I’m A Scientist: But What Do I Really Do?

As you may or may not know, my day job is to be a scientist. I work at a small pharmaceutical company in their skin biology or “IVPT” (In Vitro Permeation Testing) department. Let me warn you right now, if you’re squeamish about dead stuff/the human body you should probably click away. I’ve got nice, fun articles about traveling in New York or making yummy veggie squares that are not gross at all.

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Okay, non-squeamish people, thank you for sticking with me! My job is to test various topical products (skin ointments, creams, gels, etc) on various membranes, most commonly on human cadaver skin. I’ve also worked with fresh/flash frozen human skin (skin that was removed during surgery), pig skin, and nasal tissue cultures.

My least favorite was the pig skin; after awhile I couldn’t get those little dead piggies out of my head. I don’t know how folks work with animals that they are conducting studies on and then have to euthanize. It’s definitely not for me! However, it is a necessary evil: the FDA requires animal testing for all pharmaceuticals (including things like sunscreen) before they can reach human clinical trials. Luckily, there is no live animal testing at my company, and the pig skin (which was harvested off-site) is my only experience working on any kind of animal testing.

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Most of my work is with human cadaver skin, which is donated by 100% consenting human adults! I am tasked with mounting pieces of skin onto diffusion cells, applying a topical formulation on top, and removing samples throughout the testing period. I also have to separate the skin layers and process the samples for analysis. They’re then passed on to another scientist who analyzes the samples on a Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry or High Performance Liquid Chromatography/fluorescence detector. Analysis is super complex and not my job so I’m not even going to try to explain it!

I’ve also done a variety of non-lab work for the support of the skin biology department. Writing protocols, placing skin orders (way creepier sounding than it is. I like to say “My job is to order dead people’s skin off the internet.”), organizing tissues and other supplies, and other boring office stuff are the less-cool parts of my job.

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I mostly wanted to share with you all a little bit more about me. I hope you learned something new! The US’s drug approval process is long (10-15 years) and I participate in one tiny sliver of it. There are definitely movements to shorten the process, but having seen a little of the behind-the-scenes, let me tell you, you do not want it shortened at the expense of your safety. So much goes into testing the safety, stability, and bioavailability* that it’s difficult and unsafe to rush.

I would love to see a reduction in animal testing, which brings me to my secondary goal with this post: to encourage you to become an organ donor/donate your body to science. So many fields benefit from having real human organs/bodies to conduct tests on; from pharmaceuticals to medical schools, to forensic science to transplant centers: the list goes on and on. An increase in the availability of human organs in pharmaceuticals would not only reduce the animal testing needed, but increase the accuracy and reliability of the results. I’ve linked a few different guides to the steps you need to take to donate your body to science.

https://www.wikihow.com/Donate-Your-Body-to-Science
http://www.sciencecare.com/how-does-the-body-donation-process-work/
https://www.refinery29.com/donating-your-body-to-science?bucketed=false&bucketing_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Are you an organ donor? Do you plan to donate your body to science? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

*basically how well the drug will actually work with your body.  See linked article for a more detailed explanation.

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1 Year of Blogging!

Wow. My blogging journey began in April of 2017, 1 year ago. I’ve made about 52 posts since then (1 per week) about everything from traveling to cooking to buying gifts for hard-to-shop-for relatives to science. It has made me realize that my calling is to write. I have a blog full of posts and a journal full of mundane day-to-day activities, poems, short stories, novel ideas; I’ve found my mind to be an endless tap of creativity. I love exercising that creativity and sharing it with all of you!

Moving forward I’m excited to share more personal posts, more travel guides, and some different themes. I won’t say too much here, but some new content will be launching soon, so keep an eye out and look forward to more posts!

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I’ve loved having guest posts from David, who can share so many unique travel experiences and bring diversity to my blog. If anyone else is interested in writing a guest post, please share your ideas with me; I’d love to have you.

My top posts from the past year have been:

  1. Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to)
  2. Destination: Montreal, QB, Canada
  3. 6 Tips for Packing Light
  4. Spontaneous Beach Trip
  5. Vegetarian Mexican Pizza

I will keep trying to bring you content like this, but I’d love to hear your feedback, too. What have you liked so far? What were your favorite specific posts or types of posts? Do you want to see more destination guides? More personal travel journals? Recipes? Science topics? Let me know in the comments, and a million thank yous for sticking with me for a whole year! You’re the best!

