A biologist’s prayer

Safety first: scientists always wear gloves before high-fiving. At least in stock photography. 

I’m taking a group picture with my lab, and we look like an advertisement for cultural diversity. We line up like those models of different skin tones, a rainbow row of smiling faces, only we have a little less sleep and a few more pairs of glasses. A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a lab – must be another Monday. Or a Sunday. We’re not the best at work/life separation. In between experiments and cleaning the beakers, we take turns cooking different cuisine for each other from India, Iran, Israel, Korea, China, and the frozen food section of Costco. We talk about which countries our families are in, what life is like there, and try to understand the impact our governments have on each other. One thing we rarely talk about is our different religions. But when we have to sacrifice a mouse, I found that we each said a different prayer.

Continue reading

Animal Tales

I want to share a personal perspective. I’ve lived my whole life caring for pets: cats, turtles, frogs, a praying mantis I found in the backyard. I wrote a rock opera about my sister’s hamster. In my professional life, I work with zebrafish for research. In short, I’m a vegetarian who believes strongly in the ethics of animal research. In this column I want to share stories of working with animals, its joys and frustrations, and pay some small tribute to the animal lives that make it possible for me to live so long, and in such extraordinary health.

Working with animals can be emotionally hard. Sometimes it’s hard even to watch, the way surgery is hard to watch – a part of me knows the higher purpose, another part has a hard time ignoring a knife that cuts into a person’s chest. In the same way, in research, I see the kindred spark of life in every mouse I’ve ever held, and when they pass through that thin boundary between living and dead, I feel it. Here’s why I keep doing it: Continue reading

What the Cell?

Robert Hooke's microscope is fancier than anything I own, period.

Robert Hooke’s microscope is fancier than anything I own, period. (Photo credit: Wikimedia commons)

“I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular. . . . these pores, or cells, . . . were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this. . .”1 With these words, 17th century scientist and professional British person Robert Hooke realized there is literally more to life than we can see with our eyes. Continue reading

The Case Against Antibiotics in Soap: Part 2

Last time, we went through two reasons why antibiotics may not be necessary in hand soaps. First, there has not been very much study about how safe these antibiotics are, especially Triclosan. Because we don’t know for sure, the FDA wants antibiotic manufacturers to be certain that their soaps are safe. But the second argument went into reasons why the antibiotics may not be needed at all. Research from Columbia and the University of Michigan reviewed papers back to the 1960s and found that the best way to reduce the risk of infection is to wash your hands, but what kind of soap is used is much less important than the duration1. So the antibiotics may be unsafe, particularly to the environment, and they may not be necessary. Today, the final part of the argument will show how antibiotics in consumer hand soaps may, paradoxically, be detrimental to health. Continue reading

The Case Against Antibiotics in Soap: Part 1

Recently, I saw an article about how the FDA wants to remove antibiotics from hand soap1. To most people, this sounds silly. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and bacteria make you sick, so why should we get rid of this? In fact, reviewers from Rutgers read past papers in late 2011 and found that antibacterial soaps (soaps containing antibiotics) significantly reduce the amount of bacteria on a person’s hands2. As it turns out, the world of bacteria is a very active area of science, and we are learning more about how bacteria interact with us and each other every day. Recently, evidence has suggested a few problems with the most common antibacterial soaps. What are some of these problems, and why are they resulting in new FDA regulations?

Continue reading