Nobel Prize winners 2018

As the Nobel Prize season ends, I would like to quickly catch up on everything what happened for the past month at the Karolinska Institute and introduce you to this year’s laureates. Why? Firstly, because you might have had not enough time to browse internet in need for that information ALSO because I hope all of you would like to stay informed and celebrate the great achievements of the wisest ones on Earth!

  1. This year, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo – pioneers is cancer immunotherapy. The joint prize for “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”. What does this mean? Our lymphocyte T-cells bind to the antigens in order to start an immune response when needed. Nevertheless, apart from the proteins which recognize the antigens in order to take an action, on the surface of T-cells there are also proteins/receptors which turn them off [inhibit their response]. Inhibition of T-cell activation results in a lack of immune response even if the antigen is present in our body [this is a so-called “negative regulation”]. It is known that sneaky tumors are using this feature to stop our immune system from attacking them. It’s very clever of most cancers to train their cells to turn off the only feature in our immune system which allows them to kill them!

So this is what Allison and Honjo worked on – they tried to “hide” the immune system breaks when T-cells are in contact with the sneaky cells. These turn-off switches are called CTLA4 and PD-1, first one binds to the proteins on dendritic cells [antigen-presenting cells], while the second one recognizes antigens on the surface of cancer cells. In both cases, the laureates of this year’s Nobel Prize developed drugs which inhibit these turn-off switches. In result, the T-cells stay active and are able to elicit immune response against tumors. We know already that these immunotherapies are effective against lung or renal cancers, lymphomas and melanomas. Combined techniques (CTLA4 + PD-1 inhibition) are being proven effective against most cancers, especially against metastatic (previously incurable) ones. This is an enormous step towards curing one of the most common and devastating diseases of our time.

  1. Chemistry Nobel Prize 2018 went to the amazing female laureate Frances H. Arnold for the directed evolution of enzymes and jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Greggory P. Winter for the phage display of peptides and antibodies. In case you are already lost I will start from explaining the first award. Imagine that practically all organisms which use DNA as their genetic material have parts of their genomes coding for enzymes – the proteins which catalyze reactions [speed up chemical reactions]. Some organisms seem to have more useful enzymes than others, and what Prof. Arnold did was to create completely new types of enzymes through the ways of directed evolution inside the organisms in order to produce new substances – such as biofuels from bacteria. This is in general the same process which happens during a selective breeding of dogs or horses. Nowadays these methods are used extensively to produce pharmaceuticals or sustainable fuels or sophisticated chemicals.

As mentioned before, the second half of the prize went to professors Smith and Winter for developing a method called phage display. What is it about? Imagine that bacteriophages (viruses of bacteria) carry a genetic material for their capsule, so in they inject that material inside the host cell to replicate. Smith found that that bacteriophages express certain proteins on their surfaces in order to bind to the desired cells. Winter used this idea to incorporate genes which encode different antibodies so that phages bind to the proteins according to what antibody is expressed. Then the phages matching to the protein of interest are collected and randomly mutated in order to create an antibody which has a perfect fit. This is a quite elegant process which aims to engineer antibodies for the treatment of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis (more undergo clinical trials at the moment).

  1. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 in the field of laser physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin for the “optical tweezers and their application to biological systems” and for Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland who jointly got the second half of the prize for generation of “high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses”. The first physicist used radiation pressure of light to trap very tiny objects and move them. He found a way of capturing living bacteria without harming them what started his research in biological application of laser tweezers. The second pair of winners created the most frequent and the shortest laser pulses. Their technique is called chirped pulse amplification (CPA) and will become a new-version of high-intensity lasers which are being used in for example eye surgeries.
  1. This year William Nordhaus and Paul Romer shared the Nobel Prize in economics for “for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis. Macroeconomy used to tell us how technological innovations drive the economic growth. Then in 1990, Romer has published a theory now called “endogenous growth theory” which helped to explain that ideas are different than any other market goods and require different conditions to thrive in the market. It allowed the creation of policies and laws encouraging new ideas to be brought into life and support the economy.

In turn, Nordhaus has researched the interactions between the society and nature. He was the first economist to define the role of economy in climate change. His model is now used in climate-related and economical predictions, such as implementing new policies or taxes. Both laureates gave us meaningful tools to assess the creation and the consequences of technology advance as well as its role in climate change.

 

  1. The Peace Nobel Prize has been awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for putting their lives at risk during actions undertaken against sexual violence as the war crime. They fought for justice and promoted changes in UN policies to include sexual violence as a violation of international law. Nadia was the victim of such violence and Denis was the helper who defended such sufferers. Both laureates significantly contributed to raising global awareness as well as making political changes in this matter.

 

There is nothing more inspiring than learning about laureates of the most prestigious prize in the world. I wish everyone to believe that they can achieve unbelievable things when we find passion in life and follow our dreams!

 

Main source: https://www.nobelprize.org

Facts about drinking water

Hi, recently I compiled a series of interesting information about drinking water, which you may find useful especially during summer.

