Because the skills you learn as a scientist are valuable in every area of your life...

I was browsing my Facebook this morning when I came across an article from a friend/vendor. I'll save the whole hearted endorsement for the vendor bit later - the fact that I also consider her a friend should speak volumes, and if it doesn't, the fact that I'm currently citing her here should say something as well.

There are lots of smaller (read, not mass-marketed) brands of cosmetics and many pinterest recipes for do-it-yourself soaps, lotions, scrubs, or cosmetics. Hayley Croom, of Paintbox Soapworks, is not like many of them. She actually pays attention to the science and what she can and cannot claim about her product. For instance, when pinterest recipes for DIY sunscreen using coconut oil popped up, Croom quickly pointed out the dangers of this particular project - namely, that without proper regulation, there's no certainty in how protected you are, for how long, and the risks of not being protected include skin cancer. That's a big one, folks, and a known risk that's not to be casually ignored.

Today's article is a great lesson on how to read media in general. For those of you who are going into science, you absolutely must cultivate this skill. For the rest of the world? You really need to cultivate this skill. You have to learn to read past the clickbait title, dig for the actual sources, determine their validity (for instance, an article that says that crude oil does no harm to wildlife might be a little suspect if it's published by a petroleum company, especially if said company is under investigation for a recent spill, but an article that suggests that perhaps we've misunderstood the impact that crude oil has on the environment due to a previously understudied bacterial population may be less suspect if it comes from an environmental group or a university microbiologist), and then interpret what the actual study means - especially for you and the people with whom you interact.

Go read. See what it looks like when someone actually does what I'm talking about. And then, if you so choose, buy something. Because, no, really, Hayley makes some awesome soap. (Or, you know, don't. This article was not sponsored by Paintbox Soapworks or Hayley Croom. I just think she's the bees knees).

What is A1C?

Here's a nifty infographic explaining what A1C is. It's from onedrop, which runs an app that makes monitoring your diabetes easier. However, this one is useful not just for folks who are diabetic, but for everyone who encounters blood sugar - healthcare providers, family members, folks who have high or low blood sugar, and so on.

I may come back later and discuss this in more detail, but for now, let's just start with this. Enjoy!


If Organelles Could Talk - Beatrice the Biologist

Just a quickie this afternoon - I love Beatrice the Biologist! First of all, while you can become and Patron & support her (a course I suggest if you have the available funds), her materials are easily found on the internet for perusal without needing to back her. She's all about producing materials that illustrate and educate, which mean you get an image that quickly brings home an idea for you! Have something you just can't wrap your mind around? Beatrice might have some assistance. This particular comic, for instance, by giving voice to each of the organelles, not only highlights the fact that each organelle has its own role to play within the cell, but also gives you some sense of what each does, and its relative size and position! The mitochondrial refusal to obey the nucleus is a reference to the fact that mitochondria have their own genetic material and divide independently of the nucleus. It's also a nod to the endosymbiotic theory - and all in a tiny comic!

Seriously, this comic provides a great tool. Go check her out!


One of the things you learn in school, and in the sciences if no where else, is that citing your sources is essential. I haven't been as careful to do that as I could have been, so this is a link fest, with lots of links out to information on antibiotic resistance - how it develops, how you can avoid it, and what you can do to help fight the problem.

The first set is from the CDC, or the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. This is a great site in general, one I like to reference frequently. There's information here geared for patients as well as for medical professionals, and much of it can be found in multiple languages (most frequently English and Spanish), ensuring that the essential information for your health is available to you in whatever form is easiest/most useful.

Included in these links is a PDF from 2013 that summarizes the problem, with lots of illustrations and plain speech. It's 114 pages, so don't print it if you don't have to, but it's well worth the read, and I'm pretty sure everyone will be able to understand it.

The CDC materials have broken it down much the way I did, and even further. Do you want the material I covered in "Disappearing Miracle" or "No, the Z-Pack won't treat the Flu"? What about the concern of antibiotics in the food supply, or "SuperChickens?", or are you looking for more?

Another site I'm using is the National Resources Defense Council, or the NRDC. This is a charity that "works to safeguard the earth - its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends." This focus includes clean water, sustainable farming, clean energy, and ensuring that the planet we leave our children and grandchildren is one they can live on.

I'm also including a link from ScienceBlog here, specifically discussing the issue of antibiotics in farming. I tend to read lots of blogs, magazine & journal articles, and to hunt through books when I do these sorts of things. Sometimes, the journal articles are hard to read (yes, even for me, yes, even for the professors who taught me how to wade through them), but I honestly believe that science is all about the pursuit of knowledge, and I want to make it available to the people. That way you can make informed decisions and live a fuller life.

