Beer Lovers Rejoice: A new study says a mere sip of beer triggers chemical pleasure in the brain !!

English: Taken in an Irish Pub located in Madr...

English: Taken in an Irish Pub located in Madrid, Spain on January 3rd, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To start off, let me begin by saying that i love drinking beer especially an Irish stout. Now, whenever i take a couple of sips, moments later there is always  a distinct sensation of pleasure. Now urban legend would have it that the beer exudes a blend of aromas due to a  blend of malt, hops and yeast which produces that sensation in us. Just take a look at the Beer Flavour Wheel below from Mark Dredge‘s upcoming book – Craft Beer World

CBWFlavourWheelMarkDredge908

Now scientists have known for a long time that the pleasurable sensation which alcohol produces in us is because of the release of a particular class of neurotransmitter called dopamineThis molecule is known is to act as reward for the brain and is associated with other tasks like sleeping, sex etc. So, now you might reasonably ask if we already know that then what’s new?? Well, what’s new here is a paper published in Neuropsychopharmacology titled – Beer Flavor Provokes Striatal Dopamine Release in Male Drinkers: Mediation by Family History of Alcoholism. 

This paper published by  David Kareken and other researchers of Indiana University tries to answer this question – As intoxication via alcohol leads to the release of dopamine, does the same thing happens when you take a sip of alcohol? Or the release of such reward molecules subject to intoxication alone? Now, answering this question would lead us towards a more complete explanation of the process of addiction towards alcohol and lead us to develop deterrents in the process.

So, what they did was to strap 49 men to a  Positron emission tomography (PET) scanner   after giving them a sip of beer to drink. The key idea here was to track the levels of various molecules in the brain which are released in response to the alcohol intake. To make the study more scientifically more sound and interesting, they chose the participants in varying levels of alcohol tolerance from, almost teetotalers to heavy drinkers. The delivery mechanism for the beer was completely automated to spray 15 millimeters only which ensured that any difference in levels of molecules observed wouldn’t be a by-product of intoxication.

Surprisingly, what they observed was when men tasted beer there was a significant release of dopamine when compared to tasting a mixture of gatorade + water. Incidentally the researchers also asked the participants whether they had any cravings for the drink they had been given and they were generally much higher after tasting beer than Gatorade or water. However, the amount of dopamine release was not random but was seen in higher levels in people with a history of alcoholism. The researchers believe that this could be a clue as to why some people are predisposed towards alcoholism—and why it’s more difficult for them to quit. The immediate release of dopamine from just a taste of beer would likely serve as a powerful mechanism that would drive their cravings, and this tendency towards experiencing a burst of pleasure might also be genetically inheritable. This could be part of the reason that people with a family history of alcoholism are twice as likely to experience alcoholism themselves.

This experiment shows that for a few unlucky people all it takes for alcoholism to develop is a sip of beer !!

For the rest, i say PROST !!

Additional Readings-

1). Neural response to alcohol stimuli in adolescents with alcohol use disorder, Tapert SF, Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2003.

2). Influence of cue exposure on inhibitory control and brain activation in patients with alcohol dependence, Mainz V, Front Hum Neurosci, 2012.

An Iranian chap claims to have invented the Time Machine !!

Delorean DMC-12

Delorean DMC-12 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly and No, that chap is not a future version of  Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown !!

So, let me start from the begininng-My evening started quite calmly until i saw an article in the Telegraph about an Iranian scientist Ali Razeghi filing a patent about his TIME MACHINE… Yes you are right, a freaking Time machine. It is imaginatively titled as –  “The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine”. According to him, this device can “predict five to eight years of the future life of any individual, with 98 percent accuracy”.Razeghi has till now registered more than 170 patents and his currently the MD of Iran’s Centre for Strategic Invention.

Further on, he claims that “My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users. It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you.”

For more of his enlightening comments one should really read the article in Telegraph — Iranian scientist claims to have invented ‘time machine’.

I just hope that Ahmadinejad doesn’t threaten to use this against US !! It would be funny …

April Fool’s Day and Science – Hmm…Now that’s a weird combo !!!

Well, after taking a month’s break from writing and work (Yeah, writing is fun !!) i have come back. And what other day could i have chosen than the April Fool’s Day. The day started with the various pranks put up by Google which at first shocked me and then brought a pleasant smile. To all of you who missed it here is a small compilation-

1). Gmail Blue

2). Google Nose

3). Google Maps & TREASURE !!

