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Putting a Stop to Antibiotic Misuse: A New Blood Test

Antibiotics such as Amoxicillin are becoming more and more ineffective as bacteria become resistant due to misuse.

Antibiotics such as Amoxicillin are becoming more and more ineffective as bacteria become resistant due to misuse. Source: Flickr Commons Image by: Sheep Purple

If you’ve ever felt under the weather and you need it to go away, you might visit your family doctor. When you get there, you probably tell him you just need some antibiotics and you’ll be on on your way. Unfortunately, scenarios such as this happen too often in today’s society.

Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics are only effective at treating bacterial infections, not viral infections. The issue is that the symptoms between the two infections are indistinguishable to doctors. For this reason, antibiotics are usually prescribed.  According to this article, many family doctors are trained to delay antibiotic prescriptions because  bacterial infections are likely resolve on their own, with time. However, this doesn’t  happen as doctor’s usually succumb to pressure from patients for antibiotics.

So what’s the problem with this medicine? Why can’t doctors just keep prescribing them, anyway? In two words, antibiotic resistance. The BBC explains that bacteria, which are living organisms, have the natural ability to evolve and eventually become immune to the antibiotic. In other words, the bacteria will keep on changing in order to survive the effects of antibiotics. The surprising aspect of this is not the fact that the bacteria is mutating and becoming resistant to antibiotics, it’s how fast it’s happening. The BBC says that this is due to antibiotic misuse, which also includes doctors over-perscribing and patients not finishing the full dosage.

Below is a youtube video by TED-Ed explaining how bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics

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Antibiotic resistance is particularly frightening if you take into account that the World Health Organization is calling it a global threat.  It is suggested that two key antibiotics no longer work in more than half the people treated. In addition, the WHO warns of  a ‘post-antibiotic era’ where previously treatable infections will begin killing people, as the antibiotics are no longer effective in clearing the infection.

Here is a antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is named MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph. Aureus)

Here is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is called MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph. Aureus) Source:Flickr Commons Image by: NIAID

To slow down this inevitable problem, researchers out of Israel have developed a new type of blood test that can distinguish between bacterial and viral infections within two hours, allowing doctors to quickly determine whether or not antibiotics are even necessary.  The usefulness of this new method is apparent if you realize that current ‘bug’ identification tests can take a few days, according to this article.  As previously mentioned, it is hoped that this will allow doctors to limit antibiotics to patients with bacterial infections while refusing to prescribe to patients with viral infection.

As the research paper outlines, the blood test is quite accurate in distinguishing between the two bugs. It relies on identifying activated protein pathways that are specific to either a virus or a bacterium. For example, the TRAIL pathway is highly activated in viruses but suppressed in bacteria. Although pending randomized clinical trials, this could prevent further misuse of antibiotics by doctors and patients alike; possibly even put a temporary halt to the inevitable ‘post-antiobiotic era’.

A novel blood test has been developed which can distinguish between virus and bacteria, allowing for more accurate treatment

A novel blood test has been developed which can distinguish between virus and bacteria, allowing for more accurate treatment. Source: Flickr Commons Image by: Phillip Jeffrey

The Quest for Weight Loss- Does Macronutrients Composition Matter?

Intermittent fasting, IIFYM, ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, carbohydrate cycling, Paleo diet, the Zone diet, and the list goes on and on. If you are a fitness enthusiast, you might have heard all these names of diets; if you are not interested, you might have heard none. However, I’m willing to bet that most of us have experience struggling, or will struggle when older, with diets in order to lose weight. So how would you design your own weight loss diet? Would you count your macro-nutrients?

Weight loss is a stressful process. Image: "las vegas weight loss" by Dave WilliamsWeight loss is frustrating.
(Image: “las vegas weight loss” by Dave Williams)

Let me back up a little bit to talk about diets in the media. In the perspective of a newbie dieter, researching about diets can be extremely difficult. This is because weight loss represents perhaps the epitome of misinformation (false information spread unintentionally) and disinformation (false information spread intentionally) in the media. Not surprisingly, weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. Thus, inevitably, there are countless scams revolving around this industry, which get in the way of our research. Hopefully, this short video will help you avoid some of those horrible diets.

