Category Archives: Biology


In class, we recently discussed the thalidomide incident and how it represented a pivotal shift in the way drugs were developed—particularly in providing an insight into the way drugs taken by a pregnant mother affect her baby. I was reminded of this while reading the news yesterday, as I came across this article discussing a case that could lead to the criminalization of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. (Gander, 2014)

Case: A six-year old girl suffered brain damage because of her mother’s alcohol consumption while carrying her—and it is now being argued that she is the victim of a crime / criminal offense committed by her mother.

This article deeply intrigued me, as I thought about all the implications that a law like this, if passed, could have. As we have (in our Medicines & Drugs unit) studied the effects that alcohol has on the body, I decided to investigate the chemistry of alcohol as it affects her mother and baby to answer the following question: to what extent does alcohol consumption by a mother negatively impact her baby?

I found that, once consumed, most substances are broken down in an intermediate step by enzymes (biological catalysts) to “metabolites”: other compounds that can be easily processed by the body. However, the alcohol we consume (ethanol– CH3CH2OH), is broken down by the body to the toxic and carcinogenic Ethanal (also called ‘Acetaldehyde’: CH3CHO). (Alcohol Metabolism: An Update, 2007)

The breakdown of Ethanol

Figure 1. The breakdown of Ethanol by the body.
(Alcohol Metabolism: An Update, 2007)

Note: ADH (Alcohol Degenerase) and ALDH (Aldehyde Degenerase) are the enzymes that catalyze the reactions.

As we can see from the above equation, in normal (non-pregnant) individuals the Ethanal is usually short-lived as it serves as an intermediate to when it is further broken down to Ethanoic Acid (also called ‘EthylAcetate’: CH3COOH), and then to carbon dioxide and water, after which it is eliminated from the body. (Alcohol Metabolism: An Update, 2007)

Ethanal itself is an aldehyde, and contains 2 carbons, a methyl group and its characteristic aldehyde functional group (C=O double bond).

Structure of Ethanal

Figure 2. Structure of Ethanal
(Environmental Chemistry: Lecture 21, n.d)

In pregnant women, this compound does pose a risk for their babies. A meta-analysis of 14 studies found that while 43% of pregnant alcoholics had high levels of acetaldehyde in their blood, 34% of them gave birth to a baby with ABRD (Alcohol Related Birth Defect). The researchers concluded that acetaldehyde “may play a major role in the cause of ARBD”. (Hard, Einarson, & Koren, 2001)

The precise mechanism as to how acetaldehyde impacts a fetus is not yet known, but alcohol in general has also been found to increase risk of foetal damage, and the risk of miscarriage. (Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, n.d;  Bailey & Sokol, 2011) Other investigations have linked alcohol to damaging the DNA of a growing/ developing baby in the womb (however, these investigations have so far only been conducted on lab mice). (Medical Research Council, 2011) Already, a 50% increase has been seen in FAS cases (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) in the past three years, and the Department of Health estimates that 1/100 babies are born with alcohol-related disorders. (Gander, 2014)

The adoptive mother of the six-year old has seen first-hand the consequences that alcohol consumption can have on children, and strongly believes that the legal system should step in and enforce some laws to prevent against further cases of FAS. “You can’t make it a criminal offense if you are still legally saying this a safe amount to drink, or you can drink. It needs to be clear from the start that you can’t [drink]”. (Gander, 2014)

Her argument is also supported by Dr. Raja Mukherjee, a consultant psychiatrist, who asserts that even minimal consumption by a woman during pregnancy puts her baby at risk for FAS, “If you want to guarantee safety and you want to guarantee no risk then no alcohol is the best way forward”. (Gander, 2014)

The implications of a law criminalizing the consumption of alcohol while pregnant will certainly serve to reduce the high numbers of babies suffering from ABRDs such as FAS. Babies suffering from FAS are usually hyperactive and delayed in their development– if exposed to high levels of alcohol while in the womb, they can display withdrawal symptoms such as extreme irritability, shaking, and diarrhea. Additionally, school aged children with FAS often experience learning and behavioral disabilities, and for this reason find themselves falling behind in school. They also are high at risk for having trouble with the law, developing mental health problems and themselves abusing alcohol and/ or drugs. (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2002) Considering this, as well as the previously conducted research demonstrating other harmful effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, it is apparent that alcohol is to a large extent extremely damaging to developing babies. A law criminalizing this act may not be the worst idea.


(2007). Alcohol Metabolism: An Update. Alcohol Alert, 72. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from

Bailey, B. A., & Sokol, R. J. (2011). Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Preterm Delivery, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome . Alcohol Research & Health, 34(1), 86-91. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from the NIAAA Publications database.

Paediatric Society. (2002). Fetal alcohol syndrome: What you should know about drinking during pregnancy. Paediatrics & Child Health , 7(3), 177-178. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from the PMC database.

Environmental Chemistry: Lecture 21. (n.d.). NAU Courses. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from

Gander, K. (2014, April 23). Drinking alcohol while pregnant could become a crime after landmark test case . The Independent. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from

Hard, M. L., Einarson, T. R., & Koren, G. (2001). The Role of Acetaldehyde in Pregnancy Outcome After Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. Therapeutic drug monitoring, 23(4), 427-434. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from the PubMed database.

Research Council. (2011, July 6). Excess alcohol could damage our DNA. Medical Research Council News. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from

Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Effects of Alcohol on the Developing Embryo and Fetus. FASD Center for Excellence. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from

Decongestants – Visine for Your Nose?

A few weeks ago I traveled to Beijing for a golf tournament.  Unfortunately, I have terrible allergies to pollen and other air pollutants, so as soon as the plane landed in Peking and I stepped into the airport I immediately began my sneezing fit.  Ordinarily, after sneezing, your nose will feel congested for a few moments and then will return to “normal.”  However, because the air was so thick with pollutants, my nose remained congested and I continued to sneeze on approximately five-minute intervals.  Frustrated that I couldn’t breath well through my nose and because my mouth was becoming dry, I hesitantly decided to take a decongestant pill.  This has been a regular occurrence since I was a child: allergies act up, nose becomes congested, pop a pill, few minutes later I can breath again.  For the longest of time, I never questioned this process.   Then, a few months ago, I found that I was always congested, even on the days when pollution levels were low and there were little to no blooming flowers.  I couldn’t breath normally without taking a decongestant and ended up it everyday for approximately two and a half weeks.  As I look back, it was quite foolish of me to do so.  I didn’t know anything about the drug other than it helped me breath, and I didn’t think much of the fact that I couldn’t breath normally.  So as I arrived in Beijing two weeks ago, I wondered, what does this pill really do to me, how does it work, and did I harm myself beyond repair?