 

Water is the most abundant substance in our bodies (~60%) needed for digestion, temperature regulation, tissue protection, metabolic processes, electrical impulse conduction and joint lubrication. WHO stated that every single day, about 6 thousand children die due to a lack of access to drinking water.

Planned drinking vs drinking to thirst?

If you exercise in cooler conditions with low intensity, then it’s enough to drink to thirst. When you exercise with high intensity, in warm environments or your sweat rate is high you should plan drinking. The sensation of thirst works well at rest but is less sensitive during exercise. Dehydration starts from losing >2% of body mass and it’s worth noting that some people may feel rested and not thirsty after intense exercise even when they lost 3-4% of body mass (1).

 

How much water should you drink?

Scientists are divided in that matter. A Dutch publication says that under normal circumstances, about 500ml of fluids/day will be excreted as urine or sweat. They also admit that males should drink 3,000ml and females 2,200ml per day, while higher fluid intake has no convincing benefits. Other scientists say that thirst drives us to drink at least 2L of water/day (2) and drinking more than thirst does not produce any biological advantage. Other sources indicated 8 glasses of water/day to be the best measure of optimal hydration levels. It’s worth mentioning that fluid intake takes into account water, not coffee or sugary drinks, which should increase the amount of liquids needed (as all carbohydrates do).

 

Good indicators of good hydration is the lack of thirst and passing bright-coloured not smelling urine. You should adjust your water intake levels to your weight, lifestyle, activity level, sex and the atmospheric conditions.

Dehydration effects on your brain.

It may appear extremely abstract, but it’s possible to dehydrate your brain since it needs a substantial amount of fluids in order to work properly.

Did you know that dehydration affects your mood? This may be a reason why you hit a snooze button every morning instead of getting up with fully charged batteries. When mildly dehydrated you are also more sensitive to pain (3).

 

It also decreases your cognitive and motor skills as well as memory. Driving under influence is a criminal offence but it has been proven that dehydrated driving may be even more dangerous (4).

 

Tap or bottled water?

In case of water quality, drinkable tap water and bottled water do not differ (and very often the former one is simply a tap water anyway). Arguments such as “bottled water contains pesticides and hormone-like substances” don’t work. Why? Because tap water has similar amount of pesticides plus the unfiltered left-overs of excreted medications containing hormone-like substances. Tap water is more eco-friendly as plastic bottles clutter our planet for hundreds of years and in order to produce one of them, 3L of water are used. Also it’s worth remembering that once we open the bottle, we should store it in cold temperatures to avoid bacteria growing inside it and harmful substances from plastic being released into water. It looks like tap water may be not only more ecological but also less contaminated.

 

Is it possible to overhydrate?

In theory it is, nevertheless anyone with healthy kidneys should be able to deal with that problem by walking to toilet more often. People who are most likely to suffer from overhydration (and low sodium levels = hyponatraemia) are endurance athletes, who are advised to drink according to their sweat levels. The sign of water retention is swollen ankles. Most people who drink a lot of water go to toilet more frequently and experience no other symptoms or negative effects of over-drinking.

What about other scientific sources which say you should drink more?

Some organisations recommend 2.7-3.7L of liquid consumption which counts in water from foods and other drinks.

 

5 quick tips for staying hydrated this summer:

  • Always have a sip when you feel thirsty. Don’t delay your response to your body craving water. Flavour it with fruits, mint, ginger and cucumber.
  • Every time you put the kettle on, have a glass of water prior to making tea.
  • This summer I recommend AKASHA BPA free, stainless steel insulated and lightweight reusable bottles which allow you to hold hot drinks up to 12hours and cold for 24hours. Using code MOTIVELINA you will get 15% discount at https://www.weakasha.co.uk/. In addition, on my IG account [@motivelina.com] you can win a free bottle by taking a part in my competition.
  • When you are at a restaurant or a bar, ask for a glass of water together with your order, it will help your digestion and keep you hydrated.
  • Don’t spend fortune – VOSS is just a tap water from Norway.

If you liked this post, please like and share it so your friends can also benefit from this knowledge 🙂

Do anti-ageing creams work?

 

 

 

There is no ready recipe for a magic anti-ageing potion but researchers know quite a lot about ageing processes already. Let’s dive in and find out what’s out there!

 

do anti-ageing creams work

Skin – the largest organ of our body has a total area of 20ft2 playing central role in protecting our bodies from outside environment. Ageing is a natural process caused by extrinsic (pollution, UV radiation, exposure to toxic chemicals) and intrinsic (genetics, hormone levels, metabolism) factors. Collectively all of these influence skin physically and physiologically changing its appearance, especially affecting the most visible outer layer (layers of skin are explained here) .

 

Market is oversaturated with the cosmetics which meant to make your face look like a 18-year old overnight. Unfortunately, most of them don’t work. If you intend to spend your money on a product which works, see what science says about:

 

1) Collagen.

