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Gene-Edited Babies?! What the FOETUS IS GOING ON? || Labrat’s Digest

Welcome back!!! I haven’t quit yet 🙂 It’s time for another installment of the Labrat’s Digest, a periodic recap of some of the coolest (and weirdest) science news from around the world. This week we’ll be focusing on one of the most controversial bits of science news that’s been dominating the science news: the creation of CRISPR-Edited babies. So let’s dive in! 

But first….

Before you begin, you should know that I talk a lot about a technique called CRISPR in this post. If you want to learn some more about CRISPR and how it works, check out my previous posts on CRISPR and the patent debate associated with it. This will be especially helpful if you’re new to this blog, or you just have no idea what CRISPR is…

So what’s all this hulabaloo about gene edited babies now?

The place is Hong Kong. The time? Just about a week ago.

Scientists from around the world were gathered at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong. This is an annual conference for researchers to gather and discuss the progress being made in human germline editing, and some of the ethical considerations associated with editing the human genome

Enter He Jiankui, a  genome-editing researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China’s Guangdong province. He was one of the attendees at the conference, and he had a startling announcement to make:

He Jiankui claims to have helped create the world’s first genome-edited babies — twin girls, who were born this month.

Yes, you read that right. The world’s first gene-edited HUMAN BABIES are here. Ladies and gentlemen (and Orphan Black fans…hey!), we have entered the reality of science fiction. 

He’s experiment aimed to equip the babies with HIV immunity. He used the CRISPR technique to edit embryos to disable the genetic pathway that HIV uses to infect cells, then he impregnated a woman with these embryos. The pregnancy resulted in the birth of twin girls, Lulu and Nana. He goes on to talk about how successful it’s all been in this handy dandy YouTube video: 

Now this all sounds too good to be true. Amazing even. Revolutionary science, a cure for HIV? The scientific community should be celebrating!

Wellllll…..not so much. 

Immediately after He’s announcement, alarm bells began to sound throughout the scientific community. In fact, this one experiment has create ripple waves of confusion, anger and outright disgust among scientists worldwide. BUT WHY IS EVERYONE SO MAD?

1. No Peer-Reviewed Study

For starters, other than his dramatic announcement and neat little video, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that He is making. He has published no research (if you’ve been paying attention to these posts, you know how important that is), his university has distanced himself from the “study”, and no one has examined the babies to know if He is even telling the truth. 

A number of scientists have analysed the data He did provide, i.e. the genetic sequences in question, and they’ve all agreed that it seems like some genetic editing DID take place. But without being able to independently analyse the babies’ DNA, we can’t confirm the science for sure. 

2. But if it IS true, it’s pretty unethical…

The reason that the scientific community is in uproar is because genome editing experiments like this are still in their infancy. Science is not yet at the place where we can be actively experimenting on changing the human genome, because even the slightest error can have devastating and fatal consequences which can be passed down for generations.  (Seriously, if you’ve never watched Orphan Black, now is the time! If you do, remember how all the clones ended up with an error that gave them an incurable degenerative disease and a shorter life span??? Yep, same idea. )

Additionally, He claimed to create a mutation on the CCR5 gene by deleting a 32-DNA-letter long sequence known as delta-32. This deletion is SUPPOSED to inactivate the CCR5 gene and disable the HIV infection pathway. 

However, other scientists who have looked at the data have realized that the CCR5 deletions that He claimed to introduce into the babies’ cells by CRISPR gene editing are not identical to the delta-32 mutation seen in nature. 

In other words, He Jiankui created a mutation that has never been seen before in nature, and he’s done this on actual living human beings.  

This is not how science is done. Techniques like this have to be repeatedly tested in vitro (in a test tube or in non-viable embryos) before someone should even think about trying it on humans. Genome editing techniques are so prone to error, and it literally only takes the smallest tiniest mistake to cause a fatal mutation. AND, because edits to the genome end up being passed on to children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren…and so on. Before you know it, we could have a whole new genetic disorder affecting half the world. 

Unethical science experiments have had devastating consequences throughout history. Remember the Stanford prison experiment?