Typically, when people think of nasal congestion, they think it is a result of copious amounts of mucus or fluid forming in their nose.  However, this is not the case.  Nasal congestion occurs when the arterioles (small blood vessels) in the membranes of the nose dilate and become inflamed.  This results in a kind of swelling in the nose and makes it difficult to breath because the passage has narrowed or closed off.  (Kaneshiro, N. n.d.)

When individuals take nasal decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (C10H16ClNO) (Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. n.d.)

Chemical Structure of Pseudoephedrine
Chemical Structure of Pseudoephedrine HCl

the chemical will bind to alpha receptors (receptors on the membranes of nerve cells) to send a signal to the membranes in the nasal passages to force the blood vessels to constrict.  (Guzman, F. n.d.)

This inhibits the dilation of the arterioles and reduces the inflammation, therefore relieving congestion and allowing the nasal passages to relax.  Based on principle, nasal decongestants are similar to red eye reducing eye drops in that the topical eye drops constrict the blood vessels in the eye to reduce redness.

While an addiction in the traditional sense cannot be developed from long-term use of decongestants, a kind of dependency and tolerance can build up over time from using them daily.  With daily use, the body will become tolerant to the decongestant and will begin to produce chemicals and antibodies to combat the effects of the drug.  In this case, it will begin to produce vasodilators in order to reverse the effects of the decongestant (which are now perceived by the body as unnecessary).  As a result, higher doses of the drug are needed to achieve the same decongestant effects as originally produced.  (Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”. n.d.)  With continued use for many months, or years, continuously using a decongestant can increase blood pressure as it constricts the blood vessels, or can create other, more severe side effects such as tachycardia and seizures.  (Pray, S., & Pray, J., n.d.)

Vasodilation in Arteries
Vasodilation in Arteries

Fortunately, the tolerance that may develop from continued use of decongestants can be reversed.  If use is discontinued for a few weeks, it gives the body the time it needs to return to “normal” and the changes it made to produce the antagonistic chemicals (to the effects of the drug) will disappear.  This implies that even if a tolerance and “dependency” is developed, they can easily be annulled and the body will lose its tolerance.  After the body has returned to a normal state, should the need arise, individuals may choose to take the decongestant and can expect to experience the full effects of the decongestant – open nasal passages and the ability to breath easy.  (Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”., n.d.)

After researching, I realized the severity of taking decongestants for extended periods of time.  Prior to researching, I had assumed that decongestants were not, “serious” drugs in that they couldn’t possibly have many negative long-term effects.  However, I now realize that drugs, regardless of their purpose and accessibility, are strong chemicals used to create chemical changes in our bodies.  While I will never take a decongestant for more than seven consecutive days, the occasional use of it is acceptable and in the long run, it will not harm my body and has not done any lasting damage to my body.


Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”. (n.d.). Discovery Health “Discovery Fit & Health”. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from

Guzman, F. (n.d.). Alpha receptors | CME at Pharmacology Corner. Medical Pharmacology | Pharmacology Corner. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from

Kaneshiro, N. (n.d.). Nasal congestion: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 10, 2013, from (n.d.). Pseudoephedrine – Oral, Afrinol, Novafed, Sudafed . Retrieved October 10, 2012, from

Pray, S., & Pray, J. (n.d.). Safe Use of Nasal Decongestants. Medscape Multispecialty . Retrieved October 13, 2012, from

Pseudoephedrine (Oral Route) – (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from

Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. (n.d.). ChemicalBook—Chemical Search Engine. Retrieved October 11, 2013, from

Pseudoephedrine Information from (n.d.). | Prescription Drug Information, Interactions & Side Effects. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from

Sudafed decongestant tablets and liquid (pseudoephedrine). (n.d.). – The UK’s leading independent health website. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from


Analgesic Properties of …. Snail Venom?

I know what you’re probably thinking; snails have venom? This was exactly what I had thought when I came across a post on the popular social media website, Reddit. I was intrigued because I didn’t even know that snails have venoms and that they could even be used as painkillers. Turns out, the post wasn’t referring to the typical snails you find in a garden, but instead, the cone snails that are typically found in warm and tropical seas and oceans. Interested by the topic, I decided to investigate more on how exactly the snail venom can act as an analgesic, and its possible significance in the medical field.
Analgesics are commonly known as painkillers, and are divided into two types, mild and strong. Mild analgesics, such as aspirin and paracetamol, are used to treat the typical headaches, toothaches, or sore throats by, “preventing the stimulation of nerve endings at the site of pain and by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the chemical responsible for the widening of blood vessels near the site of the injury, from the site of injury to provide relief to inflammation, fever and pain” (Brown, Ford, 2008). For more severe pains, strong analgesics bind to opioid receptors in the brain to alter the perception of pain by blocking the transmission of pain signals between brain cells (Brown, Ford, 2008). Today, many cancer patients, diabetic patients, and other victims of chronic pain are treated with strong analgesics like morphine and heroine. The problem is that these opioids are highly addictive and repeated usage can lead to tolerance, which a reduced response to the drug. Scientists have discovered that the venom found in cone snails have analgesic properties that are 10000 times more powerful than morphine, and the best part about the venom is that it is not addictive. (National Geographic, n.d.) Since cone snail venom is clearly a better analgesic than opioids, I questioned why isn’t it replacing morphine and heroine as the common analgesics to treat victims with chronic pain?
deadly cone

Figure 1: Image of a Marble Cone Snail (National Geographic, (n.d.))

