Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chemtastic Designs: Color Blind Test

The latest from Chemtastic Designs is the symbol for the chemical element Carbon formed with different colored dots in a design that was inspired by the Ishihara color test for detecting red-green color blindness. The test usually consists of a series of images formed with colored dots, with numbers embedded in them as dots with slightly different color.

What do you C? (sorry, bad pun)

Monday, August 24, 2009

What are kids searching online?

Are you curious about what your kids are looking up online? Even at 15 months old, my little toddler is already fascinated by what's on my computer screen and enjoys watching kid-friendly videos on YouTube. But what will she be doing online in a couple of years?

Computer security company Symantec has compiled a list of the top 100 searches conducted by children online, based on 3.5 million searches made by OnlineFamily.Norton service users worldwide between February and July 2009. Apparently, "YouTube" was the most popular search term, which isn't surprising, since it's an obvious starting place for entertainment and education purposes. "Google" and "Facebook" came in second and third, respectively, followed by "sex"(!), "MySpace," and "porn"(!).

I'm not looking forward to having to "spy on" or "censor" what my kid does online, but it seems like it's necessary to set "age-appropriate" rules. Symantec's OnlineFamily.Norton service apparently gives parents the tools to manage how their children use the internet. Parents can see which sites they visit, how long they're online, who they chat with, and what information they're sharing with others. I guess the nice thing is that the service doesn't "spy" on kids -- it makes its presence known on the screen -- and when they're starting to tread towards forbidden territory, animated dog characters appear on the screen to warn them (I wonder how well that will work with teenagers). A Symantec Internet Safety Advocate even claims that the service gives parents the opportunity to broach "delicate" topics, such as sex.

Me: "Oh, what are you working on?"
Kid: {desperately tries to shut down computer} "Umm..."
Me: {glances at screen} "Daaahhh!!"
Kid: "I was just...curious..."
Me: {sighs} "Okay...maybe it's time we have a little chat about..."

Jessie, please take your time growing up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Possible Cure For Multiple Sclerosis?

I thought it was pretty cool that researchers at McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital Lady Institute for Medical Research in Montreal have developed a new experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) called GIFT15 that completely reverses it in mice. Even better, the researchers think the treatment should work in humans too. However, the MS has to be caught in its earliest stages for the treatment to be effective.

GIFT15 works by suppressing the body's immune response so that it will stop attacking the central nervous system. Because of the way it works, the treatment could also potentially be used to treat other autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's, lupus, and arthritis, as well as to control immune responses in organ transplant patients. GIFT15 -- a new protein hormone that consists of a combination of GSM-CSF and interleukin-15 proteins that are fused together in the lab -- converts B-cells (white blood cells normally involved in immune response) into powerful immune-suppressive B-regulatory cells. The researchers took normal B-cells from the mice, added GIFT15 to transform the B-cells, and then gave the converted B-cells back to the mice intravenously. After one dose, the mice recovered from their MS-like illness with no significant side effects.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's in your 'fragrance'?

I like nice smelling things, like soaps, and lotions, etc. However, I've found that the smell of most perfumes and many lotions gives me headaches. Maybe I have a perfume/fragrance sensitivity or allergy.

When you look at the ingredient list for cosmetic products, you often see "fragrance" listed. What is fragrance? It turns out that it can include many chemicals that the manufacturer doesn't need to disclose, such as phthalates. Phthalates are typically used as plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and are considered endocrine disruptors, which can cause reproductive problems, changes in hormone levels, birth defects, and possibly more -- what is it doing in fragrances?? Apparently, they're used as solvents to "fix" scents so that they last longer. Here's the FDA's take on phthalates in cosmetic products. According to the FDA, the main phthalates used in cosmetics are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). To date, it appears that the FDA believes there is insufficient evidence to indicate that phthalates in cosmetics pose a significant health risk. Furthermore, the FDA doesn't require manufacturers to list individual fragrance ingredients, so as consumers, we will never know what's really in a product's fragrance. Think about all the products that we use that contain fragrance -- shampoos, lotions (even baby shampoos and lotions), perfumes, soaps, detergents, scented candles, air fresheners, etc.

So, we should just buy fragrance-free products, right? Well, maybe not... Apparently, "fragrance-free" products can still contain chemicals used to mask unpleasant smelling components of the formulation, but they would have to be listed in the ingredients as "fragrance." Although, if they are present at an "insignificant level," then they don't have to be listed in the ingredients...

