Archive March 2010

Bacteria build pyramids aimee whitcroft Mar 26

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Giza pyramid

And true.  Not the ones with which we’re all familiar, of course (and by these I am referring to the Giza structures).

[Interesting sidenote: bacteria are capable of building structures with sand, which they turn into sandstone, and there's a fascinating TED talk which looks at how this ability could be used to build human habitats in the desert.]

Back to the post at hand, though: scientists at the Nanorobotics Laboratories – a name of which I was immediately enamoured – of the École Polytechnique de Montréal have found a way to control bacteria using computers.  And they can get the bacteria to do things.  In this case, they managed to marshall thousands of bacteria to actually assemble a tiny little pyramid.

I’m not going to try rephrase the article which IEEE Spectrum has written.  That wouldn’t be fair.  Nope, mainly I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to this remarkable development.  You can watch the embedded video, below, to see how it happens.

YouTube Preview Image

But how do the scientists actually do this?  Well, these types of bacteria contain magnetosomes: little organelles which are sensitive to magnetic fields and act as a sort of compass.  To quote the IEEE article:

In the presence of a magnetic field, the magnetosomes induce a torque on the bacteria, making them swim according to the direction of the field. Place a magnetic field pointing right and the bacteria will move right. Switch the field to point left and the bacteria will follow suit.

Yes, the effect of each bacterium is tiny, but one of the great things about bacteria is their propensity to hang out in really big crowds.  At which point all those tiny little forces add up to one rather less tiny force.

And what actual use could something like this have?  Building nanoscale architectural monuments is fun, but hardly useful, after all.  Well, having thought it out, the scientists realised that rather than trying to build tiny robots which mimic the behaviour of bacteria, and use said robots for functions such as drug delivery, organ repair and disease detection, it might be easier to use the tiny little robots nature has been so kind as to design already.

Clever stuff, this…

The paper detailing the advance can be found here, and is entitled “A Robotic Micro-Assembly Process Inspired By the Construction of the Ancient Pyramids and Relying on Several Thousands of Flagellated Bacteria Acting as Workers”.  The structures involved may be tiny, but the titles apparently aren’t…

It’s been a very sciencey few days aimee whitcroft Mar 25


Yea, and verily.

Spike the tuatara

Spike the tuatara

Just a brief check-in, this, to assure everyone that yes, I am alive, but I’ve had my head buried in all kinds of science-based goings-on recently.

It all started on Tuesday evening, when I was lucky enough to be in the gallery listening to Martin Lord Rees speak.  For those not in the know, he’s the President of the Royal Society of London (which is 350 years old this year) and also Britain’s Astronomer Royal.

Tuesday’s talk, entitled “The World in 2050” was interesting, particularly as I went along not quite knowing what to expect.  Lord Rees spoke about the population pressures we are likely to face – some 9 billion people will add a great deal of water and agricultural stress (amongst other things) to the earth.  Of course, our inability to marshall any decent effort to mitigate climate change means that it’s likely that the world will, overall, be a warmer place by then.  Exactly what the effects of that might be are under debate, but the consensus amongst scientists is that it won’t be good.  And, of course, the rise of the East, both intellectually and economically, is likely to continue.

Not that the talk was all doom and gloom, mind.  Lord Rees also spoke of the hope that new technologies could bring us, although he was careful not to be specific about what form said technologies might take – a quick look at the covers of Popular Mechanics shows we aren’t great at predicting that! All in all it was definitely worth it, although I found myself sincerely wishing I had been able to see his talk on astronomy down south on Monday: I imagine it would have been a treat watching him speak about his passion.

Yesterday I spent being entertained by the VUW crew – something I’d highly suggest to anyone, I might add.

The morning was spent on a tour of the Science Faculty, which has had a stunning sum of money invested in it recently by the university in both equipment and facilities.  It’s always gratifying to see institutions putting their money where their mouth is, particularly when it comes to the importance of science!

My colleague and I were taken around some of the departments by the Dean himself, Prof David Bibby.  There was something for everyone, from meeting Spike the ‘cool-as’ tuatara*, to getting googly-eyed over the brilliant robotics work being done by Dale Carnegie and his students, to asking daft questions in a presentation explaining how one can encode On the Origin of Species into DNA itself!  And much else interesting besides.  I was quite touched by the fact that everyone took the time out of their pretty frenetic days to show us their work, let us touch their stuff, and answer said daft questions.