Although they are only about four to six inches long, these carnivorous mollusks they have venoms poisonous enough to kill 15 adult human beings (Compassionate Healthcare Network, 2004). To do this, the cone snails have teeth that are similar to hypodermic needles that inject venom into their preys. The venom instantly paralyzes the victims by interfering with the communications of the nervous systems. In a typical nervous system, the neurons transmit chemical signals to another neuron through ion channels. The chemical signals are repeatedly transmitted from neuron to neuron until it reaches a muscle cell and tells it to contract. The venom of cone snails contain hundreds of thousands of short polypeptide proteins that blocks specific ion channels to prevent neurons from transmitting chemical signals, inhibiting muscle movement, leading to paralysis (Chadwick, 2013)(Discovery News, 2013).
So how can something so deadly be beneficial to humans? For many years, scientists have studied several hundreds of the short polypeptide proteins, called conotoxins, before the isolating analgesic conotoxin agent and creating the synthetic version named Ziconotide, or often known by the name Prialt. Unlike other analgesics, Ziconotide inhibits pain in a different way. People feel pain because electrical signals are carried across a synapse from the pain fibers to the nerve cells in the spinal cord that signals the brain. In order for the electrical signals to cross the synapses, electrical signals has to be converted into a chemical signal with the help of calcium. Ziconotide blocks the calcium gateways in the nerve fibers so that the chemical signals cannot cross the synapse to reach the nerve cells in the spinal cord. As a result, the brain does not receive the signal and therefore, one does not perceive pain (Compassionate Healthcare Network, 2004).
Although Ziconotide is 10000 times more powerful than morphine and is non-addictive, it is not commonly use to treat patients with chronic pain. This is because like any other drug, Ziconotide comes with many side effects such as abnormal vision, amnesia, vertigo, anxiety and possibly more undiscovered side effects. Furthermore, ziconotide cannot be administered orally because the body will break down the swallowed ziconotide before it can reach the receptors they need to reach. Therefore, zinconotide is currently administered with a direct injection into the spinal cord, a costly and invasive method of drug delivery.

Figure 2: Structure of Ziconotide (ChemBlink, (n.d.))

The discovery of Ziconotide has many implications in the medical field. Firstly, future research can be synthesized or modified Ziconotide to withstand the digestive processes of the body so that zinconotide can be taken more conveniently and without economic strain. In fact, scientists have already engineered a circular shaped synthetic Ziconotide conotoxin that is more stable to be administered orally (Discovery News, 2013). Ziconotide that can be administered orally will be more accessible to patients with chronic pain that have developed tolerance to morphine and heroine and need stronger analgesics to suppress the pain. Secondly, the discovery of Ziconotide suggest a bigger picture that many medical issues that people face today could possibly be cured by something in nature. There are so many microorganisms, animals and plants on Earth that have not yet been discovered. Perhaps, the secret to the cures of cancer and other illnesses lie in the Amazon jungle or at the bottom of the Mirana Trench.

Brown, C., Ford, M. (2008). Higher Level Chemistry Developed Specifically for
the IB Diploma. England: Pearson Education Limited.

Chadwick, A. (2013). Venom. The Cone Snail. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

Compassionate Healthcare Network. (2004). Cone Snail Venom Attacking Pain.
Compassionate Healthcare Network. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from

Discovery News. (2013, February 11). Snail Venom Inspires Powerful Pain
Reliever. Discovery News. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

National Geographic. (n.d.). Geographic Cone Snail. National Geographic.
Retrieved September 5, 2013, from

Marble Cone Snail [Web Graphic]. (n.d.) Retrieved September 5, 2013 from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Conus. Wikipedia. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Zinconotide. Wikipedia. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from

Ziconotide Acetate [Web Graphic]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 5, 2013 from

The Alkaline Diet

After reading Nicholas’ post on the claim made by the company that produced water ionizers, I was reminded of a similar claim made by advocates of the ‘Alkaline Diet’. I decided to investigate whether these claims were accurate, or like the ones made by the water-ionizer company, scientifically wrong.

The Alkaline Diet is based on the theory that eating specific foods can affect maintenance of the body’s ideal pH balance, and improve health. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A website promoting holistic treatments gave the following reasoning for the diet:

The pH of the blood must always fall between 7.35 and 7.45  (slightly alkaline) to ensure an appropriate concentration of oxygen in the blood. A pH lower than 7.35 (Acidosis) may portray the beginnings of a disease / aging, while a pH higher than 7.45 (Alkalosis) would result in seizure, and a possible coma.

In order to keep the blood within this pH range, the website then explains, 75% of alkaline forming foods must be consumed; however, the American diet consists of 80% of acid forming foods.

The body creates a buffering system in order to counteract this abundance of acidic food in the diet; this buffering system runs on electrolytes, which are important for the metabolic functioning of body systems. Adequate electrolyte supply will pose no problem on the buffer system, however a shortage of these electrolytes will make it difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis (a state of equilibrium). A shortage of electrolytes usually occurs as a cause of excessive consumption of acid forming foods. (Frequency Rising, n.d)

At first, this claim made sense to me. After all, medical websites confirm that the blood’s pH must fall within a certain range. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Furthermore, there is evidence that shows that the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is affected by the blood’s pH, and as I have previously learnt in Biology class, it is true that the pH of blood must remain within a certain range to ensure health.  (RSC, n.d) Another medical website mentioned diseases such as Acidosis and Alkalosis, the former caused by a blood pH lower than what it should be, and another caused by a blood pH higher than it should be. (Dugdale & Zieve, n.d) Was the claim made by the holistic website accurate? Upon further examination and reflection, it was clear to me what the problem was: the holistic website was trying to convince people on the basis of a logical fallacy!* Our body deals with acidic food with a buffer system that does not work properly when you consume excessive acidic foods?


That makes no sense.

I soon realized that it was very easy to see the reason they would make this claim, as directly under the article, I saw this.

Water Ionizer Advertisement

This reminded me of Nicholas’ post, and confirmed my doubts: it was all just a marketing technique.

I decided to look at the biochemistry myself to determine the validity of the diet.

I found the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is controlled by a separate mechanism: oxygen flows around the body in blood by hemoglobin, a complex molecule with a central ion. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d) The oxygenation of blood is an equilibrium reaction:

Hb4(aq) + 4O2(aq) <–> Hb4O8(aq)

A number of equilibrium reactions involving hemoglobin are responsible for the buffering of the blood: the net reaction being –

HbH+(aq) + O2(aq) <–> HbO2(aq) + H+(aq)

Metabolic reactions in the body release many acidic compounds, which lowers the blood’s pH by increasing the concentration of H+ ions present in the blood. This in turn, forces the equilibrium position to the left, resulting in acidosis. This decrease in oxygen supply causes fatigue and headaches. Acidosis is also the same condition you experience temporarily when you exercise without warming up, or when you engage in strenuous exercise when the available supply of oxygen cannot meet the demand for energy to complete the oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d)

Thus, Acidosis really has nothing to do with what you eat.

Additionally, although electrolytes are important for the body, the only ion that affects the pH of the blood is the Phosphate Ion (PO42-), which is part of the Phosphate Buffer System. (Electrolytes, n.d) However, the primary buffer system for balance of the blood pH’s remains the Hydrogen Carbonate Buffer System.