4). Youtube Closing Down

However, the reason for writing this post was not just cataloging all of Google’s Treasure trove of pranks, but more to celebrate the fact that science too can be funny !! Its not all geeky or nerdy as some may have let you to believe…

To celebrate this very fact, National Geographic came up with a list of famous Animal Hoaxes:

Rabbit Mother

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Man-Dog Hybrid

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Global Warming Caused by … Sheep?

april-fools-day-animal-hoaxes-sheep-albedo_34040_600x450

Loch Ness Monster

april-fools-day-animal-hoaxes-loch-ness-monster-nessie_34038_600x450

Tasmanian Mock Walrus

april-fools-day-animal-hoaxes-tasmanian-mock-walrus_34035_600x450

Bigfoot

Frame 352 from the film, alleged to depict a f...

Frame 352 from the film, alleged to depict a female “Bigfoot” mid-stride. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Killer Bee Attack

april-fools-day-animal-hoaxes-killer-bees_34037_600x450

My personal favourite about the ultimate thing in science humour — IgNobel Awards

TED came up with its own list of quirky research in sciences which in past have won this honour !!

Category: Entomology
Year: 1994
Winner: Robert A. Lopez “for his series of experiments in obtaining ear mites from cats, inserting them into his own ear, and carefully observing and analyzing the results.”
Why he did it: Sounds uncomfortable, and it was by all accounts. Still, as Marc Abrahams reports in The Guardian, Lopez’s itchy experiment helped him prove that Otodectes cynotis mites could infect humans, which he suspected was the cause of at least one rash in a young girl who liked cuddling her mite-ridden cats.

Category: Public Health
Year: 2009
Winners: Elena Bodnar, Raphael Lee, and Sandra Marijan “for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.”
Why they did it: The concept for this invention may seem silly, and the drawings in the team’spatent don’t help, but during a biological or chemical terror attack you probably wouldn’t care.

Category: Safety Engineering
Year: 1998
Winner: Troy Hurtubise “for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears.”
Why he did it: Well, to see if he could survive a grizzly attack. But, according to Wikipedia, the suit may also have applications in riots, explosions and other dangerous situations in which you’d want protection.

Category: Peace
Year: 2000
Winner: The British Royal Navy “for ordering its sailors to stop using live cannon shells, and to instead just shout “Bang!”
Why they did it: According to the BBC, the Navy decided to forego live ammunition for the childlike verbal “bangs” after the government drastically cut military budgets.

Category: Biology
Year: 2002
Winners: N. Bubier, Charles Paxton, Phil Bowers and D. Charles Deeming “for their report ‘Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain.’”
Why they did it: According to the authors, an increase in ostrich farms and a lack of knowledge on how they breed in captivity spurred the research. Anecdotal evidence showed the birds got frisky whenever people were nearby, so the researchers decided to confirm whether it was true. It was. The authors concluded: “Courtship behaviour towards humans may be important in the reproductive success of ostriches in a farming environment.”

Category: Engineering
Year: 2010
Winners: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin “for perfecting a method to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter.”
Why they did it: Being a whale doctor isn’t easy, especially when your patient weighs multiple tons and is swimming in the ocean. One way to monitor health is to check the microbes living in and on the whale to see if they may be causing disease. As these winners have shown, it’s possible to collect at least some of those whale microbes with the marvels of modern technology.

Category: Physics
Year: 2003
Winners: Jack Harvey, John Culvenor, Warren Payne, Steve Cowley, Michael Lawrance, David Stuart, and Robyn Williams “for their irresistible report ‘An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.’”
Why they did it: As this Abrahams Q&A with Wired explains, the research took place in Australia, where sheep shearing is a major industry. Dragging the sheep to the equipment is difficult and dangerous and the scientists researched various floor configurations and materials to see what which surfaces made the job easiest.

And finally, for all of you wondering about how in the name of devil did someone came up with the idea of April Fool’s Day. I came across an excellent article in Nat Geo blog wondering the same thing. It was quite a fun read.

April Fools’ Day: Why Is Today Prime Time for Pranks?

So, enjoy this day with pranks, pranks & many more pranks !!

The March of Creationist bigots continues…Under different guises creationists have tried to pass a legislature which would undermine science and bring forth a macabre explanation of natural phenomena through the lens of creationism. The major problem is that these legislations are put forth by people who have not read a single book on evolutionary biology but have digested creationist/intelligent design texts or faulty interpreations of evolutionary biology. In these very dark times, its time when we fight off these well funded, misguided attempts to take us back to the dark ages!!