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Essential Oils are Harmful to Cats: Take Care of Your Furry Friends

Essential oils have been quickly gaining popularity in the past few years. Multi Level Marketing Schemes (also known as MLMs or Pyramid schemes) like Young Living and doTERRA have caused an explosion in the availability and popularity of essential oils. These companies advertise essential oils as “all-natural” and “therapeutic.” This marketing technique is designed to make potential buyers think that the oils are 100% harmless. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many essential oils are highly toxic to animals, especially to cats.

You may hear people argue that “therapeutic grade” essential oils are less harmful because they’re more pure. This not at all the case. More concentrated oils are significantly more harmful to your feline friends! Cats lack certain enzymes in their liver that humans have which helps us to metabolize toxins like essential oils.

According to Kia Benson, DVM via the Pet Poison Helpline:
“Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.”

Okay, so which oils have been found to be dangerous? Eucalyptus and tea tree oil have both been found to be damaging to cats, but any concentrated oil is potentially dangerous. If your cat has been exposed, consider taking them to a vet to have them checked out.

For the sake of your feline friends, be careful what you use in your home. Have a diffuser, make your home smell great, but don’t use oils that are known toxins if you have pets. Keep the diffuser in a room your pet can’t access; they could potentially knock over the diffuser and be exposed to the toxins in a concentrated form. I’ve included many articles from different sources (including the ASPCA’s poison control) warning pet owners about the dangers of these substances. Don’t be stubborn, listen to the experts and take care of your pets.

ASPCA causes of tremors: https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/shelter-health-poison-control/most-common-toxicologic-causes-tremors-cats

ASPCA poisonous to: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/eucalyptus

ASPCA general article harms of EOs: https://www.aspca.org/news/latest-home-trend-harmful-your-pets-what-you-need-know

Pet Poison Helpline: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/essential-oils-cats/

Metro Dangerous to cats: http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/11/essential-oils-aroma-diffusers-dangerous-cats-7222598/

The Spruce EOs and cats: https://www.thespruce.com/dangers-of-essential-oils-555089

Dog Domestication

Scientists generally agree that dogs genetically diverged from wolves between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. However, the circumstances from which dogs became domesticated are disputed. Until this past July, geneticists and archaeologists believed that dogs were domesticated on two separate occasions: one domestication evolved into Eastern breeds and the other into Western breeds of dogs. However, recent genetic evidence suggests dogs were domesticated only once, and that the East/West split occurred after domestication.

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In July of 2017, a study was published which studied several dogs’ genomes (genomes are the map of all of an organism’s genes). This genetic evidence lead the researchers to believe that there was a single domestication event. “We really don’t know where dogs were domesticated and as far as we can tell it happened once,” Pontus Skoglund, geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “The researchers estimate that dogs and wolves diverged genetically between 36,900 and 41,500 years ago, and that eastern and western dogs split 17,500–23,900 years ago. Because domestication had to have happened between those events, the team puts it somewhere from 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.” (Nature.com)

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One earlier theory suggested that dogs may have begin to evolve alongside farms, developing the ability to digest grain. This theory indicates that wolves who could digest the grain stored on the farms were later domesticated by the farmers. However, the genetic evidence from the dog genomes studied this year suggests that they evolved the ability to digest grain after domestication. The ability to digest grain is marked by the number of copies of the AMY2B gene. The researchers found that dogs who lived thousands of years after domestication still did not have the genetic markers for the ability to digest grain, strongly suggesting that the previous theory (that wolves became able to digest grain, and were then domesticated by farmers) to be untrue.

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Archaeologists still believe that dogs were domesticated twice, due to archaeological evidence. In time, I am confident more research will be conducted, and a clearer picture drawn so that scientists can pin down what truly happened thousands of years ago. However, one thing is clear–dog has been man’s best friend for a very long time.

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Did you enjoy this post? What future science topics would you like to read about? Let me know in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Sources:

Science stuff:

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dog-domestication-happened-just-once-ancient-dna-study-suggests

https://www.nature.com/news/ancient-genomes-heat-up-dog-domestication-debate-1.22320

Photos: http://www.animalbehaviorcollege.com/blog/a-short-history-of-canine-origins/

https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/evolution-of-dogs

http://www.playbuzz.com/plrjiv10/wolf-or-dog

http://dog-milk.com/the-atlantics-the-origin-of-dogs-video/

Destination: Knoxville, TN, USA

Knoxville: A quick look

Language: English is the official language of Tennessee
Currency: USD
Drinking Age: 21*
Public Transportation: There is a trolley and a bus system
Passport: No (for US citizens)
Vaccines: Routine

*Fun fact, you only have to be 18 to be a bartender in Tennessee!