I guess the key thing is to look for the word "fragrance" in the ingredient list of your favorite products, and then decide whether you can give it up for something potentially healthier. I say "potentially" because a lot of products are advertised as being "natural" and "healthy" when they really aren't if you look carefully.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What? The spleen is important?

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have shown that the spleen actually has an important purpose -- it's a significant source of monocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that serves as part of the body's immune system. These cells are major players in helping the body recover from a heart attack, removing dead muscle cells, rebuilding stable scar tissue, and generating new blood vessels. The spleen also serves to filter blood to remove things such as parasites and aging blood cells. When the spleen ruptures during an accident, it has to be removed to prevent excessive hemorrhaging, since it is a highly vascularized organ. While we can survive without a spleen, previous studies have suggested that there is a greater risk of early death for people who have lost their spleens. So, take care of your spleen!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chemtastic Designs: "OBSTiNaTe"

Here's the latest design I posted at Chemtastic Designs: "OBSTiNaTe"

Stubborn babies need to learn big words too. "OBSTiNaTe" is spelled with the chemical element symbols for Oxygen, Boron, Sulfur, Titanium, Sodium, and Tellurium.

Jessie is in an obstinate phase now. It doesn't matter what we say -- she'll still try to do what she wants. Somehow I get the feeling this isn't going to get any better, especially when she hits her teenage years...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

'Natural' alternative to DEET insect repellent

I happened to come across this article about a potential alternative to DEET that is found in the South American Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera). The compound, which is called "(-)-isolongifolenone," can be synthesized from cheap turpentine oil feedstock, and researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have also patented a more cost effective method to produce isolongifolenone analogs. The researchers found that isolongifolenone worked better than DEET at repelling mosquitoes and works just as well against ticks.

Apparently, isolongifolenone derivatives have been used "safely" as fragrances in cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, and paper products, so, I guess they're claiming that isolongifolenone is safe? Maybe. Benzene is carcinogenic, but toluene (a "benzene derivative") is not. I'd like to see more chemical evaluation data... Oh, yeah, and just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it isn't toxic...

The article doesn't discuss how the new repellent works, but one could assume that it works in a similar way to DEET. Ever since DEET was developed by the USDA and patented by the U.S. Army in 1946, scientists have believed that DEET worked by masking the smell of the host or by blocking the insect's ability to locate a host. Last year, researchers from University of California, Davis, reported groundbreaking research indicating that mosquitoes are repelled by DEET because they simply don't like its smell! If it's that simple, then surely we could find something less toxic that's odorless/pleasing to humans but stinky to mosquitoes?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Apparently, women are getting more beautiful...

According to Markus Jokela and researchers at the University of Helsinki, "beautiful" women had up to 16% more children than less attractive women. The study followed 1,244 women and 997 men in the U.S. over the course of 40 years, and their attractiveness was determined from photos that were taken during the study.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, had previously reported that good-looking parents were 36% more likely to have a daughter than a son as their first-born child, and suggested that this was due to an evolutionary strategy that has been programmed into human DNA. Kanazawa argues that since physical attractiveness is inherited, if more attractive parents have more daughters, then women will gradually become more physically attractive than men over the course of several generations. He claims that good looks benefit women more than men, hence the evolutionary bias. Men, on the other hand, don't need to be as good looking, but there's an evolutionary pressure for them to be successful, because that's what women are looking for in potential mates. Kanazawa's previous research has also suggested that scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who have "male brains" tend to have more sons than daughters. Hmm...

I can't help thinking about all the "beautiful" celebrities who have average-looking kids...

Monday, August 3, 2009

UK study finds no health benefits to organic foods...

Believe it or not, a recent study by researchers in the UK has concluded that organic food isn't any better than regular food. The researchers claim that there is little difference in nutritional value and there is no evidence that organic produce is healthier. Now, the first claim I tend to agree with, but I completely disagree with the second one. While there may still be traces of synthetic pesticides on some organic produce (did you know that?), properly grown organic food will most certainly contain less pesticides than normal produce. It does say that the study didn't look at the effect of pesticides, but it's irresponsible for them to make a conclusion like that based on incomplete research. They should scratch this statement: "...there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food." Let's see, isn't reducing the amount of pesticides people ingest a health benefit?