Stress and Health

As prelims and deadlines loom before us for the next 2 weeks before spring break controlling our stress level is of utmost importance. This Health feature from WebMD does a good job listing some strategies to keep debilitating stress at bay. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally can go a long way in increasing stamina and focus. When these things are in place it seems that goals are more easily attainable.

Staying positive is a major factor in reducing levels of stress. Strangely, this point was not mentioned in the article. However, I believe that having the right attitude toward tasks can reduce mental load and affect our demeanor for the better.


Where are microbes?

Do you think there are bacteria in your microwave?

I just swabbed the inside of a microwave and I hope to incubate an agar plate with the sample. Then, I'll be able to see what grows in a microwave! I have no idea what to expect. I wonder if any microorganisms even survive in a microwave.

For my microbiology lab, members of my group are going to swab different areas where we eat/where food is in order to determine which area would have the greatest diversity of microorganisms. The others are swabbing:
  • A stove top
  • Plate
  • Inside a refrigerator
  • The dining table
  • Top of an ice cream cooler
  • Inside a microwave (me)

We'll just have to wait and see what grows...



Sometimes, things don't work out as planned. For example, last week my Microbiology lab set up an experiment to test whether sulfa drugs work by competitive or non-competitive inhibition of a crucial enzyme. The hypothesis was that sulfa drugs work by competitive inhibition, and previous experiments have been run to show this mechanism of inhibition. Unfortunately, no one obtained the expected results. Now what?

I always thought that doing the successful experiment was the hard part of research. However, now I realize that the most difficult thing sometimes is to figure out exactly what went wrong. Why did the scheme that you set up not work according to plan? This takes the most effort and introspection.


Can smelling peanut butter make you have an allergic reaction?

While sitting in lecture and taking notes, I smell the tangy odor of someone peeling an orange. I looked across the aisle and I was amazed that I could smell that orange so strongly. After the person consumed the orange, a jar of peanut butter was brought out. As a banana coated with peanut butter was eaten, it just blew my mind that I could smell the peanut butter from so far away!

Then I started to wonder whether smelling peanut butter, or any peanut containing product could be fatal or at least very uncomfortable for someone with a peanut allergy. In order to smell something, some particles must enter your body... Could this not irritate a person's immune system and cause an allergic reaction?

According to MayoClinic.com, it is possible for an allergy to be caused by inhalation of a peanut containing product. I suppose that merely smelling the the peanut smell means that the peanut particles entering your body are minimal, or at least in too low a concentration to cause a reaction. That's pretty lucky.



It feels disconcerting to not know for sure what the future holds. Will I be a doctor? Will I get into a medical school of my choice? When will everything fit together?

One thing I know for sure is that my life is going to be changing constantly for a number of years in the future. Looking back on it all will be interesting as only then will I be able to see that perhaps it was the little things I did, the seemingly insignificant choices I made that truly shaped my life circumstances.

Until then, one must have faith and hope that things will work out, somehow, in the end.


Sulfa Drugs: Miracle making a comeback?

Today in my Microbiology lab we set up an experiment to test the hypothesis that sulfa drugs work by competitive inhibition of an enzyme crucial for synthesis of folic acid, which is a precursor for amino acids and nucleic acids, in bacteria.

Sulfa drugs were discovered by Gerhard Dormagk, a German pathologist and bacteriologist around the time of World War II.
At this time, people were dying not from the wounds they sustained during the war, but from the bacterial infection that festered in these wounds. These were the times before penicillin.

Dormagk ran structured tests to see what drug would work against these bacteria and he finally discovered these sulfa drugs- more commonly- sulfonamide or sulfanilimide.

These drugs work by competitive inhibition at the active site of the DHPS enzyme that catalyzes the formation of p-amino benzoic acid (PABA) to folic acid, which is a precursor for biosynthesis of amino acids and nucleic acids. Essentially, the drug prevents the bacteria from making folic acid and so the bacteria cannot thrive. Fortunately, humans do not make folic acid (we have to ingest it) so this drug does not affect us.

Before the drug was available on the market, Dormagk's daughter became ill with strep. She was not responding to the treatment available at that time, so he decided to give this drug to her. She recovered, and this was instant proof for the viability of these drugs for widespread use.

During the war, soldiers would have pouches filled with some of this drug in powdered form. The use of sulfanilimide greatly reduced the fatalities due to bacterial infection of wounds during this time.

Eventually, when penicillin and other antibiotics were discovered, sulfa drugs began to lose favor. However, today with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and antibiotic resistance, these drugs are beginning to make a comeback.

Got sniffles?

I came across this article on the New York Times website that investigates the claim that you should NOT blow your nose if you have a cold.
Imagine that! Not blowing your nose when you feel all congested and stuffy. It seems very counter intuitive. Are we supposed to walk around with mucous streaming out of our noses when we have a cold. When one feels all wretched because of a cold, I doubt that one would want others to be appalled at them.

However, the article states that blowing the nose results in excess buildup of pressure in the sinuses, in addition to compounding the disease by propelling bacteria and viruses into the sinuses possibly causing further infection.

The conclusion: Blow your nose one nostril at a time and take decongestants according to Dr. Anil Kumar Lalwani, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the New York University Langone Medical Center.

Essentially, your nose is not a trumpet! Go easy when you blow it :P


Koch's Postulates

So far this semester, I have learned that Robert Koch was instrumental in proving that bacteria cause disease.