Other sites I use (perhaps not for this series, but as I go through life and answer questions in general) include pubchem and pubmed. These are great places to find journal articles (Students, pay attention) and chemical structures. If I've ever told you something about a chemical structure, I probably checked it out here. You want to see the structure of a virus? There are tools for that, too - here's an image of a rhinovirus, one of the 200 types of viruses that can cause a cold.

Maybe you dropped your pills this morning and mixed up which ones you're supposed to take this morning compared to the ones you take tonight. You can call up your pharmacy, but they'll tell you to bring the pills in. Or you can start with the Pill Identification Wizard at Drugs.Com, which also has an interactions checker.

Hopefully this source dump has been useful. I'll continue to do this from time to time, and remember, I'll keep linking things when I find them. SuperChickens? is coming soon, and then I have an exciting series in mind (right after I finish my next grad school application, and probably after Christmas). If you have a suggestion or question, feel free to comment below. Thanks!

Vaccines Work. Here Are the Facts. — The Nib — Medium

I cannot love this strip enough.

I recently got a copy of my own vaccination records from my infancy, where I was able to confirm I got two doses of trivalent Sabin Polio vaccine in the first 6 months of my life. I've also been given the MMR multiple times, I get the flu shot every year, got the HBV vaccine, meningitis vaccine, and get the pneumonia vaccine occasionally. When I'm accepted into grad school, I'll have to get the Varicella vaccine (despite having had chicken pox as a child), and if I ever get to travel over seas the way I want to, to help others, I'll probably get more vaccines. All of it is training for my body to recognize "other" and keep me healthy. More than that, even though I'm not always the healthiest person, it helps guarantee that no virus can ever use me to gain a foothold in the population and spread. I'm a link in the fence that protects humanity, defending our young, our old, our well and our sick, from infection. I'm doing my part for herd immunity!

Gel Filtration - YouTube

If the first few slides here are confusing, remember, they're describing what the AKLecture explained. Feel free to pause and rewatch as needed, but this was the final piece I wanted to share. Certainly, in the Ars Technica article, on the industrial scale, the equipment you see in this video isn't what's being used. But the general idea is the same. So thanks to these videos and the Ars Technica article, you can now feel fairly confident that you have an idea what to do when you walk into the Biochem lab for protein purification. At the very least, you'll feel less overwhelmed by all the equipment, steps, and terms in front of you, now that you can comprehend the basic concept!

Gel Filtration Chromatography - YouTube

I promised a follow up to the Ars Technica article on purifying proteins, and here it is. This lecture by AK lectures is excellent. He explains how each method works clearly (This is gel filtration, but there are links here for Ion Exchange and Affinity, as well, which should cover the other methods well enough that everything discussed in the Ars Technica article is reviewed well. The only thing I still want to find is the actual equipment used, so I'll be hunting for that next.

Ladies & Gentlemen, this is why I argue that anyone can be an auto-didact. We can all learn anything we set our minds to! The tools are there! That's why It's The Small Things exists - I wanted to make it easy for us to find and use them!

How and why we purify proteins | Ars Technica

I think, in the last Ars Technica article I linked, I mentioned that I love them. Just in case I didn't, let me say it now: I love Ars Technica. This article more clearly and succintly describes the methods for how and why proteins are purified than I think any of my professors ever explained. I think my biochem professor (Hi RD!!!) came the closest to giving us this level of detail, but even he, I think, focused on the methods we had available to us in our lab and the techniques we'd be using. This is a nice overview. Pair this article with a video showing the actual equipment and techniques (Yes, I'll go hunting for it & cross link when I find it) and your budding biochemists will be well-prepared for the skills required of them in the lab! Not only that, the ordinary people who never go near labs but may rely on protein based medications (like insulin) can read this and get a larger appreciation of the work that goes into ensuring their medication is safe and effective as well as affordable.

This genetically modified yeast can now brew morphine

This article from PBS discusses a breakthrough made at UC-Berkeley and in Canada to help move production of certain opiates (drugs used for pain killing) from the time-consuming process of waiting for plants to grow before final processing in yeast to allow the entire process to occur in specially modified yeast cells. However, recognizing the danger of home-made labs using this yeast to create their own opiates, the researchers have also already begun discussions with regulatory agencies in an effort to help restrict access. This may limit their own access to their own research, but it may help prevent the spread of the specific strain out of the lab and into the hands of those who would sell these addictive (and potentially lethal drugs. Opiates such as morphine can depress the respiratory system and cause patients to stop breathing.

The ongoing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Outbreak in Korea | Ars Technica

This is a great example of what news should be - informative, but not sensational. There's information here about what MERS is, what it does, and what to do about it. There's also information that puts it in context - MERS isn't just some scary illness, it is caused by a specific virus type, called a corona virus. There's more on why these viruses have that name, other disorders caused by these viruses, how they're transmitted, and what to do about it. I really like the stuff John finds for me in ars technica because it's almost always well-rounded and solid like this. I recommend reading this article, but also, browsing them in general.