Category Archives: Science in the News

How to get over pain for free?

Have you ever been hurt so badly you had to go to the hospital or pharmacy to pick up some painkillers?


Source: Flickr Commons Example of painkillers

These painkillers such as morphine are super addictive and it may cause even more problems with your body then you think.

But not to worry, a team from Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, led by Catherine Rougeot has possibly found a better and safe painkiller treatment. This new treatment is not only free, but also very easy to obtain. This new treatment is our saliva.


Source: Flickr Commons Baby Saliva

Saliva is a clear, watery liquid made by our glands in our mouth area. The liquid made by our mouth contains various kinds of chemicals. One of the chemicals produced is the Opiorphin.

Opiorphin can suppress pain sensation for both chemical-induced inflammation and acute physical pain. Rougeout and her team wanted to test how strong this chemical in our mouth can be by injecting it into rats. These rats had been given either chemically-induced chronic pain or mechanically-induced acute pain in order to test the dosage needed.

For both chemical and physical pain, these poor rats needed about six times as much morphine as opiorphin to keep them from bursting out from the pain.


Source: Flickr Commons Example of a lab rat

From the study, the researchers are suspecting that opiorphin plays a big part in blocking our nerve systems, specifically the chemical called enkephalin.

Enekephalin is the trigger-man of our nerve system. It sends a signal to our brain whenever we feel pain to let the rest of our body to react to the situation. In this case, the researchers have found that opiorphin found in our saliva was super effective preventing this event.

However the research was not able to identify the right condition for our body to release such chemical in our saliva. Not to mention the fact that there is legitimate evidence that supports opiorphin affects the physiological control of pain perception.

Despite the critiques, this founding is still ground breaking, and can further improve our medical knowledge in both painkilling and anti-depressive methods according to Rougeout.

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Source: Institut Pasteur, (2012, Sep 18) Catherine Rougeot, Institut Pasteur.

This is the interview done at the Pasteur Institute regarding Catherine Rougeout’s founding. (It is in French so no idea what they are saying)

By Jeamin Yoon


Your Eyes Can Taste Everything for You

To begin, take a look at the two images below:

Blue Penne

Blue Penne. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, user Ronan.


Penne. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, user Jennifer.







Which one looks more appetizing? Which one will you reach for when you are hungry? I would –without a doubt– choose the one on the bottom. Why? Because blue penne is not visually appealing to me, and even if it tasted just as good as the normal one, I would probably feel gross due to the perception that I consumed something blue.

 Now, some of you may think that this is just a personal opinion however, the research done by Jeannine F. Delwiche state that “visual cues… modify the way taste, odour, and flavour are perceived”. She explains her hypothesis through the explanation of the emergent phenomenon. The emergent phenomenon is a phenomenon of how one’s understanding of a whole does not necessarily reflect the physical reality of its parts. Delwiche provides three examples, which are the following:

  • Rabbit-Duck Illusion: This is the ambiguous image where both a rabbit or a duck can be seen, depending on one’s interpretation


    Rabbit-Duck Illusion. Source: Wikipedia

  • Müller-Lyer illusion: This is the optical illusion where one arrow seems to be longer than the other, when in fact, they are the same length

    Müller-Lyer illusion. Source: Wikipedia


  • Kanizsa Triangle: Shows the visual illusion, where the top triangle seems to be brighter than the bottom. This illustrates that perception does not always accurately represent physical reality

    Kanizsa Traingle. Source: Wikipedia


From these three examples, Delwiche explains that sensory input from the visual system can alter taste and flavour of foods and drinks.

A relatively famous experiment was done by Stefan Gates and Alice Pegg where white wine was coloured using red food colouring to make the physical appearance like a red wine. This so-called “red wine” was served in a wine club, where tasters were asked to describe the wine. Surprisingly, the wine drinkers described the taste/flavour in terms that reference and describe a red wine. From this, we can see that the red colour of the wine caused the alteration of the flavour perception. A video showing the experiment can be accessed through BBC News Magazine, or from youtube like the one below:

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Credit goes to user Spab Fi

The next time you encounter a piece of food that seems unappetizing for some reason, take a minute to process the visual image of the food and ask yourself: Is this food actually bad or is it just my eyes tasting it through visual perception?

-Lilly Inoue







Don’t Forget Your Chocolate!

Memory loss has long since been correlated with age, due to a common deficiency of a certain protein in the dentate gyrus (region of the brain involved in memory) observed in elderly patients. Previously, this was just accepted as a hard truth; as you age, you’re destined to have to deal with various parts of your body slowly starting to become less functional, including your brain, which shrinks over time.


The dentate gyrus is a subregion of the hippocampus, shown in red. This part of the brain is involved in memory functions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The dentate gyrus is a subregion of the hippocampus, shown in red. This part of the brain is involved in memory functions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, a recent study at the Columbia University Medical Centre has found that age-related memory loss, at least, is one thing that doesn’t necessarily have to impact you in your old age any longer.