3. This whole thing was pretty unneccessary.

The truth is, ethical considerations aside, this new development in HIV research wasn’t exactly….needed. While HIV immunity would be a great thing to have, according to genome-editing scientist Fyodor Urnov, at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle:

“There are many safe and effective ways to use genetics to protect people from HIV that do not involve editing an embryo’s genes. There is, at present, no unmet medical need that embryo editing addresses.”

Yep, so it’s kind of a big waste of time. The risk far outweighs the reward here, and there are many other GENETIC conditions (HIV isn’t one by the way) such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, Down’s syndrome, for which this type of research would make a lot more sense. 

Even worse, He’s logic doesn’t even seem to make sense! In the words of Paula Cannon, who studies HIV at the University of Southern California:

“Some strains of HIV do not even use this protein to enter cells, they use another protein called CXCR4. Even people who are naturally CCR5-negative are not completely resistant to HIV because they could be infected by a CXCR4 strain.”

In other words, the science just doesn’t add up. 

So when will we know what’s really going on?

I hate to keep referencing Orphan Black (not really) but it’s a great example to explain this point. In the show, it wasn’t until the clones were in their 20s and 30s that they began to show symptoms of a genetic disorder. And this is pretty much how this type of science goes. 

Seriously, go watch Orphan Black guys. It’s a great depiction of what might happen in the future if this kind of human germline editing is allowed to continue unchecked. And it’s also a pretty cool show. 

It’s going to take years and years and years of research and observation to see what effects, if any, the gene-editing has on the twins. And who knows? In that time, Lulu and Nana might have babies of their own, and pass along a devastating genetic defect to one of their kids.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but I TOLD YOU SO. I’ve been speaking about the need for regulating CRISPR research for yeaaars. And here we are, with a shining example of what can happen when we let the wheels of science run wild without any ethical considerations. 

Another hurdle in determining what’s really happening is that, for their own good, the real identities of Lulu, Nana and their parents must be kept confidential. So it’s pretty hard to evaluate the progress of the children if no one (except He of course) even knows who they are! But making their identities public comes with its own set of ethical concerns. One workaround that has been proposed is that He supplies anonymous samples from the babies to independent researchers for them to do their own analysis. No one knows yet what the solution (if any) is going to be. 

What happens to He now?

He Jiankui at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing

Well since his dramatic announcement, things haven’t been going too great for He. Right after he made the announcement, China’s science ministry ordered He to stop doing any science whatsoever. Lock up shop, and stop the work. In the meantime, an investigation has been launched by the government of Guangdong, and He’s university basically wants nothing to do with him or the research. 

This, along with the fact that He kept his work a secret until unveiling a (clearly premeditated) extravagant PR release for his work, has him on the bad side of pretty much everyone in science. 

We probably won’t have any more information until the investigation is complete, but in the meantime, the scientific community has plenty to think about.

What does this mean for the future of human genetic editing? How do we prevent this from happening again? Is it already happening – are scientists elsewhere experimenting with gene editing in humans? Where do we draw the line between ethics and scientific development? What regulations should be put in place to govern this type of science? Do we even need regulations?

All in all, this is sure to a be a hot-topic in science for a long time to come. 

Best Podcasts This Week

Have a question about this week’s topic? Leave a comment in the box below! 

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It’s goodbye to the kilogram! And is there a new HIV miracle drug? + more || Labrat’s Digest

Welcome to the first installation of the Labrat’s Digest, a weekly (*fingers crossed*) recap of some of the coolest (and weirdest) science news from around the world. This week features updates to some of the most important scientific standards ever, a climate change mitigation option, and is there an HIV cure out there?

Scientific Standards Out The Window?

Many of us in the scientific community were fascinated when we heard news that a vote was passed to overhaul the International Historic System of Units.

For those lucky enough to have never had to derive a formula in physics class, here’s a quick lesson. All you need to know is that there are seven “base” or SI units, from which calculations for everything else are derived.

These seven units are:

  • metre for length
  • kilogram for mass
  • second for time
  • ampere for electric current
  • kelvin for temperature
  • candela for luminous intensity
  • mole for amount of substance

Now, this new vote changes the definition of four of these units: the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin, and the mole. This means all calculations including units derived from these four units will also be affected. What are some of these? Temperature, acceleration, even gravity could be different!