It is a protein which makes up about 30% of our body with most of it being in our skin. The collagen content in our skin decreases on average by 1% per year, what causes wrinkles and overall ‘dryness’ of a skin. If you plan to battle your wrinkles with a cream containing collagen – you are looking in a wrong direction. Collagen applied directly on your skin is too large to be absorbed into further skin layers. A cream which has collagen fibres in it may make your skin look nice and soft for the time when its applied, while it won’t fill you wrinkles. Take a step back. What you need is a cream which will encourage your skin to produce collagen itself! It will contain growth factors and cytokines promoting elastin and collagen synthesis. If you read the labels, the creams containing a lot of confusing words ended with “peptide”, TGF-β1, IL-6/8 or matrikines will be definitely a better choice than the ones with “glycerine, silk extract and collagen-alpha”.

2) Stem cells.

There is absolutely tons of creams with stem cells which promise you instant skin restoration after first application. It is all a massive marketing lie. Stem cells enclosed in the jars are simply dead plant-based cells which while placed on your skin will have the same effect as if you put a wooden chopping board or a spoon on your chick and keep it overnight. Plant stem cells wouldn’t work on human skin even if they were alive. I promise you nothing is going to happen. Medical stem cell therapy works because a nurse is taking your blood, filtrating everything but plasma and stem cells and injecting them back in you precisely where the inflammation or other problems arose. These were your own stem cells, still alive and administered in a careful, antiseptic way. What in turn creams have to offer are floating dead cells in a white jelly-like liquid applied on the surface of your skin.

Don’t waste your money.

3) Vitamin C.

It is a very powerful antioxidant (a substance which fights ageing and cancer by mopping up reactive oxygen species) and the most abundant one in our skin. It works synergistically with vitamin E and both are often combined in facial creams. It is protective against photo-ageing caused by UV radiation and is essential for collagen biosynthesis. Taking vitamin C orally allows only a small fraction of it to reach the skin, so it sounds perfect to use it in a from of a cream. However, there is not enough research on vit. C formulations for its topical application. We know it works but we have little knowledge how to enclose vitamin C in a cream formula, so it gets absorbed well (rather than simply dry out on the surface on our skin overnight).

do anti-ageing creams work

4) Hyaluronic acid (HA).

One of the features of ageing is loss of moisture. HA is a molecule which is brilliant in retaining water. It is a component of extracellular matrix (a scaffold for the cells) resulting in a soft, elastic skin. Studies show that HA is involved in a number of important cellular processes and its lack leads to carcinogenesis and immune system malfunction. Skin HA is quickly degraded (with half-life of about 2 weeks) and accounts for 50% of total body HA. Studies on 4 widely known brands of creams with HA show that the depth of wrinkles is significantly decreased after 3 months of daily use. That’s a good sign, nevertheless we need more detailed studies on the concentration of HA and its efficacy in order to find the best cream.

5) Coenzyme Q10.

It is another antioxidant which production decreases with age. It is the only anti-aging ingredient (from the ones presented in this post) which has been proven to improve skin condition when administered topically and orally. Nevertheless, there is one study from 2009 showing that long-term oral intake of Q10 impairs cognitive function in mice. Remember about it when balancing your dietary supplements.

do anti-ageing creams work

I encourage you to read the labels of the cosmetic products so you know what you are paying for.

 

Important!

The best you can do to look young is to eat heathy diet- rich in vitamins A, E, C and other antioxidants and microelements. Stay away from highly-processed foods, thus these have no nutritional value but a lot of calories and trans-fats. Most importantly – DRINK A LOT OF WATER. It’s free and doesn’t have any side effects! It’s best to ensure you are drinking enough before spending money on night creams!

 

Learn and share knowledge with others! Please share this post if you found it useful 🙂

If you are interested in cosmetics and skincare products, I recommend reading The Little Book of Skin Care by Charlotte Cho explaining South Korean skin care routines, which applied to our western world works wonders! The Little Book of Skin Care By Charlotte Cho 9780062416384 (Hardback)(click)

For more sources, click here:

Anti-aging: 123

Collagen: 1

Vitamin C: 1, 2

HA: 1, 2

Q10: 1, 2, 3, 4

Truth bombs on microwave radiation

 

I used to be that person.

I believed that microwaves are destroying the nutritional value of foods because everyone around was saying so.

But nobody bothered to check if it’s actually true.

So I did it few years ago and quickly changed my mind on microwaves.

 

And now I’m going to share this knowledge with you. Let’s go!

microwave radiation

 

How does microwave oven work?

It uses a type of electromagnetic radiation – microwaves which have heating capabilities discovered during II World War. Imagine running a high voltage within a copper tube and a copper rod inside that tube. The space between the rod and the tube allows electrons to move outwards in a spiral pattern. The tube is placed in electromagnetic field what makes the electrons to hit the edges of the tube creating vibrations which are – MICROWAVES!

 

The microwaves inside the oven are absorbed by water, fat and carbohydrate molecules causing them to shake and create heat. The conduction of that heat happens much quicker than when using conventional oven simply because the microwaves penetrate the food deeper than heat making more particles to move at the same time.

 

Microwave radiation is a type of non-ionising radiation. It is safe meaning that it does excite particles to make them wiggle but does not carry enough energy to ionize – remove electron from an atom of molecule. The ionising radiation such as x-rays or gamma rays are hazardous but is much more powerful than the one coming out of your microwave.