And it made me come over all misty-eyed for my science-studying days.  I miss them.  * Sniff *

Finally, the evening was spent being fed and watered again by VUW, but this time for the screening of a new documentary, entitled The Last Trillion Tonnes.  As the name suggests, it’s about climate change, although this one’s a little different to the others.

YouTube Preview Image

Whereas other documentaries generally have a narrator, this movie is made up entirely of interviews with scientists from all over the world, and a range of disciplines. In it, the scientists simply present the data, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

I found it enormously educational, and the concepts beautifully explained – for example, I’d not really known about the thermohaline conveyor belt.  I do now.  I also had my suspicions that people who work in the Arctic are slightly mad confirmed.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for all of you – go out and watch it when it becomes available.  Really.  Although I will say that I appreciated the final message about educating our kids on the subject – the scientist in question made it clear that the goal was not to scare our kids at all, but instead to include them, and say ‘we can fix this; let’s all work on it together’.

And it featured penguins, which is always a winner.

*Fascinating fact, this: did you know that no-one knows how old tuataras get?  Seriously.  Although they reckon it could be somewhere around a hundred years.

High temperature superconductors and cars – it doesn’t get any cooler (seriously) aimee whitcroft Mar 22

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Ok, so I’m going to go about this in the fashion most often called ‘arse-about-face’.

HTS motor

An HTS motor

First, a word of explanation.  I was lucky enough to get to go to the ISIS-18 open day a little while back.  During said day, I developed what is probably going to be a lifelong fascination with all things high temperature superconductor-ish.  I went to the day knowing very little about the subject, and left knowing somewhat more factually, and a great deal more just in terms of how madly interesting the field is.

Hence the arse-about-face bit.  I want to do a series of posts looking into various issues, facts, stories etc about high temperature superconductor (HTS) technology.  And so, I should begin with a proper introduction, enlightening you all as to the basics and whatnot.  This is not going to happen.  It will actually take the form of the second post in the series.

The first post is going to be about their use in cars.  And why?  Because I think it’s seriously, seriously cool.  And it all came about when I got talking to the guys from Sumitomo about their fun project and persuaded them to send me their research so that I could bore the pants off you, dear readers.

Regarding HTS, the only basic thing you need to know for now is that some metals*, when cooled to seriously frostbite-inducing temperatures, become superconducting.  This means that they are able to conduct electricity with no resistance.  None whatsoever.  Which is awesome.  It’s apparently a quantum mechanical phenomenon (but what isn’t these days?), and one we’re still pretty far from properly understanding (more on that in the next post).  ‘Conventional’, or low temperature, superconductors were the first kind we discovered – about 100 years ago – and have to be chilled to between 1K and 20K (-272.15 deg. C to -253.15 deg. C).  Which is very, very cold and chews a great deal of power and effort.

HTS, on the other hand, have raised this minimum temperature as high as 92K (-181.15 deg. C).  Yes, it’s still very cold, but it takes far less power to do and, excitingly, means that liquid nitrogen can be used as a coolant – a far easier coolant to produce and use than the liquid helium used by LTS.

And it’s an exciting technology for both environmental and economic reasons.  Due to the vastly increased efficiency at which HTS wires can transmit electricity, there is a corresponding decrease in power loss – this means less electricity needs to be generated to reach the same output, which makes everyone happy.

Now, on to the point of the post:

While at ISIS-18 I got talking to some chaps from Sumitomo Electric, a company in Japan, who have been having a little bit of laddish fun with HTS.  Specifically, they’ve been playing around with a car (formerly a golf cart, hilariously) and HTS tech.  Said car, which is obviously electric, contains a motor in which HTS wire has been used (more on that later).  Now, everyone knows that HTS motors in cars is never going to be a practical application: ships and huge trucks yes, but cars, no.  Instead, this is a proof of concept thing.  And an excuse a) for the Sumitomo brains to play, and b) for the CEOs of Japan’s various car companies to drive around in seriously next-gen tech.  I know I certainly would…

There isn’t much known at the moment on the use of HTS tech in land vehicles; people have primarily been looking at their use in the huge motors of ships.  Certainly, however, there is a need for increasingly environmentally-friendly land vehicles of all kinds, given the issue of global warming and our contribution thereto.  Currently, there are three main types of environmentally-friendly vehicles being developed:

1) Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), like the Prius

2) Electric vehicles (EV), like the G-Wiz (which is crap) and the Think**.  And the oh-so-very-sexy Tesla, of course.