Ok, ok, maybe not. Let’s dial back the dramatics for a minute. Of course, you might be wondering :


Why did over 60 countries one day decide to get up and change all these standard units that we’ve been using for centuries?

Valid question. The truth is, the vote will make the standard units more reliable than their previous definitions. Let’s take the kilogram for example. We all know what a kilogram is, and what happens when you put 1kg of bananas or apples on the scale? But who decided what a kilogram was in the first place?

Usually, the mathematicians of the time assigned measurements to the base units based on physical objects. So the standard definition of the kilogram was based on the weight of a very specific platinum cylinder, known as the 
International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK) stored in a very secure vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)  in France.

Seriously, I’m not joking. The kilogram, that we use now to do EVERYTHING, is pretty much the weight of some arbitrary piece of metal selected by a group of old white men (sorry…the General Conference on Weights and Measures) 130 years ago.

The platinum kilogram, protected by multiple layers to reduce loss of mass from exposure.

If this platinum cylinder were to one day disappear or be destroyed, there would no longer be any weight to verify what a kilogram is. Not to mention no one knows how much mass the cylinder (like any other object on earth) would lose over time. So now the new General Conference wants to create a more scientific definition for these highly important base units. 

This new vote will define the weight of the kilogram based on the mathematically proven Planck constant, a fundamental constant of quantum physics. Meanwhile the ampere will be defined by the elementary electrical charge (e), the kelvin will be defined by the Boltzmann constant (k) and the mole will be defined by the Avogadro constant (NA).

The actual values for the new units shouldn’t change much, but now they’ll be much more stable and reliable, and “ensure that the set of SI base units will continue to be both stable and useful.” So no worries. It’s all in the name of scientific improvement. 

Fighting Climate Change…With Our Soil?

Yea, I know you’re tired of hearing about climate change. (Too bad, I don’t care.) By now we all know how bad global warming is. Read this if you’re living under a rock or “don’t believe in climate change”.

Anyway, since global warming is caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then wouldn’t it be great if we found a way to remove it from the air?

Cue Carbon Sequestration!

Basically, carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed by something else. All the better if that “something else” is able to use carbon to do its own business. Increasingly, it’s being looked at as an alternate way to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce the effects of climate change. 

In this opinion piece by Ronald Amundson and LĂ©opold Biardeau, which was published last week, the writers outline the potential of using soil to sequester carbon.

Soil is a great option for carbon sequestration because organic carbon in soil is already part of the natural carbon cycle, and the world’s soils hold around twice the amount of carbon that is found in the atmosphere and in vegetation. Organic material is manufactured by plants using carbon dioxide from the air and water.

It’s a pretty great article, and they do a far better job of analysis than I will even attempt to do, but in short, the article looks at the factor that would influence the ability to employ soil carbon sequestration as a major climate change mitigation tool. As the article quotes:


As we outline below, cultural, economic, and physical barriers mean that soils face dim prospects as major carbon sinks…Undoubtedly, social and political differences between nations will mean that potential barriers may indeed be different elsewhere. However, this only further underscores the complexities impeding the implementation of soil carbon sequestration on a global scale.


Opinion: Soil carbon sequestration is an elusive climate mitigation tool,  (Ronald Amundson, LĂ©opold Biardeau, 2018)

Is Gammora the HIV wonder drug?

So about a week ago someone sent me this tweet and asked me to fact-check it:

The scientist in me was immediately skeptical. (And here comes a short lesson in how to figure out how reliable scientific info is)

First of all, the tweet didn’t cite any journal, paper, or even article about this information. This was an immediate red flag. Every “outstanding leap for medicine” should be published and peer-reviewed for it to even have potential for real-world use.

Secondly, the hair on the back of my neck went up at “first human clinical trial” (Only the first? Ok, but is that enough to truly evaluate this drug?),

also at “99%” (Almost nothing in science is really 99%)

and “within 4 weeks of treatment” (How long was this study done for? Have long term effects been evaluated?).

This entire thing felt like a 3-course meal of click-bait. 

From this tweet alone, I had already made up my mind that even if this drug is really “an outstanding leap for medicine”, it is frankly a little premature to make such a declaration. Anyway, as requested, I decided not to be swayed by the accompanying threads of how this was an example of drug companies keeping cures from black people, and did what I was asked. I fact checked it. 