 

microwave radiation

 

What about the nutritional value of the foods cooked in a microwave?

There is plenty of scientific evidence pointing out on the fact that microwaving food is better than boiling or baking. If you take the micro- and macronutrient levels of the raw vegetables as the base level, the way of minimalizing any loses is to cook them in the fastest way possible. That’s why microwaving (when done correctly) is a convenient and quick way of preparing your meals. Steaming is as good and, in some cases, even better in maintaining the nutritious content, while boiling takes much longer and some of the valuable molecules are left in water which is often emptied into the sink after boiling.

 

Using microwave makes nutrients become more digestible by our bodies – carotenoids in carrots and tomatoes or biotin in the eggs. Studies also show that the antioxidants are better retained in microwaved foods when compared to stove cooked (1).

 

Spinach – when boiled loses 70% of folic acid, microwaved retains 90% of it.

Legumes – microwaving them after soaking in water preserves the nutrients much better than boiling (2).

Oat and bran flakes – show the highest antioxidant and starch levels after 3min of microwaving when compared to stove cooking.

Antioxidants prevent cell damage and ageing processes in our bodies. But what about starch levels? All carbohydrate (sugar-based) foods have glycaemic index (GI) which shows the ratio of simple sugars to complex sugars. If you want to gradually increase and maintain your energy levels for longer period, you want to eat more low GI foods. High GI meals, full of simple sugars will give you a rapid spike of glucose in your blood followed by a massive crash and cravings of more sweets in a short time. When cooking the GI of foods is going to change, thus we should always take into account that even low GI raw oats may become high in simple sugars after cooking. Microwaving oats and bran flakes maintains low GI: low glucose and high starch levels (3).

Vitamins – the overall retention of vitamins in microwaved foods is higher than in stove cooked ones. In both cases, adding lemon juice is proven to help retaining more vit. D3.(4)

 

 

Remember!

While microwaving is better than boiling, it’s important to do it correctly. Do not add too much water while preparing vegetables, since it will have a similar to boiling outcome. Aim to decrease cooking time as much as possible and use tight lids to create a steamer-like effect. Also, take into account that the ready meals are not healthy and heating them up in a microwave won’t change the fact that they are highly processed foods with low nutritional value.

 

Happy cooking ! 🙂

 

 

Let’s end the war on GMO! 3. GMOs improving your life.

This is a third and the last post of Let’s end the war on GMO! series. If you missed the previous two, here they are: GMO concerns and GM foods.

Today we are going to discuss the interesting GMOs outside the food industry. Let me know in the comment section how many of these examples you knew already and what was the most surprising one.

  1. GMO cancer drug

Genetically modified monoclonal antibody (monoclonal – produced by a single ‘parent’ stem cell, which have the same affinity to recognised antigen) was created in order to fight malignant colorectal cancer (1), lung cancer, breast cancer, renal cancers and age-related eye disease. It’s worth noting that colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in women and third in men. This modified antibody bears a fancy name Bevacizumab (Avastin being a trade name) and was designed to target cancer cells directly. This had an advantage over traditional chemotherapy drug because it would not destroy all human cells but only the cancerous ones. The clinical trials has shown that even if the drug extends the lifespan of the patients it does not lower the mortality rate. It is now used only in addition to chemotherapy to decrease the toxicity of cytotoxic drugs. Nevertheless, Avastin works wonders as eye disease treatment, thus is very popularly used by ophthalmologists.

Fun fact: any drug ending with -zumab is a human monoclonal antibody!

2. Ebola vaccine

Everyone remembers the outbreak of Ebola virus in 2014. A year later scientists created a triple-chimeric monoclonal antibody which would bind to three different epitopes of Ebola virus (the molecules sticking out on the virus’s surface informing our organism that it is of a foreign origin). The antibodies would bind to the virus signalling to our immune system “we have caught it, now you can kill it!” (2). The clinical trials are still undergoing because drug development process is a long one. So far, the estimated risk of death when contracting Ebola after vaccination is 40% lower than in non-vaccinated individuals, which is a very good score for initial tests.

3. Human insulin

Type 1 diabetics don’t produce enough insulin (hormone which regulates blood sugar levels) so they have to inject themselves with it. Until 1980s the main source of insulin was pig’s or cow’s pancreas. The problem was that bovine or porcine insulin is only similar to the human one but not exactly the same. In effect, some individuals were not reacting well to it. GMO approach was to make an ideally-matched human insulin hormone. How? By taking human insulin gene and adding it to a bacterium DNA. Modified bacteria grow in a tank producing insulin like any other protein encoded in their genome. Afterwards, scientists harvest the hormone, purify it and prepare for injections. Voilà! (3)

4. Blood production

Last year I’ve read an article on GM bacteria producing human blood and… I didn’t bookmark it. I was searching web in order to find it and in result I found something even better. Blood-producing rice. Yes, r i c e.

The number of donors is constantly falling and the need for screening the blood against HIV virus and hepatitis decreases the efficiency of the process. Blood shortages are problems on a global scale, thus scientists try to find ways of producing human blood, so the donations won’t be the only source of this extremely scarce and life-saving liquid.