Hydrogen Carbonate is produced in the body with water and CO2 (the end product of cellular metabolism) with the following reaction:

H2O + CO2 <–> H2CO3(aq)

The Hydrogen Carbonate is then involved in another (can be classified as a Bronsted-Lewry) reaction, which produces bicarbonate and the Hydronium ion:

H2CO3 + H2O <–> H3O+ + HCO3

If there is excess acid in the body (H3O+), the equilibrium shifts left.

H2CO3 + H2O <–  H3O+ + HCO3

Thus, the excess acid is neutralized by the base (HCO3)

The reverse takes place if there is excess base (OH) in the body: this reacts with the carbonic acid (H2CO3) and the equilibrium shifts right.

H2CO3 + OH <–  H2O + HCO3

This system thus operates under Le Chaletier’s principle, which states that “if a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change ”. This reaction is the main mechanism used by our body to maintain homeostasis.

The Phosphate Buffer System plays a role in plasma and erythrocytes (components of blood)- (Tamarkin, n.d)

H2PO4- + H2O <–> H3O+ + HPO42-

Any excess acid reacts with monohydrogen phosphate to form dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O <– H3O+ + HPO42-

Similarly, excess base is neutralized by dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O –> H3O+ + HPO42-

So if this is all true, and the claim that eating alkaline foods can affect blood’s pH is not correct, then why do people continue to follow the Alkaline diet: and how can we explain their success stories?

The Alkaline Diet is “a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, avoiding processed foods, coffee, and alcohol, which are all recommendations for a generally healthy diet anyway,” says Marjorie Nolan, who is an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. (Collins & Chang, n.d) This is evident by an Alkaline Diet cheat sheet, which recommends eating cold-pressed olive oil instead of butter, frozen fruit instead of canned fruit, sparkling water instead of soda, honey instead of sugar, and so on. (Wilkinson, n.d) According to Nolan, any diet consisting of this meal plan is bound to prove successful, because it is “basically healthy”. She confirms however, that the body “regulates our pH between 7.35 and 7.45 no matter how we eat.” (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

So, what are the implications of this finding?

First, the negative implications: because the Alkaline diets promotes less consumption of dairy products and animal fats, followers of the diet if not careful, may develop calcium and protein deficiencies, according to John Asplin, an MD and kidney specialist. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A vegetarian myself, I was quick to disagree with this statement in my mind, however, he acknowledged that “vegetarians can be completely healthy in their diets, as long as they make sure to get adequate supplies of essential components to a diet.” Asplin also asserted that this could be seen as benefit also, because “many Americans over-consume protein”. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Another implication of this finding is that followers of the Alkaline Diet may not have a scientifically correct view of the functioning of their body, and this could lead to potential problems in the future. Followers of the diet may also waste money on expensive products (such as the water ionizer advertised on the holistic website) that do not affect our body in the way that the manufacturers claim.

What are the benefits? Because excess animal protein results in a higher risk of developing kidney stones, “eating a diet rich in vegetables, as with the alkaline diet” can lower this risk, according to Asplin. (Collins & Chang, n.d) It has also been suggested by research that an alkaline diet may slow bone loss and muscle waste, increase the growth hormone, and reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases (these are correlations however, and cannot be stated as a cause-effect relationship). (Schwalfenberg, 2011)

A negative correlation between the alkaline diet and incidence of cancer has also been shown, however the same results were obtained when the vegetarian diet was measured against cancer rates: additionally, as the study was correlational, there were many confounding variables that may have affected the results such exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, genetics, etc. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Nolan speaks of this finding, stating that “clinical studies have proved without a doubt that people who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and hydrate properly do have lower rates of cancer and other diseases”, but that “it probably has nothing to do with blood pH”. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

The journey I took while examining this diet taught me to properly examine the agenda of the source making a claim before choosing to accept it: because the holistic website was advertising the water ionizer, they made claims that were scientifically inaccurate to make the product seem more appealing to customers. Web MD on the other hand, a medical website dedicated to providing people with factual information on clinical practices, provides evidence and information that supports the knowledge we have of the biochemistry of our body.

Thus, William Mundel, the vice chair of the department of General Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, advises against diets that “want you to buy only their product” (i.e.: the water ionizer), “focus on a narrow spectrum of foods” (i.e.: eliminate all animal fats), and “claim that science has kept something secret, or that someone has discovered something that nobody else knows about”. These are the types of diets that tend to be scientifically wrong. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

* The logical fallacy used is Circular Reasoning / Begging the Question.


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Collins, S., & Chang, L. (n.d.). Alkaline Diet: Pros, Cons, and Do They Really Affect Acid Levels in the Body?. WebMD. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from

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Cleaning Water, Step by Step

After listening to and reading India’s blog post about water pollution, I decided to further investigate the methods used to clean the water we drink and bathe with. Covered in her blog post, she mentioned pollutants within the water such as bacteria, chlorine, nitrates, and heavy metals. With all these particles and microbial life swimming in our tap water, it’s a miracle we aren’t ridden with diseases. I began to wonder, what do private firms and the government do to remove and minimize all these pollutants?

Huangpu River Pollution
Huangpu River Pollution

So I began my search on the companies who clean Shanghai’s water supply. Veolia Water is one of the major companies who purify and distribute water to households around Pudong. Veolia first extracts their water from underground aquifers and surface water bodies. These areas are protected to prevent pollution. All the water then passes through a purification process, which includes coarse and fine screening, flocculation and settling, filtration, ozonation and chlorination. (Veolia Water, 2010)

Screening is a process in which water is ran through different sized screens to stop rocks and other larger objects from entering the rest of the system. It then moves into a system called flocculation and settlement. Within water, there are usually small clay or dirt particles are suspended, giving water the yellowish, brownish look. These particles are often negatively charged, preventing them from clumping together. Hydrated ammonium alum (NH4Al(SO4)2Ÿ 12H2O) is  added to the water to neutralize the negative charges, allowing particles to combine and form larger particles called flocs. The water passes through a paddle chamber that assist flocculation of particles. The following chamber allows the larger particles to settle due to gravity, removing the majority of the clay. (Drinking Water Treatment – Flocculation, n.d.)