3) Fuel cell vehicles (FCV). The fuel here being hydrogen

HEV’s are pretty widespread, and have been since the late 1990s.  They’re also spreading far faster than the other two types of car, for what I hope are pretty obvious reasons: cost, convenience and availability.  Many people are heralding, however, that once we get a good grip on FCV technology, they’ll overtake the other two kinds.

The important thing to note with all of three types of car is that they use electricity.  Which is where HTS comes in.  How does it do this?

Well, the motor is a standard series-wound DC motor, but HTS wire gets used for the motor coil instead of ‘normal’ wire.   This coil is then kept immersed in liquid nitrogen. For those of you who understand, and are interested in such terms, this superconducting coil provides a much higher flux density, and therefore delivers higher torque.  There are also other advantages, which can be seen in the diagram below:

HTS motor advantages

Advantages conferred by HTS motor

To explain the ‘no transmission’ bit: because of the much higher torque supplied by HTS motors, one wouldn’t need the variable-speed gears used by other engines to deal with the huge range in rpm.  This means that the motor could directly drive the wheel shaft, hence cutting down on transmission loss.  There’s a picture below as well, if it helps.

hts system config

System configuration

Now, there have to be challenges, right?  And yes, there are.

The big one is, obviously, keeping everything cold enough.  This means that the motor needs some sort of refrigeration mechanism, which itself needs to be powered.  As a result, it’s best to use this kind of motor in cars/vehicles which are heavily used, for a couple of reasons: if they’re kept going, they can provide the power to keep the refrigeration going, and also, in the words of the paper itself:

“In a heavy vehicle that requires a high output, the output of the cooling mechanism has less impact on the increase of motor efficiency and the decrease of transmission loss.  Furthermore, because high output is required during acceleration or deceleration regeneration of a heavy vehicle, superconducting motors would also be suitable for buses and other mass-transit vehicles that experience frequent stop-and-go operations”.

Couldn’t have put it better meself.

Of course, if we can get to the point where liquid hydrogen could be used as a coolant, then things will get even more exciting.  Imagine, if you will: in FCVs, liquid hydrogen might well be part-and-parcel of the car’s operating system.  Due to some of the properties of superconducting wire, the use of liquid hydrogen (which is far colder than liquid nitrogen) means that superconducting wire would become even more superconducting, meaning more current and higher torque.  It would also mean that cooling system could be downsized or even left out altogether, making things both more efficient and cheaper (yay).

So how does our prototype car run?

Well, better than its golf cart predecessor, that’s for sure. The car in question is a retrofitted Toyota Probox, which is your bog-standard gasoline car, and everything got put in as shown below.

hts car config all

Configuration of superconducting car

Something I thought was quite interesting was that the car can accelerate from a standstill, effortlessly, while in 3rd gear!  For those who’ve ever stalled their car in 3rd, this is a prospect capable, I am sure, of causing frissons of delight.  Apparently, it’s because the highest torque in electric cars is obtained at the lowest speeds.

Apparently, in the 6 months before this paper came out, the car was run for about 200km, and showed no issues.  At a top speed of 70km/hr, it’s hardly zippy, but it does show what’s possible. And it makes me happy :)

The car in question

The car in question

Addendum: if anyone’s seriously interested in the exact specs of the engine, I’m happy to provide :)

* And organic compounds including hydrocarbons

** Interesting sidenote: in my previous, Lond-based job, I was part of the team trying to figure out how to price this car, which was available in Europe but not yet in the UK.  Hmmmm.

Please note:  I’ve cribbed happily and extensively from the paper that Sumitomo sent me on the subject: “Application of Superconductors for Automobiles“. Thanks, Sumitomo!

HT: Evgeny Talantsev (IRL), who pointed out the Sumitomo guys to me.

Carl Zimmer’s Science Reader Survey aimee whitcroft Mar 18


In a fit of market-research madness, Carl Zimmer (one of my favourite science writers)  assembled a little survey looking into people’s science reading habits.

carl zimmer

The man himself: Carl Zimmer

In essence, it asked how people get their ‘science fix’, where they get it from, and how they feel about paying for it.

Now, it must be said – and it’s admitted to cheerfully by Zimmer himself – that he is not a market research professional.  Having been one of those myself for a while, I can as cheerfully concur.  But despite some glaring omissions,  the results of his survey are nonetheless interesting.

I’m going to paraphrase – I’d suggest you read his take on the matter, and I’ve embedded the results themselves below.  Also, there were some fantastic comments left by people as well, covering issues that had been left out of the survey itself.

Where do they get their fix?