Now let’s get to the meat of this discussion- macronutrients composition. There are three macronutrients in food: carbohydrates , fat , and protein . Each have different priorities, functions, reactions, and modes of storage in the body, which makes analyzing different diets quite challenging… or does it?

Apparently not, according to research, when it comes to weight loss alone. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that weight loss can be achieved no matter what composition of macronutrients you decide to implement in your diet, as long as there is a caloric deficit. These researchers assigned 811 overweight individuals to 4 diets which emphasize different macronutrients. After 2 years, they found out that all groups had clinically meaningful weight loss results. Therefore, it would be a waste of time to calculate macronutrients composition if our goal is to simply lose weight.

However, I cannot stress enough that macronutrients composition plays a crucial role if our goal is anything more specific than losing weight. For example, if we are trying to lose fat and gain muscles, we would need lots of protein. To gain a better understanding of how to diet to gain muscles, watch this video on how much protein you require in your diet.

Weight loss is often a stressful process, but now with macronutrients calculations out of the way, all you need to be concerned about is reducing caloric intake and/or increasing caloric output. This means that you can eat less of whatever you normally eat and/or exercise more frequently to lose weight. It’s that simple!

– Sean Nam

Airplane food tastes different, why?

Many people find being up in the air an unpleasant experience, from uncomfortable seats with little leg room to unappetizing meals. Why does the food that airline companies serve taste bland or unappetizing? It might not be the airline’s fault that the food tastes bland. Two factors can affect the taste of food: lack of humidity and lower air pressure.

Air Canada - International Flight Meal Source: Wikimedia Commons

Air Canada – International Flight Meal
Source: Wikimedia Commons

From the moment you leave the ground, the flavours of food become manipulated. This is due to the change of altitude and pressure of the plane. Taste and smell are one of the first senses to change at higher altitudes. Since one of the factors that can alter the flavours of the food is smell, it makes sense that taste will also change at higher altitudes. The pressure in the cabin of the plane dries out the nose first. A small area of mucous membrane that lines the inside of the nose contains olfactory nerves. It has hair-like projections that can detect smell. Olfactory nerve endings can be affected by the reduced humidity. In the parched air cabin, the odour receptors does not work properly and the effect of it makes the food taste twice as bland.

Olfactory Nerves in the Nose Source: Wikimedia Commons

Olfactory Nerves in the Nose
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As the plane is ascending to higher altitudes, the change in air pressure will numb about ⅓ of the taste buds in your mouth. Taste buds contain many different types of taste receptors, each type detects one of the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and unami. Food in the mouth stimulates the receptors and triggers a nerve impulse in the nearby nerve fibre which are connected to cranial nerves. These signals are sent to the brain and the brain interprets the combination of impulses from taste and smell receptors. But before the impulse is sent to the brain, taste molecules must be dissolved in the saliva in order to reach and stimulate taste receptors. At high altitudes, the water content of saliva decreases and becomes more concentrated and viscous. This leads to dry mouth. Dry mouth makes it hard for the taste receptors to bind to taste molecules.

The combination of low humidity and pressure reduces the sensitivity of the taste buds and olfactory nerves that’s in our nose. No wonder why the meals that airlines serve taste different than meals eaten on land.

Here’s a video explaining how smell and taste are needed in order to taste the flavours in our food uploaded by chichin85:

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– Elice Xie

Intelligent robotics are revolutionizing the world of prosthetics.

The loss of a limb or its functionality can devastate a person’s quality of life. The Amputee Coalition estimates 2 million people in the United States are living with limb loss. The congressional research service reports that more than 1,600 amputations involving troops between 2001 and 2010, who were also considered as major limb amputees. Finding a replacement for a limb can be frustrating, expensive and unrealistic. Though a replacement can be possible, seldom is the functionality of the replacement as complete as the original body part. Researchers in Intelligent Systems, robotics, and Cybernetics are working on ways to improve control over prosthetics with direct help from their muscles and nervous system. This technology takes advantage of biomaterials which make up an interface site. These interface sites are stations where neurons from the human body interact with the robotic limb. The interfaces monitor and interpret signals from the nervous system. Once the signals have been received from the neurons, algorithms are used to determine the action of the prosthetic limb. This smart technology of nerve and robot interaction is continually being refined by researcher and they hope to tailor each prosthetic limb to an individual based on the specific interactions.