Flocculation of Clay Particles
Flocculation of Clay Particles

After flocculation, water is passed through a gravel and sand filter that removes the remaining clay particles. However, this does not remove metal ions, nitrates, or microbial life from the water. Ozonation, the process of bubbling ozone through water to purify it, is often performed to clean water but is more costly than adding chlorine as a disinfectant. Ozone, O3, is synthesized by the use of UV light or electrical discharges. Bubbling ozone through the water kills microbial life. It also reacts with metal ions such as Iron and Manganese, creating insoluble metal oxides, which can be filtered out. (Oram, n.d.) Unlike ozonation, chlorination is relatively inexpensive and will continue disinfecting after leaving the water purifying plant. Chlorine is added into the water, which kills microbial life; however, it doesn’t remove metallic ions. (Drinking Water Treatment – Disinfection, n.d.)

Once the water leaves the purifying plant, it is transported to households across Shanghai, but chlorine and nitrates still remain within the water. In addition, faulty and leaky pipes allow contamination of minerals and other compounds into the water system.  To combat this, some houses have granulated active carbon filters and water softeners. Water passes through grains of active carbon (organic material or coal treated with heat) to react and trap chlorine and some trihalomethanes (THMs, carcinogens), preventing them from being consumed or absorbed by the skin while bathing. (Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters, 2012)

Water softeners are used to reduce calcium and magnesium ions. Although these metals are not harmful to the body in small amounts, they cause pipes to calcify and clog up, decreasing water pressure. Calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions found on the ion exchange resin sites found within the filter. (Skipton, 2008)

Despite all these processes, nitrates still persist within the water. Currently, the only way to remove nitrates would be through reverse osmosis or demineralization, both of which require lots of energy and are expensive to maintain. (Runyan, 2011) Often, some people use faucet filters to further purify the water. These are often carbon filters, which still don’t remove nitrates from the water supply.

With all these methods used to purify the water, it still comes down to the question, is tap water in Shanghai safe to drink? Or is any tap water safe to drink for that matter? Ultimately, it becomes the individual’s decision. How much does one trust the government and others to handle their water? Do the benefits outweigh the cost of purchasing distilled water? Judgment of these crucial matters always lies within the person.


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Oram, B. (n.d.). Ozone Water Treatment, Ozonation, Ozonator Dirty bad tasting water, contaminated colored water, unfiltered water, bad smelling water. Private Well Owner Drinking Water Pennsylvania Ground Water Research . Retrieved March 25, 2013, from

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WAT ER YOU DRINKING? : Tapping into Shanghai’s Water Secrets

Tapping into Shanghai’s Water Secrets

I recently read an article in the news, ‘2,800 Pigs Dumped in Shanghai River Raises Concern’, which lead to me questioning the pollution levels in Shanghai’s waters. Living in Shanghai, everyday I face a dilemma I always found to be rather minimal, whether or not to drink the water from the tap or to not be lazy and climb the four flights of stairs down to the nearest bottled water dispenser. As I had previously lived in countries such as England, and Japan, where clean water is abundantly available from taps, I assumed that Shanghai’s tap water could not have a large concentration of pollutants within its waters. I used to drink water in Shanghai from the tap, arguing that if anything, the exposure to these unknown particles would harden my immune system, like a child playing in the soil.

About 80% of the water we get in Shanghai is from the Huangpu River. The remaining 20% comes from the Yangtze River. On the list of the most polluted rivers in the world, the Yangtze and the Huangpu are both mentioned, with the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission report noting the total volume of sewage emptied into the Yangtze river totaling approximately 20 million tons. Noteable pollutants within the Shanghai river water are chlorine, heavy metals such as lead, nitrates and bacteria. (WHO, 2011)

Chlorine, a highly efficient disinfectant, is added to water for cleaning purposes, “Chlorine has been hailed as the savior against cholera and various other water-borne diseases, and rightfully so,” says Steve Harrison, president of water filter maker Environmental Systems Distributing. “Its disinfectant qualities…have allowed communities and whole cities to grow and prosper by providing disease-free tap water to homes and industry.” (, 2010) However, Chlorine is defined by the American journal of Public Health to cause “significant increases in certain types of cancer, asthma and skin irritations” (American Journal of Public Health, 2011) . When combined with organic matter found in rivers, chlorine undergoes a chemical reaction to form products such as trihalomethanes (THMs) which is are known carcinogens (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue). Chlorine converts chemically by replacing three of the four hydrogen atoms of methane (CH4) with chlorine halogen atoms to produces these THMs. Due to the high levels of bacteria caused by improper dumping of sewage and other biological contamination, Chinese departments of water works simply use more chlorine.

Similarly to chlorine, lead is also extremely dangerous as it is toxic even in the amount of micrograms when entering the body, and leads to higher blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, anemia and colon cancer in adults. Nitrates found in the river water enter through organic runoff such as through fertilizers. These nitrates entering the readily available tap water can be fatal to children under the age of six months, as they cannot perform the chemical process shown below in their stomachs to convert nitrites into nitrates. (Sigler, 2010)

2NO2(g) + 2OH(aq) –> NO3(aq) + H2O(l) + NO2(aq)

If nitrites are not converted into nitrates, this poses a problem as in the early stage of development, nitrite reacts with hemoglobin, which is responsible for the transfer of oxygen, and prevents this transport. Evidently, the effect of this is a decreased oxygen supply to the body, well known as blue baby syndrome (or methemoglobinemia). Nevertheless, it should be known that this condition is very rare.(WHO, 2011)

I believed that by simply boiling Shanghai’s water, it would be safe to drink as boiling kills bacteria and parasites. After researching, I noted that boiling water doesn’t get rid of pollutants. There are plenty of solutions to the issue, for example, the establishment of sediment filters are an inexpensive way to physically trap particles, especially those of a filter size of 1 micron or smaller. (NRDC, 2009) However these filters still do not filter out chemical contaminants. The use of bottled barreled water, though expensive, are generally safe when from a reputable source. Furthermore, Activated carbon filters process most physical contaminants out, such as chlorine, and are EPA approved. Obviously, the key way to target this issue would be to stop it at the core, by removing pollutants from the lakes and river themselves. (WHO, 2011)

To fully assess the risk of drinking Shanghai’s water, we must note that there is a cleaning system to filter the water of the majority of the pollutants. When reading Nick’s post, he noted a water filtering company, Veolia, who first extract their water from underground aquifers and surface water bodies. All the water then passes through a purification process, which includes coarse and fine screening, flocculation and settling, filtration, ozonation and chlorination. (Veolia Water, 2010).These processes can all be explained in further detail in Nick’s blog post. Despite all these processes, nitrates still persist within the water, and hold particular risk to small children, as noted earlier. However, for me and the general population, water pollution holds quite a low risk to our health as it has been filtered numerous times before reaching our taps. The only real risk with Shanghai water is with the concentration of pollutants, not the pollutants themselves. Detrimental health risks only occur in situations in which the concentrations of these pollutants are very high, which is more likely in lesser developed countries, more rural areas, than in Shanghai itself.

