Apr 252017
 

I have always tried to stay up to date with the latest trends in genital hygiene, and vaginal douching is one that I have been conflicted about.

Sure, I’m all for a super clean vagina but I worry about two things. Firstly, doctors actually recommend that women don’t douche their vagina. It changes the balance of bacteria and can cause the growth of harmful bacteria leading to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. As a 1973 commercial once said, “our oven is as self-cleaning as a vagina”, so it’s best to let it clean itself.

Secondly, as douching becomes more popular among teens, the number of plastic douches embarrassingly tossed from cars, while they speed down the motorway, increases. We can all agree that the only acceptable thing to be thrown out of cars on the motorway is a bag of vomit.

Douches are typically made from polyethylene. Polyethylene is a plastic that accounts for about 40% of the worldwide demand for plastics, and douches, probably, make up most of that demand.

Fear not, my clean as a whistle friends, scientists from the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (CSIC), Spain, and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, have found a caterpillar that can break down polyethylene and cover up your earth-hating habits.

Dr Bertocchini, the supervising researcher, accidently stumbled upon the discovery when she was removing pest wax moth caterpillars from her hobby beehive. Placing them in a plastic bag she noticed that the caterpillars seemed to be eating the bag and holes started to appear.

Bertocchini said: “it was fucking unbelievable”. She added, “I went from hating them to realising they’ll get me loads of media attention”.

The team then did a timed experiment by placing the wax moth caterpillars into a Marks & Spencer plastic bag and monitoring the by-products and holes produced. Also, it goes to show that if you can get a job at the University of Cambridge you can afford to do all of your shopping at Marks & Spencer, not just at Christmas like most of the UK’s families.

After 40 minutes, holes started to appear in the bag and, after 12 hours, the hungry caterpillars had eaten through 92 mg of the plastic. This worked out to be a rate of 2.2 holes per worm per hour (unit not in the International System of Units, yet). This is over 1000 times faster than the rate achieved by bacterial breakdown of plastic.

The future direction for the research is to find the chemical that is responsible for breaking down the plastic and isolating the enzyme responsible for its creation.

As pointed out by the leftist dictator, Waleed Aly, there’s a huge amount of plastic circulating in the ocean. Bertocchini said: “fitting the caterpillars with life jackets is not a viable solution and please don’t include it in your waste of time blog”.


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References

  1. Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella
  2. Caterpillar found to eat shopping bags, suggesting biodegradable solution to plastic pollution
Apr 182017
 
crystals

Despite what most social media science news publications will lead you to believe, science doesn’t, and shouldn’t, always have an end application. In that way, it’s similar to the trend of stretching out ear lobes or, for that matter, any body modification that leaves your dear old granny nauseous.

Take a recent discovery from Harvard University (home of the sexually harassing football team): the creation of “time crystals”. Just that name alone makes me imagine a glowing, angular rod of awesomeness which, when slipped into the rectum, has the ability to manipulate time and transport you back to when you didn’t care about interest rates. The reality, however, is that the applications of time crystals are currently unknown. So, if it doesn’t cure cancer or make your smartphone better, why has it been published in the super fancy journal, Nature?

Reading the peer-reviewed paper (here) to find out, is about as useful as a magician with no palms.

Unless you have a PhD in physics, you’ll get lost pretty quickly. For example, this sentence is only 5 sentences in:

“We observe long-lived temporal correlations, experimentally identify the phase boundary and find that the temporal order is protected by strong interactions. This order is remarkably stable to perturbations, even in the presence of slow thermalization.”

What the fuck is going on? It’s like it was written by a person who hasn’t had any intimate contact with actual humans, due to a sexual attraction to anime characters. I guess that makes sense…

Luckily for you, I had nothing better to do today and made the easy version:

Time crystals are a new form of matter that, until now, have only existed in theory.

In normal crystals, atoms are arranged in repeating and predictable patterns. In the common crystal example, table salt, there’s a neat structure of sodium and chlorine atoms repeated over and over again. In time crystals, the structure of the atoms operates in relation to time rather than in relation to space. (stay with me…I understand that your brain has just decided it’s not worth reading on)

The time crystals, created by the Harvard scientists, were small diamonds which had been treated so that loads of impurities were present in the crystal structure. Within each of these impurities, there are electrons. The electrons in the impurities have a property which is known as spin – either up spin or down spin.

The electron’s spin direction reacts to microwave pulses by flipping 180 degrees. Typically, we’d expect an electron’s spin to change with each pulse, but in the case of the time crystals, the spin changes after two or three pulses, not every time you microwave it. In other words, this structure responds to time, not just external forces.

After a load of microwave pulses, the spins could start to get out of sync and become randomly orientated. In the time crystal, however, the interactions between the impurities keeps all of the electrons spinning in the same direction.

So, I guess that’s cool but what about applications? Does it cure cancer or make smartphones better?

No. The anime bothering scientists don’t really know what the applications are yet, but to make themselves sound more sciency, they included the words “quantum” and “computing” so other researchers would take them seriously.

The lead researcher Mikhail D. Lukin said: “I haven’t got time to explain my research to you for your stupid blog”.