Lol well the first thing that popped up on my Google search was this article, entitled “Gammora does not cure HIV“. Not a promising start, and to make it worse, I could find no peer-reviewed (or even preliminary) journal articles about the study. (WHICH IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS). Hmm…maybe the drug companies really are hiding stuff from us…

I did manage to find this announcement about the study’s results, which does appear pretty promising. The study was divided into two phases:

  • Phase 1: Nine HIV-infected patients in Uganda were randomly administered varying doses of Gammora for up to 4-5 weeks. Most patients showed a significant reduction of the viral load of up to 90% from the baseline during the first four weeks.
  • Phase 2: Two weeks after Phase 1, patients were given Gammora with additional retroviral treatment combined for another 4-5 weeks. The results found that combined-treated patients demonstrated sustained viral suppression and showed up to 99% reduction in viral load from baseline within four weeks.

So, FACT CHECK:

  1. Gammora does not eliminate 99% of the virus. Gammora alone reduces the viral load by 90%, while Gammora plus another anti-retroviral reduces load up to 99%. Still pretty impressive, but the tweet’s numbers were off.
  2. This study was only conducted on nine patients. Don’t get me wrong, the results look pretty good. But even at the most basic level, nine patients is nowhere near close to an accurate representation of the population. 
  3. The study is still in its very early stages. The announcement mentions that the company will start Phase 2b in the coming months, involving around 50 patients that are given Gammora over two to three months. A 6-week study isn’t even close to enough time to evaluate long-term effects or side effects of the drug. 

Even the company themselves, Zion Medical, aren’t calling it an “outstanding leap of medicine”. Instead they said:


These first clinical results were beyond our expectations and promise hope in finding a cure for a disease that’s been discovered over 35 years. Given the limited nature of this study, we are excited to prove the efficiency of our drug in Phase 2b with a greater number of participants over a longer period of time.”

So yea sorry. Sometimes we just need to read for ourselves. I also did find quite a few other articles about the claims, which were…skeptical, to put it mildly. 

HIV cure smacks of “quackery”Reports of Imminent HIV Cure, Once Again, Are False

Still, Gammora does show promising results so far, and hopefully the researchers will continue to work on it until it becomes a viable cure for the disease. 

Best Podcasts This Week

Heard any exciting science news this week? Leave a comment in the box below! Don’t forget to like & share! 

An Old Tired Horse’s Advice to the Fledgling Research Student

If you’re starting a research degree (at UWI or otherwise), there are a few things you’ll need to prepare yourself for. Doing an MPhil or a PhD is one of the hardest things you will ever do, so it’s probably a good idea to prepare yourself mentally for exactly what you’re in for. (I certainly wish someone had prepared me).

Switching to research from an undergraduate degree comes with a bit of a learning curve, and at first, it almost seems like a dream come true: no more boring lectures and classes, full autonomy to do your own experiments, a stipend that you certainly didn’t have before….

But with this newfound independence and freedom comes way more responsibilities and challenges. If you thought no one cared about you as an undergraduate, then say hello to grad school, where DEFINITELY no one cares about you.laboratory-2815641_1920.jpg

The hardest part about a PhD is that it’s five (or more) years of completely independent self-motivated learning. Five years of getting up every day to read new papers, try (and fail at) new things, retry things you’ve tried a hundred times before, jumping through hoops, and continuing to chug along.

So to help out any fledgling graduate students about to start, I’ve put together some of the lessons I’ve learned along my journey so far

  1. Research is Hard!

Seriously, first of all, know what you’re getting yourself into. Research is extremely difficult and forces you to be self-motivated. If you give up, your project will die.

2. Start with a Project You Love

If you’re going to be spending a considerable portion of your life on a research project, it might as well be something you’re in love with.

When I applied to start my PhD, I wrote a brilliant (and very very very very very expensive) proposal of work I wanted to do with RNAi. I wasn’t able to do the project I initially had in mind (see: expensive) and I was given my current project based on the fact that I had started work in this area during my undergraduate years.

At first, I was a bit jaded because this isn’t really what I wanted to do, and that made it incredibly hard to find motivation to move forward with my work. Over time, I have grown to fall in love with my work, pretty much because I had to. It was the only way to keep going and not just throw in the towel and become a housewife.