References: (2010). Why is Chlorine Added to Water. Retrieved April 20, 2013 from

Adam Sigler (13 March, 2010). Nitrate/Nitrite Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from

American Journal of Public Health (2011). Stabilization of Chlorine in Water . Retrieved March 11, 2013, from

NRDC. (2009). Water. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from

WHO . (January 1, 2011). Nitrate and Nitrite in Drinking Water. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from

WWF Global. (25 October 2010). Threat of Pollution in the Yangtze. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from

You put WHAT on your face?!

As a teen constantly plagued by hormonal changes and the havoc they reek on my skin, namely in the form of the dreaded pimple, I’m always cautious as to what skin products I apply onto my face.  Recently, at a yearly physical examination, I asked my doctor when I might be able to expect my hormones and acne to subside.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get an approximate time.  Instead, she told me to avoid comedogenic skin products (tending to cause blackheads by the blocking of the pores in the skin) (source) and specified that mineral oil was often one of the main perpetrators in creating pimples as the molecules were too large to be absorbed by the skin and instead sat in the pore, therefore clogging it.  Pleased with this new bit of information and determined to rid my sink counter of comedogenic products, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that the small jar of Vaseline, a 100% petroleum jelly product – a direct product of mineral oil, was labeled as noncomedogenic on the back.  How was this possible?  My doctor clearly stated that mineral oils were comedogenic, was she mistaken?  Can’t you trust doctors?  Or did the label lie?  Confused, I decided to research how exactly mineral oil based products “clogged” pores.


Figure 1: Vaseline

There is much controversy regarding whether or not mineral oils (oil – paraffin, jelly – petroleum, White mineral oil) can clog pores, create skin sagging, cancer, etc… (How Bad is Mineral Oil for Your Skin? Natural Acne Treatments. n.d.).  Regardless of the controversy, several cosmetic companies use different forms of mineral oil in many of the products they advertise as moisturizing, such as baby oil and cold cream.

Mineral Oil

Figure 2: Mineral Oils

Mineral oils, which are synthetically created and refined into cosmetic grade substances by distillation, are composed of several different lengths of hydrocarbons held together by the Van der Waals forces from their tail.  Typically ranging from 20-25 carbon atoms long in petroleum jelly (How do they make petroleum into jelly? n.d.), the length of the hydrocarbon tail will determine the properties of the mineral oil such as viscosity and melting point.  Because of the long hydrocarbon tails petroleum jelly has and its polar (generally OH) heads, it is both non-polar and polar.  (Although it appears similar to the structure of an alcohol, mineral oils are classified as hydrocarbons.) (Petroleum Jelly, n.d.).  As a result, when petroleum jelly comes into contact with skin, rather than become absorbed by the skin, which has a high water content (Skin Conditions: Understanding Your Skin, n.d.), the polar water and non-polar Vaseline repel each other and the Vaseline forms a layer of non-polar hydrocarbon tails over the pores of the skin, therefore creating an occlusion effect – similar to wrapping the skin in plastic wrap (Biever, Doran, College, H., n.d.).


Figure 3: Possible Structure of Lanolin – Can Be Found in Petroleum Jelly

However, the premise that it clogs skin pores is incorrect.  The hydrocarbons are repelled by the polar water in the skin and therefore do not enter the skin’s pores.  It does in fact; help to prevent the loss of water from the skin.

Similarly though, in forming a hydrocarbon tail layer on the surface of the skin, the epidermis, it has a “saran wrap” effect on the skin.  Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.  While it may be helpful for water retention, petroleum jelly’s effects as a physical barrier can also be adverse.  If used in conjunction with comodegenic substances, such as coco butter or coconut oil (Comedogenic Rating of Oils and Other Things, n.d.), then the petroleum jelly can effectively keep the comedogenic molecules in the pores and prevent them from leaving and prevent them from leaving, therefore clogging the pore.

Diagram of Skin

Figure 4: Diagram of Skin

Additionally, if petroleum jelly, which is generally soluble only in non polar substances, like sebaceous oil (the oil skin secretes as a natural lubricant and protectant), (Petroleum Jelly, n.d.) is applied to more oily skin, then the slightly non-polar sebaceous oil (composed largely of triglycerides and wax esters) (Sebum: Physical Chemical Properties, Macromolecular Structure, and Effects  of Ingredients, n.d.) the body naturally produces mixes with the Vaseline and is unable to exit the pore.  This build up of the sebaceous oil results in the clogging and inflammation of the pore, in other words, a pimple.


Figure 5: Pimple (Infected and Inflamed Pore)

Although, with individuals who have dry, sensitive skin, or during the cold winter months, petroleum jelly can be an effective means of protection for the skin.  The hydrophilic layer of hydrocarbon tails it creates forms an insoluble barrier to the external environment, therefore preventing the loss of H2O molecules and sebaceous oils.  Additionally, because the hydrocarbon tails in petroleum jelly are stable and non-reactive, it can be suitable for many with skin allergies or sensitivity as a means of “moisturizing.”  Due to its non-reactive nature, stability, and insolubility, petroleum jelly will evaporate slowly and can maintain the skin’s moisture for several hours.  However, this can have adverse effects on the skin as any particles (such as dirt) that become trapped in the petroleum are also trapped in close proximity to the skin and can lead to clogged pores. (Rogniln, n.d.)

While petroleum jelly provides a cheap alternative to many moisturizers, it is still a mineral oil and a synthesized product.  From an environmental perspective, petroleum jelly comes from the same well sources as the petroleum we place in cars, use as lubricants in machinery, etc…  It is not a renewable resource.  Many companies use mineral oils in their products because of the duality it has as a both polar and non polar molecule; the polarities it has allows it to act as an emollient in products – meaning that it can suspend both polar and non polar molecules.  In addition to its excellent ability to suspend a variety of differently charged particles, mineral oil is very inexpensive to refine and purchase.   A simple distillation process refines the mineral oil into cosmetic grade oils and jellies (paraffin and petroleum), the most common of which is White Mineral Oil, which can be used on its own as a cleanser or moisturizer (the polar and non polar molecules of grime, makeup, etc… attach to the oil and can be removed). (Skin Care Natural Oils and Butters, n.d.)