Not only were the effects of age-related memory loss reduced in the study, they were actually reversed! How?

A group of otherwise healthy adults aged 50-69 were divided into two groups with different diets, which they followed for 3 months. The key difference was the level of flavanols (plant-based antioxidants) each group was consuming. The participants who followed a high-flavanol diet performed better on memory tests than those who followed a low-flavanol diet, and brain imaging showed that flavanols improved function in the dentate gyrus.

So what? Well, flavanols aren’t just a mysterious chemical reserved for scientific experiments…they are already readily available to us, and have been for a long time. Flavanols are found in tea leaves, blueberries, grapes and broccoli, so while it’s important that you do as you’ve been told and eat your fruits and veggies, flavanols are also found naturally in cocoa, which is present in chocolate.

Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, and they are natural sources of flavanols. Source: Flickr Commons User Tom Hart

Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, and they are natural sources of flavanols. Source: Flickr Commons User Tom Hart

A similar study in 2012 showed that drinking cocoa-containing beverages daily helped to indirectly improve blood flow in the brain, resulting in increased cognitive function, including improved memory.

However, this isn’t an excuse for everyone to just turn to a chocolate-only diet and claim that it’s in their best interests to eat as much of it as they can. Research shows that the cocoa-flavanol works best when paired with regular exercise, so it is important that a healthy lifestyle is maintained, while including flavanol-containing foods as part of a balanced diet.

That being said, chocolate can provide many other health benefits if eaten in moderation, as described in the video below.

YouTube Preview ImageVideo Source: YouTube user WLWT

So what are you waiting for? Go grab some tea, blueberries…what was the other thing? I can’t remember…


– Mikaela

sick? eat s###!

Recently, Scientists and Researching physician have made poop pills a viable therapy against C. Difficile infections.

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. - NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. – NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Why would anyone in their right mind want to ingest pills filled with poop? according to the lead researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, it’s a big step from the previous methods of enemas and nose drip-tubes, which were accident-prone, especially “if people gagged and vomited, they could inhale fecal matter. “

Yikes. Why are people taking such grotesque (if not extreme) methods for treatment? what exactly is a C. difficile infection, and why is it so difficult to treat?

Clostridium difficile  is a type of bacteria that is known to cause “opportunistic infections”, or infections when the host is able to be infected easily, usually with the host being in a weakened/compromised state; in this case, most of the cases of C. difficile infections are caused by the lack of other, more benign bacteria colonizing the intestines, usually due to antibiotic treatment. This is akin to introducing wolf packs onto a sheep farm, where there are no competitors/predators for the wolves. As a result, the wolves prosper, at great cost to the sheep and the sheep farmer – a fitting metaphor for both the person infected by C. difficile , and the physician treating it, since C. difficile infections are especially antibiotic-resistant, and are prone to recurrent (i.e: multiple and returning) infections.

How C.difficile spreads- Wikipedia/CDC

The purpose of undertaking fecal transplants is to re-populate the patient’s colon and intestines with benign/helpful bacteria, thereby out-competing the harmful C.difficile. In an extension to the wolves/farmers metaphor, this would be akin to introducing more farm workers, scaring away the wolf pack and ensuring the prosperity of the farm.

Of course, the draw-back to this form of therapy is the “ick-factor”, effective though it may be.  This is why scientists have been working on a synthetic version of the bacteria flora populating our gut- dubbed appropriately, “rePOOPulate”. Research is still on-going  in the field of bacteria flora colonizing our gut; hopefully, one day someone can invent a form of therapy with all of the benefits of faecal transplants, and none of the “ick-factor”.

YouTube Preview Image  Source:Mary Greely Medical Centre, Via YouTube

– James L.

Detect Cosmic Rays With Your Phone

Ars Technica reported last week on a paper by a group of researchers at the University of California which proposes using a large number of smartphones to monitor cosmic rays striking the earth’s atmosphere.

An illustration of showers of high-energy photons dispersed by cosmic rays striking the atmosphere. NASA, 2006,

An illustration of showers of high-energy photons dispersed by cosmic rays striking the atmosphere. NASA, 2006, via wikimedia commons

Earth’s atmosphere protects us from cosmic rays. When cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, they create showers of high-energy photons, which is the only way of detecting them from the earth. They’re quite difficult to detect and study, however, since these photons are scattered over a large area.

A large number of detectors spread across a large area can be used to calculate more detailed information about a cosmic ray based on the time and location of detection, to calculate precisely where and when a cosmic ray struck the atmosphere. This study proposes to use idle smartphones as detectors.

The researchers found that the camera in a Samsung Galaxy S3, a popular smartphone, was able to distinguish high-energy photons. It’s fairly reasonable to assume that most other smartphone cameras also has this capability, as they use similar technology in their cameras.