Very often patients don’t need all blood components but only serum albumin – the most common protein in blood plasma produced in liver in order to detoxify blood and carry hormones or microelements around the body. It is given to patients via IV line after surgeries, dialysis, organ failures or severe infections. It is also used in pharmaceutical industry as a supplement in vaccine production or other drugs. The new transgenic rice allows for a mass production of human serum albumin. It was already tested on rats and showed no adverse reactions. In future, it could be possible to grow plants producing more human blood proteins to enrich the artificial blood production. Sounds like a good blood alternative! (4, 5, 6)

Bonus info: Scientists try to use red blood cells as drugs carriers: more here!

5. Vitamin supplements

If you think that your diet is GMO-free (which I hope you are not!) you may be surprised that most of the vitamin supplements are indeed originating from genetically modified organisms. Most of the vitamins are produced either by GM plants or bacteria. There is nothing wrong with it, so do not waste your time on searching the non-GMO labels on your supplements.

6. Hornless cows (!)

Statistically: five Britons and twenty-five Americans a year are killed by cows. 75% of the deaths were the results of deliberate attacks of a cow with their horns. This what makes cows the deadliest farm animals. The horns are not only dangerous for humans but also cause injuries to the cows while they interact with each other. Removing horns from adult cows would be a brutal, painful process which should be avoided. Genetically modified cows have no horns, which make the farming safer. There used to be only a handful of species of hornless cows but now scientists can apply ‘hornlessness’ gene to any cow providing a humane way of removing the horns(7). Good stuff making poor cows suffer less (and saving few Britons lives)!

And the most exciting one:

7. Saving endangered species

Conservation biologists claim that up to 40% of living species will be extinct by 2050 as a result of climate change. The change in the environment happens way too fast for evolution to catch up. One way to prevent this from happening would be to isolate specific survival genes from well-adapted species and incorporate them into the genomes of threatened species individuals increasing their chance for survival. Second would be to identify and use the more adapted allele of the adaptation genes and transfer them into other individuals of the same species creating a more adapted population. Both strategies involve gene editing techniques and we face the time when it is worth considering the pros and cons of interfering into natural evolution processes. (8) This week world’s last male White Northern Rhino died leaving two females who can only form sub-species with other rhino males. Could GMO approach save White Rhinos and many other species from extinction?

If you feel like my series helped you to understand GMOs in more depth, don’t be shy and share this knowledge with others. Chose at least one friend or family member and send her or him the link to this post.

It’s time to show-off your knowledge 🤓

When #scicomm criticism took a wrong turn

Let’s talk about the real reasons for #scicomm being increasingly popular.

Click here to read the letter.

A couple of days ago Science – a highly-regarded scientific magazine has published a letter which has shaken science communicators’ world. A faulty understanding of the reasons why science communicators publish their posts/pictures /videos caused the most outrage (click on the picture to read the full story).

I have to say I am a newbie in the science communication field, nevertheless I’ve been enjoying it from day one. The real aims for opening this blog and turning my Instagram account into motivational and popular science resource were not to solve the gender inequality issues. I started motivelina.com to spread the knowledge and to shrink the barrier between a scientist and general public. I simply felt that if I meant to stay in a lab behind closed doors for most of my life, I may as well just never become a researcher. Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, Sam Harris and many others started sharing their knowledge way before Instagram was popular and they did an amazing job, becoming role models for people like myself.

We live in 21st century which means that all professions become more public and the only way to not be alienated and misunderstood by the society is to open up. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians, housewives – all of them are sharing their knowledge online. And it’s brilliant! It was never as easy to learn how a day of a teacher/vet/surfer looks like. Why do we have to witness undermining the public roles of the female scientists?

We all want to live in a wiser and less hateful (or less envious) societies. We come out of our comfort zones and publish posts hoping that  BigPharma/ GMO/ vaccinations/ microwaves/ the shape of the Earth are not going to be the issues in future. We share in order to get people’s trust, engagement and inspire younger generations to follow our career paths!

The letter reads as an envious attack on a particular Instagram account. The author of this quite badly written piece of work tries to show-off hate towards her campus friend (@Science.Sam). How? By demonstrating that she should spend more time fighting ‘policy changes at governmental institutions’ rather than taking pictures on Instagram. Wright mentions the gender inequality issues by saying:

I have come to understand #scicomm on Instagram as a digital demonstration of the efforts that many female scientists exert daily to correct for gender disparities.

Can we for once not include gender pay gaps and inequalities into every single outreach activity done by women? Firstly, equal amount of men and women in the lab would not help science. It would be more desirable to employ people based on their interest in science rather than their gender. Secondly, if Wright wanted to help women in the science field (and she seems like she is willing to), she should stop criticising successful women and start teaching the unsuccessful ones how to smash their interviews or have balls to ask for a pay rise.

Let’s not cry because there are more men in science. We are not bothered that there are more women than men in nursing.

When I’ve read this:

Female scientists spend demonstrably more time teaching, mentoring, and participating in community outreach than their male colleagues, just as there are far more female #scicommers on Instagram than male.