References

  1. Observation of discrete time-crystalline order in a disordered dipolar many-body system
  2. Creating time crystals

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Apr 112017
 
fig leaf willy

It seems like everything we own is now rechargeable: phones, lights, watches, and internet connected dildos. To facilitate our sexy, cordless existence, all of these devices need a battery. The problem is that the batteries used for our strangulation-proof-life become degraded by frequent recharging. The sort of frequent recharging required during an all-night, swipe right binge on tinder so you can confidently look your mum in the eye and say that you are trying to find someone.

Scientists from the fancy university in Cambridge (home of the “rear of the year” competition), report in Nature Communications, that they have developed a new type of battery which, can withstand the effects of social isolation and is based on the structures found in nature’s vascular systems.

The vascular structures created by the scientists are similar to those you’d find on the back of leaves, in circulatory systems and, even though the scientists don’t explicitly mention it in their paper, on the top of willies so big they have their own soul.

Willy veins

In a first of its kind demonstration, the superficial-dorsal-vein-loving-scientists use what is known as Murray’s Law to inspire material design. Murry’s Law is basically a formula to explain how natural systems minimise resistance in vessels. It all starts with a big vessel which has “daughter” branches that are smaller in diameter.

In the case of a willy, the superficial dorsal vein is the main pathway which then branches off into smaller and smaller veins. This hierarchal structure ensures the hard working willy gets all of the nutrients it needs in a super efficient way.

The blue-vein-imitating-scientists created their Murry material by allowing zinc-oxide nanoparticles to self-arrange through a simple layer by layer evaporation process. By changing the solvent and temperature used for the evaporation of different layers, the “rear of the year” scientists were able to change the size of the pores created by the nanoparticles.

Prof Bao-Lian Su, who holds a number of positions: as a life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, Wuhan University of Technology in China and at the University of Namur in Belgium because he hates spending time with his family said,

“sometimes all the inspiration you need is right under your nose…or between your knees and nipples to be exact”

When used in a battery, the zinc oxide Murray material had a reversible capacity 25 times higher than that of a state-of-art graphite Li-ion battery electrode. The bio-inspired ZnO Murray network, with its vascular network of pores, delivered ultra-high capacities and rate capabilities, along with long-life cycling stability.

The branching nature of the pores also reduces the stresses in these electrodes during the charge/discharge processes, improving their structural stability and resulting in a longer lifetime for energy storage devices.

The team envisions that the same willy inspired structures could be used effectively in material designs for energy and environmental applications and promise that their next paper will mention where they really got the inspiration from.


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References

  1. Bio-inspired Murray materials for mass transfer and activity
  2. Leaf vein structure could hold key to extending battery life

 

Apr 042017
 
Cancer Cells

Being told “you have skin cancer” is pretty rubbish. It’s up there with “your brother and I have been shagging on your favorite Egyptian cotton sheets” and “please get out of the swimming pool, I think you have just shit yourself”. Skin cancer is a really aggressive form of cancer which, if left untreated, can spread really quickly. Scientists from The University of Iowa (rating of 4.8 on Facebook) watched and modeled how skin cancer grows so they could identify a drug to stop it as well as over-enthusiastic tongue movements stop a kiss.

In Australia, melanoma is the third most common cancer and is followed closely by facebook invites for Candy Crush Saga and Farmville. Biology professor David Soll (aka slippery D) and his team used really fancy 3-D reconstruction software to work out how both breast tissue cancer cells and melanoma cells form tumors. The team watched cells under a microscope and used the software to create a 3D representation of what was happening. Slippery D said, “I have to stop the PhD students from using the computer for playing online poker”.

To look at the difference between the normal cells and cancerous cells, they first modeled the movements of normal healthy cells and it looked like this:

You can see in the video that the yellow blobs (representing cells) grow in an even way. Just like a career in science, the cells don’t move very far very fast. Slippery D’s team then modeled the movement of cancerous cells and it looked like this:

The first thing you would have noticed (because you’re either a clever person or lucky) is that the cells start reaching out to form bridges much quicker than the normal cells. It’s this rapid movement in combination with speedy cell division that makes skin cancer cells such wankers.

One of the tests showed a single cell moving three times its diameter to join with a small cancerous cluster in just four hours. In another instance, within 72 hours, 24 individual melanoma cells or small clusters of cells had combined into one large cancerous clot.

One important finding was that the skin cancer cells acted in a similar way to breast cancer cells, sending out cables to reel in other cells and clusters. It means that a drug that stops breast cancers from joining together can also stop skin cancers from doing the same thing.

One way of combatting cancer is to use chemicals that attach to the outside of the cell and tell the body to attack it, like sticking a “kick me” sign on its back. Slippery D’s science buddies looked at a load of the “kick me” chemicals before finding two that worked and stopped the tumor from growing, he said, “can you stop calling me? I have no idea why anyone would want to read your blog”.

 


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References

  1. Paper: Melanoma cells undergo aggressive coalescence in a 3D Matrigel model that is repressed by anti-CD44
  2. UI researchers document how melanoma tumors form