The researchers developed an app which would allow smartphones to run a background process while the phone is charging that would capture video and send the relevant video along with time stamps and location information to a server, which would then process the data from many such smartphones for

This is a really interesting use of idle computing resources that’s not entirely dissimilar from other academic uses of idle computing resources, but it uses some of the capabilities that are ubiquitous on modern smartphones: GPS to detect location, and high-quality digital cameras.

If the researchers can get enough people to run the app, and secure funding for the computing power required to process the data, they’ll be able to gather a great deal of information about cosmic rays, including how frequently they strike, where and when, and with how much energy. While the project may face some challenges in adoption it is a clever and low-cost solution to a research problem.

Discovery of the first natural antiviral

Penicillin was discovered as the first antibiotic by Alexander Fleming, who isolated it from fungus in 1928. This is considered to have been a huge breakthrough as its discovery led to the successful treatment of cases of bacterial disease, saving millions of lives, although its misuse has now made many types of bacteria resistant. However, natural antivirals have not previously been discovered, despite the prevalence of diseases caused by viruses including Ebola, HIV and influenza.

Japanese/Chinese honeysuckle. Source: Creative Commons

Japanese/Chinese honeysuckle.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, researchers in China discovered what they call MIR2911, a product that prevents the reproduction of influenza A viruses (IAV). According to the researchers, the Japanese/Chinese herb honeysuckle has been used to treat the flu for thousands of years, and some studies (1, 2) show that it suppresses the reproduction of IAV. However, until now, the active compound responsible for this was unknown, as well as its mechanism of action.

Electron micrograph of IAV Source: Creative Commons

Electron micrograph of IAV
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The researchers found that MIR2911 acts against IAVs such as H1N1, H5N1, and H7N9, which have been responsible for the swine flu, avian flu, and Spanish flu pandemics respectively. MIR2911 suppresses IAV by binding directly to the influenza virus and inhibiting the expression of two genes that are vital in the replication of influenza viruses.

This is an important discovery as there has previously been no natural antivirals discovered, and this presents a novel therapeutic agent that can be used not only against influenza A, but potentially other viruses as well, due to its broad spectrum. The researchers say that their discovery is something akin to a “virological penicillin” that can be used and chemically modified, as has been done to penicillin, to produce drugs that can treat the flu. Hopefully, we will have learned from our use of penicillin in order to try to prevent widespread antiviral drug resistance.

The following video is about flu viruses and how they infect us:

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Source (user): maia86magnoly


Is Time Travel Possible?

Sometimes people want to go back to the past time and fix the problems or future to see what will happen. Time Travel is the most interesting topic in the science.

Understanding Time

Before know about the time travel we have to know about the timeWhat is time? While most people think of time as a constant, physicist Albert Einstein showed that time is an illusion; it is relative — it can vary for different observers depending on your speed through space. To Einstein, time is the “fourth dimension.” Space is described as a three-dimensional arena, which provides a traveler with coordinates.

Through the Wormhole

General relativity also provides scenarios that could allow travelers to go back in time, according to NASA. The equations, however, might be difficult to physically achieve.

One possibility could be to go faster than light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) in a vacuum. Einstein’s equations, though, show that an object at the speed of light would have both infinite mass and a length of 0. This appears to be physically impossible, although some scientists have extended his equations and said it might be done.

A linked possibility, NASA stated, would be to create “wormholes” between points in space-time. While Einstein’s equations provide for them, they would collapse very quickly and would only be suitable for very small particles. Also, scientists haven’t actually observed these wormholes yet. Also, the technology needed to create a wormhole is far beyond anything we have today.

[Worm Hole Image]

[Worm Hole Image]

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Time Machine

It is generally understood that traveling forward or back in time would require a device — a time machine — to take you there. Time machine research often involves bending space-time so far that time lines turn back on themselves to form a loop, technically known as a “closed time-like curve.”

To accomplish this, time machines often are thought to need an exotic form of matter with so-called “negative energy density.” Such exotic matter has bizarre properties, including moving in the opposite direction of normal matter when pushed. Such matter could theoretically exist, but if it did, it might be present only in quantities too small for the construction of a time machine.

However, time-travel research suggests time machines are possible without exotic matter. The work begins with a doughnut-shaped hole enveloped within a sphere of normal matter. Inside this doughnut-shaped vacuum, space-time could get bent upon itself using focused gravitational fields to form a closed time-like curve. To go back in time, a traveler would race around inside the doughnut, going further back into the past with each lap. This theory has a number of obstacles, however. The gravitational fields required to make such a closed time-like curve would have to be very strong, and manipulating them would have to be very precise.

[Time Mechanism Image]

[Time Mechanism Image]

So is Time Travel Possible?

While time travel does not appear possible — at least, possible in the sense that the humans would survive it — with the physics that we use today, the field is constantly changing. Advances in quantum theories could perhaps provide some understanding of how to overcome time travel paradoxes.

One possibility, although it would not necessarily lead to time travel, is solving the mystery of how certain particles can communicate instantaneously with each other faster than the speed of light.

In the meantime, however, interested time travelers can at least experience it vicariously through movies, television and books.

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