I thought of all the male scientists, who I mentioned in the first paragraph. They spent enormous amount of time writing books, creating podcasts or lecturing. The words ‘demonstrably more time’ did not convince me at all.

Wright also says:

When I next interview for a job, I won’t have an Instagram page to show that my love of science doesn’t make me boring and unfriendly. Publicly documenting the cute outfit I wear and the sweet smile I brandish in the lab isn’t going to help me build a fulfilling career in a field.

Personally, I don’t think any extra-curriculum hobby like owing an instagram account or baking will get you a job in science. Nevertheless, I’m sure that nowadays good networking skills can get you a job quite easily.

If we want to help out women in our filed – hey, let’s not criticise them! This shows why women struggle in professional life – because per every amazing, self-driven, top-quality female worker, there will be five of her work colleagues (also women), so envious and ruthless, that they will try to destroy her career. It is the painful truth which I experienced myself. Instead of empowering each other, we judge – very often publicly. In my opinion, this is far more important issue than gender inequality. Because if we sort things out in our own garden, it will be easier to come forward to tackle bigger problems.

How is #scicomm community doing?

The response is absolutely enormous. Scientist outreach movements like #scientistswhoselfie increase their popularity gaining new supporters every hour. It might be that the criticism of the scientists activity on Instagram has taken a wrong turn and instead of putting people off from outreach projects, will make it more popular.

Please feel free to use the comment section below to attach links to your own outreach projects, accounts, blogs and I will be more than happy to follow you and promote them on this blog!

Ewelina

Let’s end the war on GMO! 2. GM foods

This is a second post from my educational series ‘Let’s end war on GMO’. You can read the first one, where I explain the science behind GMO concerns here.

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for high engagement of my pervious post on wordpress.com and social media. I am thrilled that many of you found my article helpful and informative. I am feeling extremely inspired to continue our scientific journey, especially when I see that the aim of this blog – to educate and motivate is heading in the right direction.

Today, we will talk about the examples of GM foods and the reasons for their production. You will find out that scientists create GMOs in order to address world’s hunger issues, reduce the amount of harmful substances in our foods and help agriculture to improve rapidly.

  1. Golden rice.

2012 WHO report showed that 250 million children up to the age of 5 are affected by vitamin A deficiency (VAD). The cases are clinically severe in developing countries like Southeast Asia and Africa, where VAD leads to suppressed immune system, blindness, skeletal deformations and other health complications. Providing the poorest with vit. A could prevent 1/3 of all preschool children’s deaths which equals to about 2.7 million kids being saved from dying unnecessarily each year. Scientists from Switzerland and Germany developed genetically modified rice, which contains gene encoding for β-Carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) which gets broken down into the desired vitamin A. They achieved it by adding to the ordinary Asian rice a β-Carotene producing gene from a daffodil. The crop is visibly more yellow in comparison to its traditional version. Golden rice is probably going to be implemented first in the Philippines and Bangladesh by 2019, because both countries have large impoverished populations and relatively advanced regulations for developing GM crops. The implementation of Golden rice is not an easy task, because of the bad press and anti-GMO movements such as Greenpeace. In 2013 American researchers admitted that they violated ethical rules by feeding Golden rice to children in Chinese schools without their parents’ approval. The group ended their research immediately. In June 2016, 107 Nobel Prize laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to stop campaigning against Golden Rice. To read more, click here and here.

pexels-photo-235648

  1. Multivitamin white corn.

Since micronutrient deficiency is estimated to affect up to 50% of world’s population, another example of biofortified GM foods is white corn. It has been enhanced with macronutrients like β-Carotene, folate and ascorbate. It was achieved by adding to South African elite white corn 4 new genes from maize and two species of bacteria. This time researchers aimed to improve three vitamin deficiencies in countries with cereal-rich diets. For genetic details click here.

For more information on market potential of biofortified crops click here. 

pexels-photo-96715

  1. Folate-enriched tomatoes.

There are many genetic modifications of tomatoes, some increasing their nutritional value and other extending their shelf life. One of the most interesting examples of GM tomatoes are the folate-enriched ones. Folate deficiency is another global health problem. It is an essential micronutrient for women of child-bearing age because of its role in embryonic nervous system formation. Neural tube forms within the first month from conception, thus in order to prevent foetal defects suitable levels of folate need to be maintained from the early days of pregnancy. Researchers from the University of Florida over-expressed a gene which caused a 25-fold increase of folate within a ripe tomato. For more details click here. 

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  1. Virus-resistant Papaya

Papaya ringspot virus was discovered in Hawaii in 1992. It spread rapidly worldwide significantly decreasing papaya’s production. The bioengineered version of the fruit overexpressed the virus-resistant gene from wild relative of papaya (Vasconellea) and was commercialised in 1998. The Hawaiian industry was saved, the resistant papaya is successfully produced and sold until now. It is by far the most successful example of GM food development to date. More: click,click.

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  1. Innate potato.

It is a group of potato types sold from 2014 with enhanced properties. The name ‘innate’ comes from the fact that scientists did not add genes to them from other species but changed the expression levels of their own ones. They do not bruise or brown easily and they produce less asparagine – an amino acid which turns into acrylamide when potatoes are fried. Acrylamide is a carcinogen, so the less of it in our foods the better. Unfortunately, the major consumer of potatoes – McDonald’s, under a public pressure of anti-GMO movement ruled out using Innate. Find out more here, here and here.