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On a micro scale, researchers at Lawrence livermore National Laboratory are making gains in developing thin-film polymers which mimic the functionality of neurons. They are moving ever closer to designing the world’s first neural system which will enable naturalistic feeling and movement in prosthetic hands. Known as a Hand Proprioception and Touch Interface (HAPTIX), the research hopes to provide control and sensation for amputated hands. If successful, HAPTIX will reduce what is known as “phantom limb” pain, a sensation some amputees feel despite a missing limb. The HAPTIX interface incorporates sensors that provide tactile feedback to the patient from their hand. This means that a prosthetic hand will not only act like a human but will also feel pressure, touch and texture through this smart technology. The biggest challenge for the research team has been deciphering the complex patterns of neural stimulations which act as natural touch and movement.


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By Imran Khan


The Science Behind That Sweet Smell of Bacon

Bacon is a simple food. It’s salty and it’s crispy. It can be eaten with pancakes, eggs, for breakfast or for dinner. The smell of it alone is enough to drag someone out of bed first thing in the morning. The joy of bacon doesn’t arise solely when you eat it, but rather when you start to cook it, allowing its aromas to be released.

Bacon  Bacon Source: Wikipedia Commons

Bacon Source: Wikipedia Common

The question is, what makes bacon smell so good? The American Chemical Society (ACS), partnered with the Compound Interest Blog, together have come up with the answer as to why the smell of bacon can be so irresistible. The answer? Science! That particular smell of bacon is the product of 150 different organic compounds. As heat is applied, the sugars, amino acids and fats present in the meat break down, allowing the Maillard Reaction to take place. This reaction occurs at a high-temperature allowing the amino acids of the meat to interact with the reducing sugars present in the bacon fat. This mechanism is also responsible for turning your food brown as it cooks. It is this combination of the 150 compounds that produce the drool-worthy fragrance that bacon emits.

The chemistry behind the Maillard reaction.  Maillard Source: Wikipedia Commons

The chemistry behind the Maillard reaction.
Maillard Source: Wikipedia Commons

Among these organic compounds are aldehydes, hydrocarbons and nitrogen-containing pyridines. As referenced in the video below, a study conducted in 2004 by Carrapiso and colleagues researched the aromas released from friend bacon and fried pork loin. Their work concluded that the nitrogen-containing compounds present in bacon are likely the main cause of the preferential aroma, which are unique to bacon and not replicated in other pork products

Many different types of foods (for example, coffee, chocolate and bread) can all undergo a Maillard Reaction, each have their own distinct combination of organic compounds and thus different aromas. This is why baking bread doesn’t smell the same as frying bacon. However, it is these specific compounds that flavor scientists have targeted over the years in the generation of artificial flavors (which includes maple syrup).

Check out this video by ACS and the Compound Interest blog on the science behind bacon.

Thanks for reading!

Samantha Mee

Does Violence in Video Games Translate to Violence in Reality?

In today’s market, more violent video games (VVG) seem to be more “horrorshow”. According to IGN, the top 10 best-selling games of 2014 in the US  includes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Watch Dogs, Call of Duty: Ghosts and, not surprisingly, Grand Theft Auto 5, all of which are rated M for mature (17+). Evidently, gamers today crave for something more spiced up then Super Mario Bros, Sonic, Rayman, or Kirby. Then the question is, should we be concerned about the increasing demand for VVG?

Image: Grand Theft Auto is one of the most controversial video games known to the public.

Grand Theft Auto is one of the most controversial games known to the public. (Image: GTA5, Flickr Commons.)

The relationship between consumption of VVG and real-life violence has been heavily debated among scientists and the general population for decades. This debate is especially unique and difficult because it is hard to approach this topic from an unbiased point of view. This is because video games concern people of all ages, including young gamers, old gamers, and parents who have children that play video games. Frankly, I hold a bias as well.

As a gamer, I’m more inclined to believe that VVG do not a cause real-life violence. In a recent study published in the journal Physiology of Popular Media Culture in 2014, Markey and his team set out to find the relationship between 1. video game sales, Internet keyword searches for violent video game guides and 2. violent crimes in the US. Surprisingly, their results suggested that increase in violent video game consumption correlated with decrease in violent crimes. Plainly, VVG look quite innocent from this angle.