As much as you can, find out about work that is currently happening in the department/institution that you want to become a part of. Talk to different researchers and find out what gaps they are trying to fill, and where their priorities lie. This will better inform you as to the realities of what you can propose.

I’m not saying be limited in your vision, but be realistic as to what you can do in the environment you choose. Don’t feel pressured into doing a project you’re really not passionate about. This is your baby after all, so better to start out already loving it.

3. Get a Good Supervisor

Seriously, I’ve seen way too many students screwed over by poor supervisors. I’m blessed enough to have a great supervisor who cares about each of her students as individuals, but not everyone is so lucky. If you’re considering someone as a supervisor but aren’t sure if it’s the right fit, try to talk to some of the students that they may have worked with before. LISTEN to their concerns and use that to make your decision.

Remember, not everyone who is a good lecturer makes a good supervisor. You need someone who will give you guidance without micromanaging your project so you have the opportunity to learn on your own. But you also need someone who will encourage you along the way, and help you figure out the kinks along your way.

And if you feel like your supervisor isn’t giving you what you need, don’t be afraid to speak up! Every university should have a system in place to deal with unsatisfactory supervisors, but students are usually too afraid to make use of them. Don’t be! Don’t sit and suffer, remember you’re wasting years of YOUR life, while your supervisor is quite fine and happy bringing home his/her paycheck.

4. Form a Support Group and Build Camaraderie

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Research can really be an isolating and lonely experience, and I find that some of us grad students tend to retreat into the woes of our own projects when we’re frustrated. But no one knows what you’re going through like a fellow researcher; chances are, they’re going through the same things too.

Reach out to your labmates or colleagues within your department for advice, support, and simply when you need someone to vent to. The support system you build within your research community will take you through the hardest parts of your journey. Seriously, these are the people you NEED.

5. You will fail and fail and fail and fail (and fail).

Seriously, you will fail so many times you’ll have to start questioning if you were ever really smart in the first place. Truth is, most of the “amazing” scientific discoveries we speak about today were happened upon by chance. And after years and years of drudgery and less than exciting results.

I have done so many failed experiments over the past four years it’s ridiculous. No one prepared me for repeating a PCR 20 times trying to optimize the conditions, or for days when my samples just decide not to work.

It’s important that despite the failures, you start fresh everyday and go in with a positive attitude. I’ve found that my experiments can read my moods. No bullsh*t: whenever I head into the lab in a dark mood or distracted by the hurdles, the experiment NEVER works.

6. Take Opportunities to Travel

One of the biggest regrets I’ve had about my PhD journey is that I haven’t had the opportunities to travel outside of UWI the way I wanted to. In my case, this has been due to some very annoying bureaucratic hoops…and of course….FUNDING (which I won’t touch on in this post, because that’s a whole beast onto itself).

airport-2373727_1920.jpgBut any opportunity you have to travel to a conference, workshop or even to do part of your research at another institution will give you amazing experience you’ll have with you for life. It also gives you the chance to network with others in your field and leave your mark for future job prospects.

7. Join A Society

Apart from looking pretty good on your resume, scientific societies (for example, the American Society of Microbiology) can give you access to information and persons working within your field around the world.

Membership to most societies allows you access to recent publications, supplemental material, and just a space for you to talk to people who might be working on projects similar to yours. Membership fees aren’t that expensive, maybe about $30 a year for students, but they’re worth every penny.

8. Be Aware of Department Politics

While my experience in this area is a very UWI-specific one, I suspect that many departments across the world have their own internal politics and sometimes, unfortunately, spills over to affect the students. Many times, professors are having their own little competitions/infighting for promotions, tenure, publications and so on.

It’s important to know the kind of climate within your department before you step in. This will prevent you from putting your foot in your mouth and saying the wrong thing to the wrong person (again, I wish somebody had told me this). And while this should NEVER happen, sometimes it does lead to you losing scholarships, or your funding application being moved to the back burner.

Have a conversation with your more experienced colleagues beforehand to make sure you don’t get caught slipping. And try as best as you can to hear all sides of the argument before “picking a side” so to speak. The way I see it, you’re just a student, there to get in and get out, so neutral is always the best position.