Why Evolution Is True

Oklahoma may be about to join those states that, in an attempt to sneak creationism and global warming denial into the classroom, will enforce a “let a million criticisms flourish” bill on public school classrooms. The repeated failure of creationists and science denialists to force the teaching of antiscience in the classroom has, as you know, given rise to a new strategy: instead of mandating the teaching of, say, creationism or intelligent design, they try to allow “free criticism” of scientific theories (evolution) in the classroom, with the mandate that students not be penalized for views that contradict accepted science.

As Mother Jones reports, a new bill in the Oklahoma legislature, the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act” ( HB 1674; free download at link), has passed the education committee by a 9-8 vote and will soon go to the full legislature:

In biology class, public school students can’t…

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Well, finally i bid adieu to the Sasquatch/American BigFoot…

Photo of an unidentified animal the Bigfoot Re...

Photo of an unidentified animal the Bigfoot Research Organization claims is a “juvenile Sasquatch” “Jacobs Photos” . . Retrieved 2009-09-16 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, urban legend has it that Sasquatch aka American BigFoot, the name given to an ape-like creature apparently inhabits forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and it has been some decades that people have been arguing about its reality. Last year in September 2012, Dr. Melba S. Ketchum announced with some big fanfare that she and her team from DNA Diagnostics Inc. have sequenced the genome (mitochondrial and nuclear) of sasquatch from all the alleged samples people have collected from some time. However, instead just verifying that Sasquatch is nothing but an urban legend they issued this press release:

“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.

Hominins are members of the taxonomic grouping Hominini, which includes all members of the genus Homo. Genetic testing has already ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA. “The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual,” explains Ketchum.

“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA.”

So, one would immediately say -Yay science proved it exists, right? The answer however will be a big emphatic NO. The prime reason is that science doen’t work on hearsay but on repeatable, well-designed experiments with no ambiguity in either the way its conducted or how samples are gathered. And this is where this so called genetic evidence fails big time.

One of the biggest red flags to this whole study is: How did she get her samples? After all, if she was working from a well-reliable source, that alone might be a big sensation because no physical evidence of Bigfoot exists on record. As it turns out, Dr. Ketchum says her DNA sample was obtained from a blueberry bagel left in the backyard of a Michigan home that, according to the owner, sees regular visits from Sasquatch creatures.

And if the sample gathering itself is in doubt, then how can anyone believe the results ? Another face-palm statement: Fully human mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from your mother, so she assumes that all Sasquatches had human women as relatively recent ancestors, but at the same time, the nuclear DNA is some bizarre menagerie that includes non-ape sequences? And frankly speaking, any biology student would tell you its hogwash !!

But all of this was from last year, and ever since then she has been trying to publish it in a scientific journal and recent news suggests that she has been unable to clear the peer-review stage. So, in response to this, she has decided to start over – recollect samples, do the whole sequencing again, and re-interpret the results…..Naaaaaaa, thats what any other scientist would have done. What she has done is to buy a journal !!  The Journal of Cosmology was available  she bought it and renamed it to De Novo.  One glance at the website and you are reminded of your art school classes in grade 8. The icons are mis-matched, the colour is horrid and the overall design is completely unprofessional. PZ Myers in is blog Pharyngula has it better:

Then she came out with a special edition. It’s Volume 1, Issue 1. It contains precisely one paper, hers.

You should be laughing by this point.

The online journal is a mess. The layout is funky-ugly, it’s difficult to figure out how to actually get to the paper, and when you navigate to it, it’s got a wretched little “Buy Now” button imbedded in a couple of intersecting blocks of color in a hideous table-like layout. It reminds be of the esthetics of JoC.

Anyway, it’s $30 to buy a paper so bad they had to build a custom journal around it to get it published. Not interested.

So, seeing all this mess i wish to bid adieu to Sasquatch !! May it continue to relive in our science fiction movies…

More on this:

  1. Sasquatch is ill-served, Pharygula, 2013.
  2. What I really want to see is the DNA sequence of an alien Grey, Pharyngula, 2012.
  3. Bigfoot in popular culture, Wikipedia.
  4. Is this Bigfoot … or is it a bear with bad skin?, Daily Mail, 2007.