On the other hand, there are some studies supporting that consumption of VVG is correlated with violence in real life (there are a lot more studies that suggest a link between VVG and violent thoughts). One of few such examples can be found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In 2000, Anderson and his team found that playing VVG is associated with “aggressive behaviour” in real life. Similarly, the general consensus for other correlational studies seem to be against VVG.

Violence in Video Games

Does VVG translate to violence in reality? (Image: Do violent games make violent kids? Tiffany Campbell, Flickr Commons.)

So what should we make of all this? One important thing to note while comparing the two aforementioned studies is their difference in the definition of “violence”. While Markey only considered extreme violent crimes such as homicides and aggravated assaults, Anderson looked at aggressive thoughts and behaviours, including verbal and physical aggression. Thus, if both presented studies are true, then one implication of these studies combined might be that consumption of VVG will increase aggressive thoughts and behaviours while decreasing violent crimes in  the general population.

Watch the video below to see the Youtube channel Healthcare Triage give a more in-depth stab at this topic.

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Video: Courtesy of the Healthcare Triage team.

In conclusion, it is up to you to take a side for VVG, against VVG, or stay neutral until more research is conducted. The next time you go shopping for video games, whether it be for yourself or for your children, I hope you can make the right choice.

-Sean Nam


Spontaneous and Contagious Yawning

In any given day, there is at least one instance where we yawn. This may be a “spontaneous yawn” or something called a “contagious yawn“. The difference between the two is that a “contagious yawn” is a reaction to someone else’s yawn. … Continue reading

Chess Masters their IQ and Chess Programs

Most people believe that chess masters are unusually intelligent  because they are capable of playing a complex game like chess at a high level. However, evidence showing association between any kind of intellectual ability and chess skill has been strikingly limited. There are however, some studies which suggest high level of logic is required to play chess at an advanced level. In comparison, chess programs which rely on logic perform extremely well and can beat any human. Search trees used by computer programs calculate and prune millions of position a second to find the best moves. How well a chess player prunes and calculates moves may be a gateway to determining if chess players are indeed superior to non-players.


Credit to youtube user “rumpsessions”

Chess has been played by many people since it’s introduction in Afghanistan back in 600AD. The nature of the game is based on logic and involves perceptiveness among other skills. So why don’t some studies show any correlation between Intelligence and game mastery? It is because of pattern recognition and experience. A pioneer in empirical studies of the thought processes named De Groot performed an experiment in which he asked world-class chess players to think aloud while they selected their next move for an unfamiliar chess position. What he found was that World-class players and normal players did not differ in the speed of their thoughts or the size of their memory capacity. It was their ability to recognize promising potential moves based on their extensive experience and knowledge of patterns in chess. This idea was further solidified by Simon and Chase when they echoed a similar result  by saying experts acquire a large number of patterns and use these patterns as stored knowledge to filter their moves in real-time games.

Although some studies suggest no correlation or negative correlation, there have been recent studies which do show that chess players might have intellectual superiority over non-chess players. For example, a newly published analysis reports that, while there doesn’t seem to be any correlation, it does not mean chess expertise stands in isolation from intelligence. In a study by Roland Grabner, he writes “there are now findings that expert chess players display above-average intelligence, that their playing strength is related to their intelligence.”This might be a glimmer of hope for chess players who are seeking to gain some prestige by playing chess. Incidentally, most research studies that have focused on this issue have noted one similarity among top chess players and that is that they play frequently. They also suggest that chess players who learn the game quickly and rise in ranking are the ones with unusually high IQ.


credit to youtube user “advocatehealthcare”

Chess programs perform similarly to the suggested human results of the studies. That is, stored positions in a chess program greatly influence the strength of the program. For example, most chess programs have a built in opening book which perform the initial “set up” of moves in a game. Statistics have shown that when the right opening book is used, this can increase its rating significantly. This concept of storing patterns(in humans) or positions (chess programs) is probably a key factor in determining how well a machine or human plays.

This is a hotly debated issue with research suggesting both sides of the argument. This is probably because the definition of intelligence, and therefore the IQ tests used to acquire the level intelligence, are murky. Majority of the research suggests that stored memories of previous game positions are key to becoming a better player. This is also true for chess program because they use stored positions. Until the real truth is revealed, we can only practice till we are perfect.

By: Imran khan