Perhaps unsurprisingly,  people generally get their science fix from news websites and blogs.  Indeed, very few go to print newspapers anymore for that type of content, and only slightly more go to magazines (his descriptions of said formats are hilarious).  Now, given that those answering the survey were readers (primarily) of his blog, this may of course have skewed results slightly, but given the quality and paucity of science coverage in most print media these days, I can still believe that people go to the ‘net.  Of course, the picture might be also have been a little different if things like ‘podcasts’, ‘radio’ and ‘libraries’ had been included :)

Computers were the favoured device over iPhones, eBook readers and so forth.  To be honest, the thought of reading long science stories (which people were, generally, perfectly happy to do) on an iPhone screen gives the horrors.  The only way it might work would be if it could be downloaded in some sort of eBook format (for Stanza, for example), but certainly not simply as a webpage!  As for why eBooks weren’t that popular, see the next section…

Paper books vs ebooks

People really, really preferred paper books to ebooks.  In fact, some 41% of people bought 5 or more science books a year!  eBooks, on the other hand, are not so much unpopular as simply immature -  70% felt they were an interesting concept but not yet worth it (something which I wholeheartedly agree).

In terms of magazines, people tended to not to subscribe to any at all, or only 1 or 2.

Will people pay?

Finally, he looked at people’s willingness to give over their hard-earned coin to read about science.  And, fairly resoundingly, the answer was no.  Why?  Because there’s so much great, free stuff out there, of course.  He also trialled a couple of different ideas, and found that there is actually a little bit of willingness to pay for the right content, although it wouldn’t be much…

All in all, the results of the survey were interesting, and it’s tempted me to try running one of my own at some point!  There’s definitely some other information I’d love to get my sticky little fingers on…

You know your ‘type’? It’s stress dependent… aimee whitcroft Mar 12


A number of interesting revelations to be had here, and all to do with our choices of ‘mate’.

male female

And by mate, I don’t mean the antipodean colloquialism meaning ‘friend’.  Nope, I mean mate as in, you know, someone you want to shag.  As it were.

The first revelation in this paper* is that, for the most part, we tend to choose mates who are similar to us. Certainly I’ve heard that we tend to pick people who look like us in some way – this is why so many longterm old couples look similar to each other, apparently.  Of course, to confuse things, we actually tend to like the smells of people whose immune system makeups are different than ours**. And choices also differ depending on whether it’s a long- or short-term decision.***

In addition, received wisdom is often that we should pick someone who’s different to us so that we ‘complement’ each other, or some such thing.

Anecdotally, and amusingly, this tendency to choose lookalikes doesn’t apply to anyone I’ve ever dated.  But still.

So yes.  Boys do, apparently, tend to pick people who look like them.  Except, it turns out, when they’re stressed.

It’s known that stress alters mate choice in animals, but up until now its effect on humans mate choice was somewhat less clear.  So, what do scientists now know, and how did they get there?

The researchers in question took two group of boys (well, men).  The first group they stressed, and the second group they didn’t – classic ‘control group’ stuff.  The stressed group got that way by immersing a hand in ice water for as long as they could handle it.  Yeesh.

They then took the two groups of men, and showed them either neutral pictures or ‘erotic’ nekkid lady pictures.  The nekkid lady pictures had had their faces modified either to look like whichever man was viewing the picture, or another man, or else hadn’t been modified at all.

And they observed.

And what they found was this: that stress in fact completely changes what the men found attractive.  When unstressed, their preference was for ladies who looked like them (i.e. whose faces had been modified to resemble their own).  When stressed, however, their preference switched to prefer ladies who looked like someone else or who had remained unmodified.

Of course, this makes me wonder whether the stressful lifestyles lived by so many of us might be changing men’s preferences.  Perhaps it’s only fair, given that it’s been shown that taking the contraceptive pill (also a commonplace behaviour) changes what women find attractive in men***!  Maybe that’s why my boyfriends have tended to look nothing like me, and not generally terribly masculine either :)


** Yes.  It’s true.  And why?  Because our immune systems impact the mix of bacteria inhabiting our skin (in a good way, everyone), which in turn affects our natural odour. So, the more like your own immune system someone else’s is, the more similar their bacterial makeup will be, and the less different they’ll smell – something which you’ll pickup as them not having a strong, nice smell.


* Lass-Hennemann, J., Deuter, C., Kuehl, L., Schulz, A., Blumenthal, T., & Schachinger, H. (2010). Effects of stress on human mating preferences: stressed individuals prefer dissimilar mates Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0258

*** Does Taking Birth Control Alter Women’s Sexual Choices? – The Primate Diaries

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist

Why GeoNet rocks my world aimee whitcroft Mar 08


Last week, my colleague Dacia and I were fortunate enough to go out to Avalon to meet Ken Gledhill and Kevin Fenaughty, two of the people involved in GeoNet.