Some natural alternatives to mineral oil based products would be olive oil, safflower oil, or argan oil.  Each of these products acts as moisturizers that maintain skin hydration and are better for the environment.  They not only have the same dual polarity as mineral oil, but many of the “natural” oils have restorative and nourishing qualities that can benefit the skin not only in terms of moisture and protection, but also in terms of anti-aging, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties that help to maintain skin health and appearance. (Skin Care Natural Oils and Butters, n.d.)  However, because the oils are naturally produced from plants, many people do have allergies to them.  Also, because they are naturally harvested, the oils have limited shelf lives.  Relative to naturally based oils, mineral oil, a highly refined amalgam of various lengths of hydrocarbons, has a much longer shelf life, making it more appealing to consumers in terms of convenience and cost.  While natural oils offer more nourishing qualities and protection to the skin, several cosmetic companies choose to use mineral oil as their emollient because it has a longer shelf life, is more cost effective, has the capability to bind both polar and non polar molecules and because it is hypoallergenic.

However, this does not justify the use of a non-renewable resource.  While many major cosmetic companies make a fine profit, they also aid in the slow killing of the environment and the expenditure of non-renewable resources.  For those of us with less sensitive skin, natural oils should be considered in place of their non-renewable counterparts.  Natural oils, although they have a shorter shelf life, not only offer younger, taught skin as well as anti-aging and anti-bacterial properties, but they are also much better for the environment as biodegradable products.  Personally, after researching this topic, I found myself throwing out more of the non-natural products.  I not only replaced my normal moisturizer with organic grape seed oil, but I also try to purchase less from large companies who base their products on petroleum.  Although I now have to purchase a new bottle of oil every so often, my skin has improved exponentially and has become less sensitive in general; rather than appearing slightly mottled and flaky, as well as being painful, I have found that my skin now carries a slight “glow” on good days and overall, is far less painful than before.  While this is only my personal experience, my sensitive skin has benefitted greatly from the change from manufactured moisturizers to grape seed oil.  Rather than immediately trust the words of labels, advertisements, or even doctors, I now take the time to do my own research, after all, we only have one body and our skin is the largest organ we have.

Oil Refinery

Figure 6: Mineral Oil Distillery


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It’s Raining … Bacteria?

A few days ago, I was browsing the Internet when I came across an article stating that several common species of bacteria were discovered in hailstones that fell from near by storm clouds in the atmosphere. This is fascinating for me because it counters my previous assumption that most bacteria are land bound, and those that exist in the atmosphere, existed at low altitudes. I’ve always assumed that the higher the altitude, the more extreme the environment it is for bacteria to survive.

The article stated that a group of researchers in Denmark analyzed hailstones from 2009 and found that it contained, “several species of bacteria that tended to reside on plants, as well as thousands of organic compounds normally found in soil.” (Ghose, 2013) The discovery of microorganism life in clouds is revolutionary because it use to be difficult to study since rain was easily contaminated when it falls from the sky. Hail, however, freezes the microorganisms on the inside, making it easy to study just by sterilizing the outer, contaminated layers. (Rumaithi, 2013). In fact, the hailstones not only contained several species of bacteria typically found in plants and soil, but also thousands of organic, carbon compounds, the same number compounds found in a typical river. (Ghose, 2013). The researchers explained that some of the bacteria are able to act as bases for ice crystals to attach to in the storm clouds. When enough ice crystals have attached to the bacteria, they will fall as either rain or snow, depending on the temperature. (Ghose, 2013) In addition, researchers also found that the bacteria are able to produce a pinkish pigment that will allow the bacteria to adapt to the high energy and high frequency of the ultraviolet (UV) rays in the atmosphere (Ghose, 2013). In fact, the Bactillus Subtilis, a common strand of bacteria commonly found in soil, possess, dark-red pigments, which are 10 times more resistant to UV rays. (Moeller, R., Horneck , G., Facius, R., Stackebrandt, E., 2005)(Wikipedia, n.d.) The pigment protects the bacteria from UV ray by preventing a dangerous reaction between two molecules of thymine, an important base in the structure of DNA. (Rammelsberg, 1998)

Picture 1: A picture of hailstones.

To understand how bacteria can be found in the storm clouds, it must first be understood how the storm clouds are formed. The storm clouds, known as cumulonimbus clouds, have temperatures below 0˚C and are known for “producing lightning and other dangerous severe weather, such as gusts and hail”, (Wikipedia, n.d.) When the cumulonimbus clouds are formed, the hotter air with the lower density, since the molecules will be more spread out, will be pushed (by density laws) upwards by the denser, colder air wedging underneath, creating an upward force (Ophardt, 2003). Researchers theorized that the bacteria from nearby ecosystems would be swept into the cumulonimbus clouds by the updraft force, where it would be attached by ice. (Ghose, 2013)

Picture 2: A picture of a cumulonimbus cloud

The discovery of microorganisms in the Earth’s atmosphere can open multiple possibilities and theories. For example, researchers suggest that this discovery can create the theory that, “ bacteria could influence weather patterns. They may be growing in clouds, increasing in number and then not only modifying the chemistry in the clouds but also in the atmosphere indirectly.” (Ghose, 2013). I believe that this means that if bacteria were found to be responsible for weather pattern, the weather can be predetermined and manipulated by changing the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere. Secondly, the discovery of bacteria in the cumulonimbus clouds shows that bacteria can survive in extreme cold temperatures. It raises a question for myself about how effective is cold temperature at preventing the growth of bacteria. It shows that keeping the bacteria in freezing temperatures may not be the most effective way the inhibiting bacterial growth. Clearly, there is still so much about bacteria and their roles on our everyday life that we do not know about.

Assorted Hail Stones. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest.

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Retrieved January 23rd, 2013, from

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Excuses for not getting out of bed – Laziness, Ghosts, or neither?

This morning, I had a nightmare of a crazy lady latching onto me, and immediately, I felt like I couldn’t move and my body experienced intense vibration. I felt immense dread, and in the midst of panicking, I woke up. I could still feel the vibration and I still couldn’t move; like someone was pushing me down. It all felt very familiar –I realized that I was once again in the starting stages of my Sleep Paralysis.