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Lastly – GM milk

Now, I will show you GMO approach to handle the enormous consumers demand for milk. It is a very controversial example and one where there is no straightforward answer whether GM milk is better than a natural one. Milk industry is – in general – a very sensitive topic and the one when the consumer demand for milk overtakes the wellbeing of an animal. It is nevertheless, not worse than ordinary milk production, thus if you oppose GM milk, you should also consider opposing drinking milk at all. GM milk is safe for humans, whilst available in the US, it is banned in Europe, Canada and Australia. Dairy cows are injected with a bovine growth hormone, which enhances lactation. GM milk is produced from cows injected with artificial version of the same hormone. The studies comparing the health risks of cows overproducing milk were mostly inconclusive, with indication that the impact of artificial hormone very much depends on the individual cow’s state. Some cows seemed to be healthier on GM treatment and some were more prone to infections. The studies comparing the quality of milk indicate no difference between both types. The studies on milk consumption show no significant differences of impact on humans between both of the cow milks. To conclude, if you drink milk anyway, to your health it does not matter whether you drink GM one or organic. The only difference is that significantly less cows are needed to produce your weekly milk supply when you purchase GM milk. More info: click,click, click. 

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I hope that through this post you have gained some more insight into the development of GM foods. Next week, I am going to finish the GMO educational series by showing you interesting GMO uses outside the food industry.

Ewelina

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Let’s end the war on GMO! 1.GMO concerns

This post is the first one of my new educational series “Let’s end the war on GMO” where I will be explaining different aspects of Genetically Modified Organisms, their usage and hopefully clarify some of the uncertainties which arose online.

This week, let’s end the war on… GM foods!

Recently, I’ve seen a water bottle labelled with three signs – safe for babies, vegan and non-GMO. I could probably agree with the first one. But I laughed out loud when I noticed the other two symbols. Vegan water – as far as I am concerned, you can’t water a cow (correct me if I’m wrong). Finally, the Non-GMO sign made me (cry) think – if marketing specialist use NON-GMO signs on water, it means, that people have no clue what GMOs are. I’m here to talk to you about it!

GMO:

  • Gives you cancer
  • Induces allergy
  • Is contaminated with viruses
  • Causes autism
  • Accelerates ageing

These are only some of the ‘reasons to avoid GM foods’ freely floating between google searches.  It is worth noting, that none of these so-called reasons are backed up by scientific publications or any references. As a scientist, I have an obligation to educate the general public about controversial or unpopular topics, so that informed people can make their own responsible choices regarding their diet.

Let’s have a deal. I will show you the facts about GMO, and you will decide what to believe yourself, alright?

What are Genetically Modified Organisms?

Nothing ‘gives you cancer’, something can only increase your risk of cancer. But it is not GMO. WHO has a really good definition of GMO:

GMO can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods.

Nowadays scientists are able to manipulate DNA in a very specific way, thus a process which would take 1000 years through the natural breeding techniques is achievable within one generation of the living organism. Also, some valuable features (genes) may be suitable to transfer from one species to another. However scary it sounds, it does only because science sounds complicated. Complicated does not mean bad for you. It means – you need to make an effort to understand it. Please, do not take media as your main source of scientific information – question what you hear or read.

  1. GMO and cancer.

People say, that DNA from a GM tomato binds with our DNA and ‘gives us cancer’. It is simply impossible. We eat DNA of plants and animals (and bacteria!) every day. DNA is a fairly weak (deoxyribonucleic) acid, which gets broken into small pieces very quickly. Those pieces are not able to mutate our DNA. Different molecules obtained from digested foods do build our DNA strands, but only in an ordered way, not invading it. GM vegetables will have altered DNA but it does not change the fact, that its genetic material is broken down in our guts as non-modified ones (1 and 2)

  1. GMO and allergies

There is a concern, that the additional or altered genes within GM crops may induce immune responses in human bodies (ie. allergy). All GM foods are tested backwards and forwards thousand times before they enter the market. Researchers make sure, the plant is as safe as possible before it lands on your plate.

  1. GMO and antibiotic resistance

Many years ago, there was a risk that GM crops could be bearing antibiotic resistance genes within their DNA, which could potentially (but very unlikely) be transferred into our gut bacteria and (maybe) in result affect our health (3 and 4). Now, the approved GM foods do not have antibiotic resistance genes as their markers, thus it is impossible to make little X-mens from our little gastrointestinal guests.