The website will be one familiar to many Kiwis – a GNS initiative, it is the  public face of a project which aims to collect data for all the various natural hazards which can, and do, occur in New Zealand: from earthquakes to tsunamis to volcanoes and more besides.

Like many people, I’m familiar with the homepage, which looks at earthquakes occurring on the islands.   With some 13,000 quakes of over magnitude 3 happening every year in New Zealand , it’s not surprising we’re all so very interested in them. What impressed, me, however, was how much more there is packed into the site.  Some of it’s, well, not buried per se, but not necessarily intuitively reachable either unless one’s spent some time trawling through everything.

Dacia and I were lucky enough to be taken through the site itself by Kevin Fenaughty, who knows it very well, and was also very patient in answering our ‘oooh, what is that?’ questions.  While I found it all fascinating – and here I must confess I’ve never been much of a geology person – I think my favourite discovery was the imagery made by the RSAM/SSAM drums.

These drums are used in the measurement of volcano activity, but are incredibly sensitive.  So sensitive that, looking at the SSAM drums, they are able to pick up wind, or people’s footsteps.  A great example of this can be seen below.  It shows what’s called diurnal activity – the daily rhythms of the surrounding area.

geonet RSAM-SSAM 2

RSAM (top) and SSAM (bottom) plots. GeoNet 2010.

With this sort of activity, you see higher spikes during the week than the weekend, due to the ebb in traffic (car and pedestrian) then – it’s clearly visible on the SSAM plot above.  Apparently, what one looks for isn’t just the spikes, but what exactly is going on in them, and you don’t just look at one type of measurement – you combine SSAM and RSAM.  So, for example, in the SSAM graphs, you look for areas where there is orange (near the midline).  You then combine that with the RSAM measurements to look for a specific pattern – if you have both, then you have volcanic activity (examples on Fig. 12 and 14).

In fact, the above link points to part of a fantastic page explaining all of the seismic methods used to measure volcanic activity, and how to correctly interpret seismograms (hopefully a page like this for earthquakes is also in the making).

The tsunami gauge network charts are also really interesting.  Again, I’ve reproduced one with permission from GNS.

(Click on image to enlarge)

geonet tide

So, what does this chart mean?  Well, it shows the readings of a number of different sensors, placed both in open water and harbours.  The squiggly (or not, as the case may be) dark grey line shows the waves themselves, and is an average.  The light grey line shows the difference in wave heights, which is why the open water sensors have a far higher incidence of grey lines than the harbours.  You can also have the chart displayed with the tides put back in, which makes everything look like some kind of optical illusion, and definitely made my eyeballs feel a little odd.  Of course, it’s also a very clear means of seeing the time lag between tides – high and low don’t happen at the same time everywhere, of course!

There’s  a tonne of other stuff too, if you’re willing to dig in a layer or two.  For example, the front page for the ‘landslides’ section isn’t terribly gripping, but it’s worth persevering into the section in order to look at things such the Taihape landslide – a slow-moving one which has been going for, well, quite some time.  And click on the poster link for the Young River landslide as well – it looks to have been quite something!

The other sections (earthquakes, news, and resources) are of course also fantastic – it’s just there’s only so much text a person can put down in a blog post…  And they are probably two of the more familiar sections to people anyway.

And finally, did I mention the datasets?  Because people who’re interested in such things can actually download entire datasets as well, to do with as they wish.  Which, I can imagine, could be quite a lot of fun if you’re that way inclined.

So I will leave you there, dear readers, with a gleeful encouraging to go, have a look, and play.  The site’s foci may be hazardous, but the site itself couldn’t be less so.

And kudos, as well, to all the people involved in the greater GeoNet!

An exhortation to Research Bloggers aimee whitcroft Mar 05

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Good morning everyone, and welcome.

Research Blogging Awards 2010

As those of you who are part of Research Blogging are likely aware (following a missive that should have appeared in your inbox in the last few hours), voting has opened to choose the winners of the Research Blogging Awards 2010.

And this is where the exhortation bit comes in: do go have a look at the nominations.  Particularly in the categories in which David and I were nominated.  And, if you like our blogs, please do vote for us.  Undying appreciation could well result from such actions.