This German physician was successful in isolating Bacillus anthracis in 1877, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MBT) in 1882 and Vibrio cholera in 1883.
He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905 for his isolation of the Mycobacterium tuerculosis and other tuberculosis findings.

Becasue Koch proved that bacteria cause disease we were able to create drugs to cure disease by attacking the pathogenic bacteria that infect our bodies.

Koch postulated that:
  1. Microorganisms that cause disease can be isolated from diseased tissue.
  2. This isolated bacteria can be grown as a pure culture and identified using various characteristic tests and observations.
  3. If this pure culture of bcateria was injected into a healthy organism, the same disease symptoms would appear.
  4. The same bacteria can be isolated from the now diseased organism.

In my Microbiology lab, we started an experiment to see if we could prove Koch's postulates.
The plants that we used had a disease that caused red-purple swellings/tumors on their stems. These tumors had white, hair-like protrusions. After observing the disease conditions the tumor was removed and ground so we could isolate the bacteria within.

Last week we isolated bacteria from this tumor in the plant, and we grew a pure culture of this bacteria. I used a colony from this pure culture to infect a healthy plant. This actually turned out to be harder than I expected as the first healthy plant I tried to infect actually broke... ooops! The toothpick that I was trying to use to make a hole in the stem actually was too big and severed the stem most of the way through! Fortunately I was able to get another healthy plant. This time I used a smaller toothpick and punctured the stem. Then I used that same toothpick to pick up some cells from a colony and use these cells to plug the hole I just formed.

Next week in lab, we'll see whether the same type of tumor forms in this healthy plant.


Spice up your life!

Ever wonder why people in the tropics or in other warm weather climate use so many spices? Perhaps it could be because herbs and spices make food last longer by preventing the growth of bacteria!

In order to test this hypothesis, my microbiology lab section contaminated 4 tubes of enriched glucose broth with E. coli and then added different herbs or spices to one tube. In order to compare the effectiveness of the herbs at inhibiting bacterial growth we performed pasteurization on a second tube. The other 2 tubes were control tubes.

~ In all cases pasteurization was effective at inhibiting bacterial growth.
~We found that certain herbs and spices actually did inhibit bacterial growth:
  1. Oregano
  2. Clove bud
  3. Cinnamon
  4. 'Imitation' cinnamon (extract taken from a leaf that was meant to imitate cinnamon)
However, ginger extract did not inhibit bacterial growth. E. coli proliferated within these tubes.

I was surprised by this result, and I found it very intriguing. It seems that life (non-microbial, of course) is just a little more fun with some spice! :)



Peanut butter making you nuts?

The salmonella outbreak in peanut butter has many people worried, and some sick or even dead. Peanut lovers are called to exercise caution up to the point of removing peanut butter and other peanut products from their diet.

Here is a complete list of the recalled peanut products.

Professor Ghiorse of Cornell University discussed this outbreak in one of his Microbiology lectures, and he announced that it is safe to eat brands such as Peter Pan and Skippy peanut butter.
I was relieved by this since I have been eating Peter Pan peanut butter every week or so since this semester began.

In BioMI 2910, a course in experimental microbiology at Cornell University, Professor Sue Merkel began one of her lectures discussing this salmonella outbreak. She mentioned that one of the most unnerving things about having this outbreak in peanut butter is that these products generally don't go bad. In fact, the peanut plant in question tested positive for salmonella twelve times over the past 2 years. They just kept retesting until they got the results that were negative. This means peanut products produced over the last two years may be tainted. Peanuts from one plant end up widely distributed-another factor that increases the reach of this outbreak.

More than 500 cases of salmonella have been reported, and even more remain unreported. Fortunately, salmonella is not fatal. If one does not have a compromised immune system, the symptoms may be nothing more than a mild tummy ache. On the other end of the spectrum, there could be high fevers and even deaths as a result of salmonella poisoning.

It is so interesting how such small organisms can cause such great problems for humans. The more I think about it, the more I agree with Prof. Ghiorse's statement that, "MICROBES RULE THE WORLD!"


Dreams can come true!

In my most recent post I mentioned that it would be amazing if a professor, employer or other superior offered to do a letter of recommendation when mentioned in passing conversation.

At 2:43pm on February 4th, 2009 I experienced this seemingly miraculous phenomenon: a professor, in an almost offhand manner, offered to do a letter of recommendation for me in order to fulfill the requirements of a prospective employer.

It seems that making a good impression on people in addition to establishing rapport during conversations can go a long way in making life easier. I learned from my childhood reading of Enid Blyton that one good turn deserves another, and I believe that this is true. Events like this make me aspire to be a caring and compassionate leader when I am established in my profession.



Asking people for letters of recommendation can be a very tricky process.
The palms sweat and the mind buzzes with thoughts like:
  • I hope this person likes me enough to write a good recommendation
  • I hope he/she remembers my name...
  • Maybe I should ask someone else
  • How should I approach the person without being too awkward... yet without outright demanding the letter?
  • This person can write well... right? Yea... I'm sure they can
  • Whoa, I hope they say yes in the first place because if they don't I'm going to have to try to find someone else
And so it goes.

For the more self-assured, perhaps the fact that they are applying to medical school and need a stellar letter of recommendation can be casually mentioned in conversation with the superior. Then, in an ideal world said person offers to be the author of the letter with such enthusiasm that it would be crazy to tell them no.

One can dream :)