Abstract the Future of Science Ep. 42 – Counteracting CRISPR ft. Ada McVean

39 minute read

Our guest this week, Ada McVean, is pursuing a Master’s of Chemistry at McGill University in the Damha Lab (alongside our good friend James Thorpe from Ep. 30!). Her current research is focused on creating small modified nucleic acid-based inhibitors (or SNuBs) of Cas9 using click chemistry, to interrupt the normal functioning of the CRISPR complex. Questions Answered Why might we want to prevent a CRISPR complex from editing our genes? How do SNuBs interrupt a ribunucleic threesome? If gene editing is a play, who are the characters and what sorts of hijinx do they get themselves into? Can Turtles breathe out of their butts? How do lava lamps produce their magically entrancing goopy light show? Will wearing a hat speed up the balding process? and many, many, many more!

Listen here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5OCtjggihVNQVNQckMgsdx?si=U3V5arJnQeODCw_DR9kVsw&utm_source=copy-link&nd=1

Failed Federalism in a Pandemic (The Harbinger Spotlight)

In this preview of a new Harbinger Society Presents the panel buries Federalism as writer Nora Loreto (Sandy and Nora Talk Politics), chemistry researcher Ada McVean and podcaster extraordinaire Aliya Pabani (We Are Not the Virus) join host Andre Goulet to discuss what the colliding crises in long-term care, homelessness and academia tell us about the limitations of government in an increasingly fake country after almost a year of pandemic trauma.

Listen to the episode here: https://www.spreaker.com/user/8993462/xhsp-ep9-preview

Do We Actually Need To Eat More Calories When Menstruating? (Skeptical Inquirer)

4 minute read

Shark week, moon time, the crimson tide, a visit from Auntie Flo: whatever you call it menstruation is the roughly monthly interval during which the uterus sheds its lining. For the uterus owner, it is not generally a super fun time; cramping, bloating, headaches, and fatigue are just a few of the symptoms associated with “that time of the month.”

The symptom I want to focus on today, though, is hunger. Whether for chocolate, pizza, or any food really, an increased hunger is a commonly reported phenomenon during, or right before, menstruation. Although we know that periodic (get it?) changes in appetite can be influenced by fluctuations in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, I became curious whether this increase in hunger also correlated with an actual increased need for energy from food. Just like our bodies produce the sensation of thirst when they require more hydration, maybe they produce the sensation of hunger during menstruation in part because of an increased caloric need.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/do-we-actually-need-to-eat-more-calories-when-menstruating/

How dogs are improving the mental health of humans (Canadian Dogs)

When we think of dogs-with-jobs our minds tend to go straight to police, search and rescue, drug-sniffing and guide dogs. But therapy dogs are the unsung heroes of the working dog world! These four-legged therapists undergo detailed training to help comfort, support and encourage people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. They work in all kinds of conditions — from hospitals to group homes — to bring their special brand of assistance to those who need it most. Let’s take a closer look at how these four-legged heroes are helping humans.

Read the entire article here: https://canadiandogs.com/dogs-helping-mental-health-humans/

Artificial Trees, Secular Greetings, And Holiday Heart Attacks: Some Answers To Your Christmas Queries (Skeptical Inquirer)

5 minute read

Does the greeting “Happy Holidays” have its roots in secularism?

While it’s commonly considered a secular and more inclusive alternative to Merry Christmas, the term Happy Holidays actually has Christian origins!

Is it more environmentally friendly to get a real or fake Christmas tree?

For those who put up Christmas trees, before questions such as “tinsel or ribbon?” and “angel or star?” can be answered, a much more fundamental query must be asked: real tree or artificial?

Do the holidays cause heart attacks?

The holidays are a time for eating, drinking, and merriment, but could these festive times also be causing a myriad of myocardial infarctions?

Read the answers to all these questions by clicking here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/artificial-trees-secular-greetings-and-holiday-heart-attacks-some-answers-to-your-christmas-queries/

The Science of Cold Brew (McGill OSS)

2 minute read

A few weeks ago I finally had enough of the cold brew trend and decided to see what all the hype was about. I followed this recipe (because $5 at Starbucks is just too much for me), and was surprised to find cold brew wonderfully smooth, sweet and mild. I love coffee, and though I drink it with milk and sugar, I’ve never especially been bothered by the bitterness or acidity of traditionally brewed coffee. None the less, cold brew is quite amazing, and it left me wondering what the chemistry behind it was. 

