes than to pigeonhole everyone into two distinct categories.

Stay tuned, demonizing fava beans is next.

More Thoughts on (Non)Parallel Universes

So according to this multiverse model thing, sheer probability says we have a double somewhere. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Stupid Star Trek stuff, you might say. Heard it all before.

Yes, but just stop and think about that. If there is an infinite amount of space, I will have an infinite number of doubles. In some universes, I would have decided to go to any of a thousand other colleges in the world. Or I could have chosen not to. Or maybe some of my selves aren’t even on Earth any more. Maybe technology there advanced so far that I’m now on the moon or Mars or some other planet and taking courses there. In some universes, I won’t be blogging and in others, I might be living next door to the people on my blogroll. Hey, according to the theory, if it could happen, it probably is happening somewhere.

Most people pride themselves on not acting on their impulses. But every time you make a decision, several universes split off depending on the choices you make. So somewhere, one of your doubles is a total slob or maybe incarcerated somewhere for a crime. Then again, you probably have a double who is leading the perfect life. It’s not really uplifting to know this is not the perfect universe.

Everyone’s imagined some event and thought, Nah, it’ll never happen. But then it does happen–somewhere else. Or what about the people who tell stories for a living. Heck, just consider writers. What if all these fiction stories were actually real elsewhere? What if what we are doing right now is a story someone is writing? What if we are somebody’s idea of a cheesy fantasy novel? Oh man.

Writers are gods.