9. Set a Good Example

The primary exploitation of graduate students (yes I said exploitation) usually happens when we are left in charge of labs and tutorials. While we are very grateful to have this opportunity to earn our stipend, we are often forced to go way beyond our responsibilities to undergraduate students, MANY times to the detriment of our own projects. cellular-1352613_1920.jpg

My approach to this is, I go above and beyond for my students anyway, because somebody did it for me. Grad students will turn out to be the ones doing the most hands-on training of the undergraduate students, who will turn out to be the new generation of researchers. So if we train undergraduates with poor techniques, they’ll end up as postgraduates with poor techniques.

I’ve also found that running labs and tutorials keeps my mind challenged and excited, and can be a nice little distraction from my own project sometimes. Plus I always end up with at least one student that inspires me, and tells me how grateful they are for my help, and this reward is far more than the stipend could ever be. (Seriously, it’s really not that much money)

10. Don’t Forget to Live!

A PhD is at least 5 years of your life, and that’s time you will never get back. It can be easy to become consumed by your research and not have time to create a life otherwise, but don’t lose sight of what’s important.

Don’t feel guilty about taking time off to relax, to have fun, to pursue your other hobbies and interests. Use the time to develop areas of yourself outside of the lab.

And finally….

I know I can’t possibly cover all the things that you need to know before starting a research degree, but I hope that these tips will help you if you’re a little unsure about your new journey. Feel free to ask questions or comment on your own experiences.

Now go forth and be awesome!

So what’s the deal with UV light and manicures?

I’ve recently started getting gel manicures as one of my 2018 steps into the world of being a hot gyal a.k.a. a Goodie. Last week, as my girl at @GetnailedJA was sorting me out and I had my fingers under the UV lamp, I started to wonder what it was about the UV lamp that made my nails dry so pretty and perfectly. I knew quite a bit about UV light, but admittedly, very little about nail polish, so I decided to do some research to solve this mystery, once and for all.

So of course, I must share this newfound knowledge with you.

 

Making Plastics in the Nail Salon?

Both gel and acrylic nail polishes are made up of components called polymers. Polymers are compounds which are formed from a number of single building blocks (monomers) linking together to form one long chain molecule.

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Polymerization occurs when repeat monomers (single blocks) join to form one long chain

Essentially, the process entails building hard plastic coatings for your nails (either gel or acrylic) from smaller sub-units. When the nail polish is the bottle/tube, the polish is separated into individual monomers, hence the gel is liquid. Once the monomers join up to form the long chain polymers, the nail polish will harden and voila! your beautiful nails will be ready to go.

Ok, but what about the UV light?

download (5)Well, gel polishes also contain these cool molecules known as photoinitiators. These are compounds which only undergo reactions when exposed to light at a specific wavelength. The photoinitiators added to nail polish react at a wavelength of 340-410 nm. Once exposed to light at this wavelength, the molecules are activated and emit a particle known as a free radical. Free radicals have many many roles in chemistry and daily life, but in this case, the free radical initiates the polymerization reaction of the polish. This is why UV light at wavelengths between 340-410 is used to harden or “cure” gel nails.

So, expose the polish to UV light at the correct wavelength –> free radicals start polymerication of gel –> gel hardens and dries

download (6).jpgThe same principle applies to acrylic nails, however instead of UV light, acrylic nails are  usually cured with peroxide. The powdered peroxide plays the same role of the photoinitiator, and activates polymerization of the monomer in the liquid polish.

So which one is better?

Well I definitely didn’t write this post to be a plug for either method, but it’s probably important for you to know the risks associated with each method.

Let’s look at gel polishes first. Of course, any method that requires UV light carries some risk, as it is well known that exposure to UV light can cause skin (and other types of cancers). That being said, the couple minutes your fingers spend under the UV lamp will probably have a negligible effect on your cells. We still walk in the sun every day, which is a huge ball of UV light, and most of us are fine.

Nonetheless, if you’re scared of the exposure, you can simply apply a SPF sunscreen to your fingers/toes before your nail appointment, to reduce the impact of the UV light on your skin cells. And nails techs should wear soft gloves if they’re going to be working with the UV light very often. Some gel polishes also contain a compound called butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which can also be cancer causing, so it’s best to choose polishes that state that they’re BHA-free.