It turns out that hot water (about 93 ℃ in most drip coffee makers ) accelerates the extraction of molecules and chemicals that, once mixed with water, form the coffee we know and love. Once brewed, the coffee continues to react with air and water molecules. This is why coffee goes stale. Heat accelerates these reactions (as it does most), so coffee left on a burner, or in your car, all day goes staler more rapidly. 

In cold brew, however, there is no heat to help extract these molecules and to cause the break down of others. The time the cold brew is left brewing allows the chemicals to be extracted from the coffee grounds much like the heat does, but you do get different amounts of different chemicals, leading to a different taste. Notably, many molecules that taste bitter are not extracted in large amounts in the absence of heat, which explains cold brew’s sweetness. You may have also seen cold brew being sold pre-packaged in stores, a possibility that is afforded to it due to the cold water not accelerating the ‘staling’ process.

So for once it seems like the hype was justified, though I’ll stick to making my cold brew at home. 

Originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/cold-brew-coffee

An Asthma Attack Caused by a Thunderstorm (McGill OSS)

1 minute read

On November 21st, 2016 a thunderstorm swept across Melbourne, Australia. It brought with it the usual flooded basements, wet shoes and ruined picnics, but it also brought a strange outbreak of asthma. Asthmatics and non-asthmatics alike suddenly found themselves unable to catch their breath, coughing and in extreme cases not being able to breathe at all. By the time the storm had passed, there was a 672% increase in respiratory-related presentations to emergency departments and a 992% increase in asthma-related admissions to hospital. The storm contributed to the death of at least 10 people.

So what was it about this thunderstorm that spurred a city-wide asthma attack? Experts aren’t certain, but the best guess is pollen. It seems that polled, mould and other allergens can get picked up into a storm, riding on wind currents, and carried into the clouds. Up in the sky, they make contact with water molecules, which causes these allergens to break apart into microscopic particles that can more readily enter human lungs and cause reactions. 
In the case of Melbourne, the allergen of importance seems to be from ryegrass. A grain of ryegrass pollen can be broken down into 700 starch granules, measuring 0.6 to 2.5 μm, which may then be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, and cause an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.

As roughly 20% of the world is sensitive to grass or tree pollens, you can imagine that these storms are quite bothersome to many. Melbourne wasn’t the first case of casualties due to storm inflicted asthma, and it sadly will probably not be the last. 

Article originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/thunderstorms-cause-asthma-attacks

Can Periods Really Sync Up? (McGill OSS)

1 minute read

The idea that periods can synchronize was first investigated in a 1970’s paper by Martha McClintock, who examined the menstrual cycles of women living together in dorms. McClintock found that after 7 months of living together, the women’s periods had gone from an average of 6.5 days apart to 4.6 days apart, leading to the idea that proximity caused the periods of these women to synchronize due to some chemical signal.

However, studies since then have been largely unable to replicate these findings. McClintock’s results are now largely believed to have occurred by chance or poor experimental design, with many researchers calling menstrual synchrony a methodological artifact.

While it may appear that periods are synchronizing, it is important to remember that not everyone has a 28-day cycle, as some range from 21-35 days. This variability allows synchronicity to vary and periods to occur at the same, or different times. 

This article was originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/menstrual-synchrony

How Do Veterinarians Die? (McGill OSS)

4 minute read

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking something along the lines of “just like everyone else,” but I’m here to tell you otherwise.

Being a veterinarian is a lot like being a human doctor. Besides the fact that both professions practice medicine, albeit on different subjects, they both require top grades and many years of school. They usually necessitate one to go into debt, to work long hours, to have extreme empathy and to be on call for days at a time.

Given their similarities, we’d expect them to have similar mortality rates and causes of death, but that isn’t the case. Veterinarians are at an extremely elevated risk for suicide.

Studies find that veterinarians are between 4 and 8 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population.  A study of 1,551 American vets from 1966-1977 found a greater than 100% increase in suicides, and a 2012 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association survey found that 19% of respondents had seriously considered suicide, with 9% having made attempts. These risks seem to exist for vets around the world.

But why though? These high rates don’t seem to be mirrored in their human-treating counterparts (though some studies do find the rates of suicide in physicians elevated, but to a lesser extent), and appears to directly oppose the correlation between lowered mortality rates and graduate degrees.

Read the entire article here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/how-do-veterinarians-die