  1. GMO and pollution

The word ‘pollution’ is very unfortunate in here. It makes people think GM seeds are negatively impacting their health as air or water pollutants. Generally, the farmers want to avoid mixing non-GM crops with GM ones from obvious reasons – food needs to be appropriately labelled and any possible side-effects of cultivating new crops identified. Studies show there is a very low risk of mixing genes between GM and non-GM species, since countries developed strategies to reduce outcrossing (and 6)Any old-style GM crops which were responsible for heavy metal ions aggregation were identified years ago, destroyed and the soil was cleaned from all ‘contamination’. (7)

  1. Ordinary vs GM foods

GM foods are as nutritious as the ordinary ones. Moreover, some of them (like soybeans) were modified to increase their nutritional value. Plants were genetically engineered so they are easier (and cheaper) to grow by farmers, to make them resistant to herbicides, pests or to even their size. A good example of this is a freeze-resistant and insect-resistant maize. It used to be frost sensitive but now can be grown in the cooler climates. (8) The livestock is fed with a lot of corn; thus, the GM maize can sustain the agricultural demands for crops. More examples of GMO saving lives in the next post, so stay tuned!

And remember: Do not get fooled by the pictures of apples with needles stuck in them.

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These pictures meant to manipulate you to think, that GMO are treated with large amounts of some chemical substances before they are given to you – the customers. This is not how scientists modify plants! It happens on the cellular level – at the nucleus of the cell within a seed, not a fully-grown apple. Modern techniques (such as CRISPR-Cas9) allow the changes to be done in a very specific, subtle way, so there is no need for a syringe or any dodgy substances to be added.

To conclude, nowadays the scientists are able to tackle the problems and issues regarding long-term effects of GM crops. (9) Each seed coming from a laboratory is checked backwards and forwards multiple times and we know about them more than we probably ever will about the ‘organic’ foods. To finish off, I have got for you a great quotation from James Watson’s book called ‘DNA The Secret of Life’ (click the title to check it out)

“There are more rodent carcinogens in one cup of coffee than pesticide residues you get in a year. (…) So it just shows our double standard: If it’s synthetic we really freak out, and if it’s natural we forget about it.”

~ James Watson

In the next post of this series, Motivelina will show you the most interesting examples of GM foods and their impact on the environment and the society.

What are your thoughts about GMO after reading this post? Share your thoughts with me!

Ewelina

World Book Day 2018 – my recommendations!

What could I post on a World’s Book Day if not some book recommendations?!

Last year wasn’t the most fruitful one on my bibliophile shelf. University textbooks took over my reading lists. Nevertheless, I prepared for you some good titles, which I have devoured and especially enjoyed within the past 12 months (you can purchase the books by clicking on the pictures):

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The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan – if you ever wanted to find a single book which is going to cover a whole history of the world in a nice continuous story – this is the one. Author changed the way I perceive the current political situation in the world, especially looking at the history of Middle East and Asia. Frankopan shows the connections between different historical events and the countries in a clever and engaging way, so learning history on Friday afternoon is pure pleasure.

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Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik – I have never thought I will get amazed by the chemical details of concrete or plastic. I was. Mark is an engineer and a great scientist, who shares some technical insights, development and features of different types of materials, from chocolate to glass. Do you remember reading an information which literally blows your mind, so you need to stop reading and tell your friend about it? While reading “Stuff Matters” I experienced that feeling every couple of pages – until my partner asked me when I’m going to finally stop talking about the melting temperatures of chocolate! 😉

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How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carengie – whether we like or not, we are constantly forced to interact with people. This book is a classic self-help guide and if you have never read it, start now! The wisdom of Carengie’s mind is far beyond what modern life coaches have to offer on their blogs and websites. My only thought, when I started reading this book was – why haven’t I read this ages ago?! Highly recommend!

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Essays in Love by Alain de Botton – regardless of your current state of affairs, you will enjoy this beautiful piece of everyday philosophy. The author taps us in our backs saying: we all go through the same problems, you are not the only one. It is a smooth, witty and eloquent evaluation of a relationship between two people. Alain dresses emotions into words, being able to describe the processes occurring in our heads when encountering intimacy, anger, fights, misery and excitement. An excellent short uplifting book!

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p53:The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Codeby Sue Armstrong – you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the story of p53, the tumour suppressor protein very closely related to cancer. Sue guides us through the history of the protein’s discovery, scientific frauds and modern advances in cancer research. She presents short biographies of researchers who changed the world, while showing their determination, failures and achievements. It’s a good title to start with if you are interested into science but haven’t read any pop-science books yet.

Audiobooks which I fall in love recently:

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Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection read by Stephen Fry – over 70 hours of pure pleasure. Fry’s voice is utterly amazing! He creates different voices, accents and impressions with a true perfection. The audiobook is split into few parts and each part has a personal comment from Fry, which makes the experience even more amusing.

  • The Great Courses series on Audible – when you want to know more about the world you live in, from mindfulness, through physics to cooking and history. This production offers you great courses on almost everything. The recordings are divided into 15-45mins sessions and you can listen to them daily while commuting to work or walking a dog. Very informative and enjoyable.

In my reading queue: Great Thinkers: Simple Tools from 60 Great Thinkers to Improve Your Life Today(Alain de Botton), 12 Rules of Life (Jordan B Peterson), Mythos(Stephen Fry), A Briefer History of Time (Leonard Mlodinow and Stephen Hawking).

Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post? What are your thoughts?

Do you have any recommendations for me? Comment below 🙂

Please like & share if you enjoyed it! 😉

Ewelina

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