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Many nail techs will wear masks to protect from the noxious fumes when using acrylic polish

Acrylic polish also carries a fair bit of health risks with it. We can all attest to walking into a nail salon and being taken aback by the smell of the acrylic polish. That’s because some of the chemicals used in application are formaldehyde (used to embalm the dead if you need some reference here) and resins which are actually pretty bad for your nails and can cause them to split and break. This is why your nails feel so soft after you take off an acrylic set. Additionally, some acrylic polishes contain a poisonous chemical called MMA (Methyl Methacrylate). MMA is illegal in many countries because it can cause serious damage to your lungs from the fumes it gives off. Unfortunately, MMA is still widely used on many unwitting customers.

Also for both methods, soaking your nails in acetone to remove the polish can weaken your overall nails.

All things being considered, gel polish seems to be the better bet for you health-wise, but whatever beauty method you’re using, it’s always best to do your research and know what chemicals you’re being exposed to.

Leave your comments, suggestions, questions, below. And don’t forget to be join me on my #Goodie journey by visiting the Be A Goodie page and ordering your products!

4 Familiar Scents You Probably Didn’t Know Were Caused by Microbes

 

What do microbes smell like?

Have you ever smelled bacteria? Would you even know if you had? I bet you’re imagining that all bacteria or fungi smells funky or nasty, but do they even have a smell?

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Many microbes have a characteristic smell that is used to identify them in nature. These smells come in handy for diagnosing illnesses or figuring out which bacteria might be present. But what you probably don’t realize is….we come into contact with many of these microbe-y odours on a daily basis.

Here are a few familiar scents that you probably didn’t know were caused by microbes:

  1. Rain

We’re all familiar with the smell of rain – that earthy scent that wafts through the air a few minutes before or after a heavy shower. Many of us use that smell to predict an imminent downpour (and as the perfect warning to run and take your clothes off the line). But what causes that distinctive smell?

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The smell of rain is known as petrichor, and it is created from a combination of compounds. The most common are compounds called geosmins. Geosmin is produced by Actinomyces, a group of soil-dwelling bacteria, and is responsible for the smell of freshly turned soil. This same earthy smelling compound is emitted from wet soil into the atmosphere and is carried by wind to reach our noses, letting us know that rain is near.

  1. Baked Bread

Mmmmmmm…… 🙂 Have you ever stepped into a bakery and been consumed by the beautiful warm smell of freshly baking bread? It’s actually the same thing you would smell if you stepped into a brewery that was brewing beer.bread-2193537__340.jpg

What you’re actually smelling is the smell of yeast. Yeast, although classified under fungi and not bacteria, is still a type of microbe that is responsible for some of our familiar scents. This same yeasty smell can also be detected if you’re suffering from a Candida (yeast) infection, and is useful in distinguishing yeast infections from other types of bacterial infections. Even though baking yeast (Saccaharomyces cerivisae) is different from pathogenic yeast, they both carry similar distinctive smells.

  1. Poop

kot-3101851__340.jpgThis is definitely a much less pleasant one, but…well…everybody knows what poop smells like. The smell of faeces is primarily caused by the production of a compound known as indole within the digestive tract. Indole is produced by Escherichia coli (E. coli) producing an enzyme called tryptophanase, which breaks down tryptophan (an amino acid found in most foods) to produce indole:

L-tryptophan + H2O —> indole + pyruvate + ammonia

Also produced in this reaction is ammonia (NH3) which has a distinctive smell of its own.

  1. Body Odor

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Electron micrograph of S. epidermidis

Another unpleasant smell we’re all familiar with is that old BO – the reeking scent of “old sweat” is caused by Staphylococcus epidermidis. S. epidermidis is found all over the body, in particular in stinky areas like under the arm and between the toes.

In fact, it’s not actually your sweat that stinks at all, but once bacteria begin to break it down, that’s when the problem begins. S. epidermidis and other bacteria break down the sugars in your sweat to produce a number of different compounds – and it’s these compounds that can have you reeking to high heaven.


Curious about the source of other scents around you? Chances are many more of them are the fault of some kind of microbe activity. Share this article with your friends and together see how many microbe scents you can identify on a daily basis.