Friday Four

Friday, May 27, 2016

1. From a Quartz article about a scientist's new theory comes a peek at science behind the Iron Curtain:

Thinking is a big part of [Ruslan] Medzhitov's science. It's a legacy of his training in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s, when universities had little equipment and even less interest in producing good scientists. For his undergraduate degree, Medzhitov went to Tashkent State University in Uzbekistan. Every autumn the professors sent the students out into the cotton fields to help take in the harvest. They worked daily from dawn to dusk. "It was terrible," said Medzhitov. "If you don't do that, you get expelled from college." He recalls sneaking biochemistry textbooks into the fields -- and being reprimanded by a department chair for doing so.
And Medzhitov's theory? I am in no position to give an opinion one way or the other on his theory about why people develop allergies, but it is an attractive one:
We know that allergens often cause physical damage. They rip open cells, irritate membranes, slice proteins into tatters. Maybe, Medzhitov thought, allergens do so much damage that we need a defense against them. "If you think of all the major symptoms of allergic reactions -- runny noses, tears, sneezing, coughing, itching, vomiting and diarrhoea -- all of these things have one thing in common," said Medzhitov. "They all have to do with expulsion." Suddenly the misery of allergies took on a new look. Allergies weren't the body going haywire; they were the body's strategy for getting rid of the allergens.
This would make sense, but is it true?

2. After hearing about yet another kind of resistance reaching our shores, I am glad to hear this latest news from the quest to create new antibiotics:
Three hundred analogs! Now that's the sort of thing you can build a project or two around. And as that quote says, these aren't just small changes around the edges of the molecules (although you can do, that, too) -- they're variants that are otherwise just completely unobtainable. And also to their great credit, the team went on to screen these in a good-sized panel of bacteria, including (in the later rounds) a number of resistant organisms. They obtained a number of scaffolds with promising activity -- none of them are ready to leap into the clinic as is, but they're definitely of interest. Some of them, in fact, show activity against some rather fiercely resistant strains. Having done some antibiotic drug discovery myself, I can barely imagine a screen of only three hundred compounds that returns a list of actives like this.
As Glenn Reynolds would say: Faster, please!

3. Do you want to get paid to write?
Who Pays Writers? is an anonymous, crowd-sourced list of which publications pay freelance writers -- and how much. This list is primarily concerned with writing for publications; we don't collect information about copywriting, advertising, corporate, or sponsored-content assignments.
You can learn more here, or just dive straight into the rate listings.

4. It's Friday, so laughing wins out over crying in the following then-and-now comparison. In 1996, John Tierney, writing that "Recycling is Garbage," noted the following about allegedly wasteful food packaging practices:
... Plastic packaging and fast-food containers may seem wasteful, but they actually save resources and reduce trash. The typical household in Mexico City buys fewer packaged goods than an American household, but it produces one third more garbage, chiefly because Mexicans buy fresh foods in bulk and throw away large portions that are unused, spoiled or stale. Those apples in Dittersdorf's slide, protected by plastic wrap and foam, are less likely to spoil. The lightweight plastic packaging requires much less energy to manufacture and transport than traditional alternatives like cardboard or paper. Food companies have switched to plastic packaging because they make money by using resources efficiently...
Nearly two decades later, an environmentalist admits the following (among other things):
Thanks to decades of research, we now understand the interacting metabolisms of vegetables and microorganisms. We can design high-tech transport and storage techniques that slow down, even halt, deterioration through the use of harmless mixtures of gases. Chips fitted to containers give off signals when the gas composition and temperature need adjusting to plan ripening at the exact moment of delivery. Likewise, to minimise food losses in supermarkets, packaging techniques and materials have been developed to prolong shelf life. Surprising but true: modern treatments with ... plastic bags and sealing create an optimal environment inside the package and reduce loss. So does the industrial washing of packed and cut vegetables, which also saves water, compared with household-level processing.
Let me hasten to add that avoiding waste isn't intrinsically good. It is good because it helps bring appealing, life-sustaining food to the table as easily as possible. This is in the selfish interest of buyer and seller.

-- CAV

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