And tell your Research Blogging friends, as well :)

For myself, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy leafing through all the blogs and choosing my nominations in the categories – there’s just so much wonderful content out there, and kudos to my fellow science bloggers!

Note: that link?  Remember you can only click it once, so you only get one chance to vote…

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist

How to get sober quicker aimee whitcroft Mar 02


This is great news for all of us drinkers.  And, frankly, if I was just a little better at actual chemistry, how I’d make my first couple of fortunes*

And now I have the song ‘Tiny Bubbles‘ stuck, unfortunately, in my head. (When I first heard it, though, it was an Aero jingle.  Possibly)


So yes.  To give it to you simply, before going into all that explanation stuff, it’s very simple – loading more dissolved oxygen into alcohol apparently removes some of the side-effects of drinking it.  But more on those details later.

Firstly, a brief lesson in how the body processes alcohol.  Metabolically, that is, not  in the sense of ‘it makes you do silly things and lose control over your joints’.

So…Shortly after the imbibing thereof, alcohol gets almost completely absorbed into your bloodstream.  By shortly,  I mean that about 30-90 min after you’ve had that drink, its goodness has peaked in your blood.  And then needs to be got rid of.  It is, after all, a toxin.

In order to do this, a few different enzymes are needed (see diagram below).  They include ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase), ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase) and MEOS (microsomal ethanol oxidising system).  To summarise, they are involved in oxidation of alcohol and the ensuing compounds – this whole process is the primary one used to detoxify alcohol, though not the only one.

alcohol oxidation

Particularly scary, the intermediate phase of the breakdown process, acetaldehyde, causes DNA damage***.  Not, as I’m sure you agree, a good thing.

But moving along.  As you may have guess from the liberal use of words beginning with ‘ox-’, oxygen is of primary importance in this process.  And, in fact, the more oxygen there is around, the faster the process is able to happen.  Also, it would appear to produce ‘major elevations’ in enzymes which are involved in protecting against alcoholic liver damage.  Another good thing (my, but aren’t we racking them up).

So, where does all this oxygen come from?  Well, from breathing, and also through our skin and gut.  Interestingly, the liver gets the vast majority of its oxygen from the gut directly.  To quote the paper:

Oxygen for ethanol oxidation is supplied through breathing, the stomach, and the skin. Gastroenteric oxygen intake (via the stomach) is more intensive than breathing and supplies oxygen to muscle cells and can be involved in regenerative processes. Additionally, oxygen-enriched water, supplied to the stomach, affects the oxygenation of portal blood. Breathing increases the oxygen content in the liver by 8%, while oxygen absorbed through the stomach can increase it by 43% (Forth and Adam, 2001). (My emphasis)

On to the experiment.  In essence, they fed alcoholic beverages (with the prior, written consent of their subjects, although why this would be necessary I don’t know.  Free drinks!) containing different amounts of dissolved oxygen to their test subjects.  Slash new best friends.  And they noticed that it took significantly less time for the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to drop in people fed higher-oxygen drinks.  Further, looking at the detailed results (available in the paper), it would appear that this oxygen affects the bits where the alcohol is metabolised/eliminated, not absorbed.

And so, after all this, I shall answer the question hovering on your lips; ‘but what does this actually mean?’

Well, it means that you can still get happily tipsy and/or drunk.  But, and this is wonderful, you’ll sober up faster, which is good news for traffic- and other drinking-related accidents.  Also, hopefully it might mean that less DNA damage takes place.


On a separate, but linked note:  DNA damage is not, it would seem, permanent nor even particularly difficult to fix (in some cases, at least).  We all sustain and accrue DNA damage as we go through our lives, and this damage is of course implicated in ageing and age-related diseases.  But a field of study called nutrigenomics looks at how our diets interact with our genotypes at that level.  And some of the work done (for example by Dr Michael Fenech) is suggesting that simply feeding our bodies the correct micronutrients can go a long way towards fixing this damage.  Of course it’s different for each individual, before you all go charging off to buy millions of supplements.

* Note: anyone who copies my idea automatically accepts me as partner to the enterprise.  Also, I know bus. strat/marketing/research etc.  I’d be perfect…

** Diagram, and knowledge of DNA damage, happily from Dr Michael Fenech (with diagram doubly referenced as Boffetta and Hashibe Lancet 2006 and Morimoto et al 1993).


In-hwan Baek, Byung-yo Lee, and Kwang-il Kwon (2010). Influence of Dissolved Oxygen Concentration on the Pharmacokinetics of Alcohol in Humans
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research : 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01155.x

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist

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