There’s Triclosan in my Soap

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always had a penchant for great-smelling soaps.

Naturally, when Bath and Body Works finally made its way over to us Canadian folks, I was elated.  I can assure you that I took full advantage of any and all ‘sales’ on multiple buys.

Only recently, however, did I realize the significance of using “antibacterial soap” — not just BBW’s line antibac line, but every soap on the mass market today with the proud “antibacterial” label.   I mean, I knew Triclosan was an antibiotic from my basic microbiology courses, but only recently when Dr. Dupont talked about it in BIOL 444 – Microorganisms and Disease did I realize that these soaps are actually contributing to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Now, every time I pump some of that awesome-melling cucumber-melon foam, I can’t help but be very aware that I’m washing antibiotics down my sink.


The Orange-Peeler

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Too many people today don’t care about Science, and the principal reason is because they can’t understand scientists. When will we all learn how to communicate in plain English?

If the world was a dinner party, then I am convinced that Science is like an orange.  The art of science communication, then, is learning how to peel that orange — for the purposes of serving it to your guests, naturally.

Recently, I had the privilege of collaborating with Marcel Pinheiro, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo, to present a talk on the importance of effective science communication.  The talk was part of an on-going series of informal talks in the Biology department affectionately titled the “Biology Brown Bag seminar series”.

In the preparation process, we managed to get in touch with the great folks over at CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks.  An email led to more emails and eventually a formal request was put in. The request was accepted: before I knew it, Marcel and I had were basking in the unparalleled honour of interviewing the incredible, inspirational, and effervescent science journalist and host, Bob McDonald.

If ever I witnessed a Orange-Peeler guru, Bob is it.

Related Links:


Geeky Science in the Kitchen

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

This past summer, I wrote a Science column for the University of Waterloo’s student newspaper, Imprint, entitled “The Edible Hypothesis”.  As the name suggests, the column is all about my main interests in life: namely food, science, and experimentation.  It’s really no surprise, then, that when I recently found out about Jeff Potter’s coming to school to speak about his new book, Cooking for Geeks (O’Reilly 2010), I literally jumped at the chance to meet him.

Nestled somewhere in between the hasty moments where my feet left the ground and when they arrived back on the floor, I had thought to bring a microphone.

Download the podcast in .mp3 !

Related Links:

Paper Pick #1: Vancomycin Resistance Mechanism in Bacteria

April 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Public Health Microbiology, BIOL 449, Dr. Butler was always telling us how the antibiotic vancomycin is considered today to be “the silver bullet” for any sort of infection.

The problem though, as we learned in class, is that there seems to be an emerging trend of bacteria which have developed resistance mechanisms against vancomycin.

Unlike most other antibiotics, which work to inhibit cell-wall building enzymes in bacteria, vancomycin works to inhibit directly cell wall synthesis by binding to the actual building blocks of the wall.  Thus, with antibiotic resistant bacteria, researchers were never sure what turned on the genes: the actual presence of the drug vancomycin, or the process of cell-wall disintegration itself.   By sticking a photoaffinity probe onto vancomycin, the researchers in this study were able to identify that the compound binding to VanS was indeed vancomycin, and that this is in effect what induces expression of resistance genes in the bacteria.

In terms of the significance of this work, lead researcher Dr. Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University says:  “Out of this finding comes two different strategies to overcome drug resistance.

“Either we change the antibiotic so it doesn’t turn on the switch, or we make new compounds that block that switch and then the antibiotic works anyways.”


Kalinka Koteva, Hee-Jeon Hong, Xiao Dong Wang, Ishac Nazi, Donald Hughes, Mike J Naldrett, Mark J Buttner, & Gerard D Wright.  2010.  A vancomycin photoprobe identifies the histidine kinase VanSsc as a vancomycin receptor.  Nature Chemical Biology. Published online: 11 April 2010 | doi:10.1038/nchembio.350

How to make the most important discovery of your life

April 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Like most people, I grew up associating the term “science” with a self-fulfilling notion of awe and discovery: in grade school, I was taught that Louis Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation. In high school, chemistry videos showed me how Marie Curie discovered radium. And that falling apple – didn’t Sir Isaac Newton prove the law of gravity?

So when I first started studying Science in University, I was surprised to learn that much of what I had romanticized about Science was, in fact, quite wrong. Scientists don’t like the word “prove”. They also almost never use the word “discover”.

What? Where were all the Marie Curies and the Isaac Newtons, then? If no one was proving, disproving, or discovering anything, what was Science all about?

A few days ago, I told one of my friends about how discovering Amy Krouse Rosenthal just about changed my life. To explain what I meant (not in words because Amy cannot be explained in words), I sent him to one of the videos she made on YouTube. He came back, after having watched the video, and said something like, “Wow, Amy Krouse Rosenthal does look amazing…”, immediately followed by: “How did she change your life?”

For me, the video itself was self-explanatory in describing the essence of how Amy K.R. changed my life. The embodiment of serendipity. Loveliness. And magic.

I stared at the screen for a while, not knowing how I should reply to his email. This whole time, I had refrained from trying to describe Amy and I couldn’t – wouldn’t – resort to words now. At the same time, I realized: my life-changing moment isn’t a discovery to him.

In Science, we rarely call things “discoveries” because it’s such a high claim. In order for something to deserve that kind of title, it has live up to something “big”. It has to be just as important to you as it is to me. Objective. Testable and provable.

But it’s not like that with Life.
I happen to think that Life is really just one big experiment. And if you think so too, then why not make discoveries – all the time? What are you searching for? What is your hypothesis? What discoveries have you made today?

I truly believe that the most important discovery of our lives is the one that we make today. It is the one that you make, for yourself, every single day: a new twist to an old recipe, a sighting of a bird you’d never seen before, learning something new about someone you thought you had down-pat… It’s discovering that avocados can be substituted for butter in granola (you knew that one was coming!). It’s realizing that you were wrong, that you shouldn’t have said that, and that after all is said and done, your bed is still the best place to put your head down for the night. And it’s true – at the end of the day, there are no golden bells, no accolades, no parades or Nobel prizes. But then there’s you. And there’s Growth.

For example, ladies and gentlemen, today, I made a Most Important Discovery.

I discovered that pistachios…

…look an awful lot like mini-avocados:

It’s arguable, but I feel just as important as Newton.

Who Am I? (Version 2)

April 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Version 2: Who I really am.

Hi, I’m Science Girl.

I really, really, really like Art.  In all forms – tangible or abstract.  Specifically, I like Ideas.  I desperately love Inspiration.  I also really like Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

To consolidate the seemingly disparate natures of what I’m studying at school (science) and what I’m really passionate about (art), I sometimes call myself a creative scientist.  I want to define that as someone who melds the barriers between art and science.

I want to believe that it is possible to be artistic in a scientific context and that I can make art my science.

Making the Most out of Nitrile Gloves: Micro-Pirate and PCR-Man

March 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

In molecular biology student labs, waiting for a gel to run can make Science kids antsy.

But not Christine and David.  Instead of sitting around and waiting like the rest of us boring folks, these two immediately put their creativity to work constructing nitrile balloon-people.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Micro-Pirate (pictured with Micro-Pipette):

And PCR-Man:

A pair of nitrile gloves, a Sharpie, and an air inlet have never before been so entertaining.