That was a direct quote from my best friend Lina, regarding her experiences with Sleep Paralysis. After hearing of her creepy experiences for the first few times, I started to look up on the topic, as I have heard of many similar stories. Sleep Paralysis, is defined as defined as “a period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset (called hypnogogic or predormital form), or upon awakening (called hypnopompic or postdormtal form)” ( It is believed to be a hereditary disorder, with symptoms being the inability to move limps at sleep onset or upon awakening, often accompanied by hallucinations of a malevolent existence in the room, commonly sitting on the victim, “paralyzing” him/her. Since this occurrence has been experienced by people across all cultures (in Chinese culture, this is referred to as Gui Ya Chuang, which literally translates to ‘Ghost pressing on you on bed’) for thousands of generations, there are many historical and urban myths that attempt to explain this, including ghosts and spirits ‘sitting’ on you to feed on your energy. However, I was curious as to how science would explain this mysterious phenomenon.

This well known painting (John Henry Fuseli (1781) - The Nightmare) depicts Sleep Paralysis as a visit from the demon.
This well known painting (John Henry Fuseli (1781) - The Nightmare) depicts Sleep Paralysis as a visit from the demon.

I knew that when one falls asleep, the body slowly relaxes, and one usually becomes less aware about. The body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep – when the body is in NREM mode, it is still capable of tossing and slight movements. However, I found out that during REM mode, dreams occur and muscles are “turned off”. As a result, if you become aware before the REM cycle finishes, you will be left to notice that you are not able to move or speak. Why are our muscles “turned off”? This was to prevent a person from “acting out” a dream, so signals are sent from the brain to inhibit any muscle contractions.

Getting further into what the body does during REM mode – activation/inhibition activity is passed on from hormones and nerves to second messengers, which passes this on to third messengers and so on until the last messenger inhibits the motorneurons. So, if the nervous or endocrine system, for some reason, continues releasing neural inhibitors, a person may experience Sleep Paralysis while being awake during the REM period itself.

In essence, modern neuroscience describes the Sleep Paralysis as errors of the neural transmission of the brain during REM sleep. How are the hallucinations explained then? Extreme anxiety seems to be the reason. When the patient of Sleep Paralysis feels extreme panic, the brain releases signals that stimulate visual and auditory senses, producing hallucinations. Another explanation is that the patient is still dreaming, after some parts of the brain become awake, causing him/her to “see” images and “hear” sounds. Usually sleep deprived people are victims of Sleep Paralysis; reduction of anxiety, regular exercise, and a regular sleeping schedule are ways to prevent or stop Sleep Paralysis!

Since I have not personally experienced Sleep Paralysis, I personally find it difficult to believe the superstitious myths of ghosts and aliens that explain them, so I focused on the scientific explanation.

It is important to understand this, because armed with a scientific explanation, we need not be afraid of the popular myth that we have just been visited by a demon, or captured by aliens. This is an example of science being able to offer powerful explanations, reducing the dependency on superstitious explanations for seemingly mysterious occurrences. Another implication is how such occurrences show that we cannot fully trust our brains, as they are capable of “distorting, filtering, and interpreting sensory input, of altering memories and even generating false memories, and of generating false experiences” (NeuroLogica). It is necessary to understand that our brains contain flaws, and so relying solely on our memories or senses to understand the world would not be enough. Science provides the external verification to make up for our limitations.

Works Cited:

Sleep Paralysis.Stanford University. Stanford University, 26 Jan. 1999. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

Sleep Paralysis: Page 2.Innovative Arts | Faculty of Arts. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

Takahashi, Hiro. “Sleep Paralysis – Awake but Still Asleep.Serendip’s Exchange. Serendip, 01 July 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Laser Eye Surgery

In biology class we were gong over the anatomy of the human eye, when Dr. Cha our teacher began to explain to use the risks and danger of laser eye surgery. Being a farsighted person (myopia) that constantly needs to put on glass and contacts laser eye surgery seemed like the perfect solution. My doctor has even told me that I had to wait for my eyes to stabilize, before I would get the surgery. But after hearing all of Dr. Cha concerns with laser eye surgery, I decided that I needed to do more research on the topic.

The first step of the surgery is to apply anesthetizing drops, then the surgeon makers the eye to indicate where the flap will be cut and then replaced. A suction ring holds the eye still and pressurizes it so it is firm enough to cut. Then a micokeratome slices a tiny flap in the cornea.  The flap is moved out of the way but is still attached, and then the finally the laser removes tissue to reshape the cornea. The flap is replace on the eye. The link has video demonstration of the laser surgery. Some of the sides’ affects are infection and night glare, which are starbursts or halos when the patients are looking at night-lights especially when driving. Also it is possible that the surgery not takes affect and the visions of the patients worsen. So is it worth the risk? I think it is because I believe that the risk do not over power the benefits of having good vision. There are many professional benefits to having the surgery, especially for surgeons and pilots.

However, these implications got me thinking about the limitations of laser surgery. Through further researcher I discover that at the moment there is a laser eye surgery that can change the color of the eye to what ever color the patients wants. BBC News did a story on Dr. Gregg Holmer an American that is conducting clinical trials to study the effects of the surgery.

The process involves a computerized scanning system that takes a picture of the iris and works out which areas to treat. The laser is then fired. The laser agitates the pigment on the surface of the iris,” Dr Homer – the firm’s chairman and chief scientific officer – told the BBC. “We use two frequencies that are absorbed by dark pigment, and it is fully absorbed so there is no danger of damage to the rest of the eye. “It heats it up and changes the structure of the pigment cells. The body recognises they are damaged tissue and sends out a protein. This recruits another feature that is like little pac-men that digest the tissue at a molecular level.”.Since the pigment – called melanin – does not regenerate the treatment is irreversible.Lasers are already used to remove the substance in skin to help treat brown spots and freckles. Some of the limitations of this surgery however they haven’t been completely identified, further research has to be done.

There are many implication to this surgery, it causes us to question how far we will go to benefit our appearance, to what point are our the risk less important then our appearance? Also it causes us to think about te future of science, how will the science advance to further our cosmetic appearance? Through some of the research I found that a laser surgery that causes the eye to be completely white taking away all of the small red line. Just like other surgery there are many risks.


“Doctor Trials laser treatment to change eye colour.” BBC Media News Technology. 5 11 2011: n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <>.

Handrill, Marilyn. “LASIK Risks and Complication.” All About Vision. n.d. n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <>.

“Laser Eye Surgery: Risks and COmplications Exposed.” Laser Eye Surgery Hub. 26 10 2010: n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <>.

Feig, Christy. “Clearing up picture on laser eye surgery.” CNN Health. n. page. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <>.