Before you leave:

  1. Keep in mind that a lot of stuff closes in Knoxville the week between Christmas and New Year’s. If you plan a trip at this time know that some stores, museums, and other attractions may be closed.
  2. Stay with Airbnb! Knoxville has many cheap Airbnb options. You can rent anything from a single room to a whole apartment/home.  (If you sign up using my link you’ll get a $40 credit and I may receive a compensation as well.)
  3. If you’re interested in the night life, note that Knoxville is fairly casual. Even in clubs folks wear their denim shorts and nice tops.
  4. Also check out my post, International Eats in Knoxville for recommendations of international restaurants and markets in Knoxville.

Once you get there:

You will likely have to drive to get around Knoxville. If you’re flying in I would recommend renting a car. I’ve been to Knoxville many times as I have family there, but we always find something new and fun to do. Here are a few of my recommendations.

  1. Market Square/Gay StreetIMG_20170702_191211.jpgKnoxville’s market square is right in the heart of downtown. There are a ton of restaurants, bars, and shops. Plus there is almost always an event going on. Live bands play frequently and festivals are common.
  2. Knoxville ZooSnapchat-6613494302373174297.jpgThe Knoxville Zoo is big enough to keep you busy, but small enough to cover in a day. With a variety of exhibits, it’s fun for the whole family.
  3. World’s fair grounds + SunsphereSnapchat-6217007788340198512.jpg
    The Sunsphere has become a Knoxville landmark, and is an essential spot to visit. While you’re there, you can take a walk around the world’s fair grounds, and see the hundreds of countries’ flags.
  4. University of Tennesseecampus-photo-utk-16.jpgKnoxvillans bleed Tennessee Vol’s orange. You can get UT merch at any and every Walmart, Target, or gas station in the Knoxville area. The campus is beautiful, and worth strolling around.
  5. Bud’s Gun Shop and Range and Smoky Mountain Knife Works (Sevierville, TN)Buds.jpgSmoky-Mountain-Knife-Works-Pigeon-Forge-Attraction-25.jpgIf you enjoy huntin’ and fishin’ and all that jazz, you should head up to Sevierville and check out Bud’s and Smoky Mountain Knife Works. Bud’s Gun Shop and Range is the largest gun shop in Tennessee, and also has an indoor shooting range. Right next door is Smoky Mountain Knife Works, which is basically just a huge souvenir shop. It’s worth a visit though, just for the very Tennessee feel. You can also visit the National Knife Museum, which is located inside the knife store.
  6. Wonderworks (Pigeon Forge, TN)WonderWorks-Pigeon-Forge-TN.jpgearthquake-cafe-at-wonder-works-1235.jpgSort of a combo science museum/kids museum, I can guarantee this place is a blast for kids and kids at heart. An indoor ropes course is included in the price of admission. You can also ride the “Earthquake Cafe” which simulates an earthquake.
  7. Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Middlesboro, KY)TN-VA-KY.pngreceived_1206263936065286.jpegThe Pinnacle overlook is on the corner of Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky. It’s located in the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, which we entered from Kentucky. The overlook is a short hike up a mountain, and has spectacular views of the Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee mountains.
  8. Abraham Lincoln museum (Harrogate, TN)IMG_20160517_121253.jpgSnapchat-9080879481515275725.jpgThe Abraham Lincoln museum features artifacts from President Lincoln’s life as well as tidbits about his life, a small gift shop/bookstore, and a little dress-up area for children. It’s a small museum, but totally worth the visit.
  9. American museum of Science and Energy (Oak Ridge, TN)IMG_20150319_133904.jpgIf you enjoy playing with science, this is the place for you. It features many different interactive exhibits and is fun for the whole family.

Restaurants/Bars to try:

Blue Coast

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Blue Coast Grill & Bar might be my favorite bar in Knoxville. They have average priced drinks but excellent service. They offer “animal hour” specials from 10-11pm.

Downtown Grill and Brewery

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This place has good food and tons of beer options. If you’re overwhelmed by the beer selection, try out their beer sampler!

Chivo Taqueria

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Chivo has great drinks, great food, and a relaxed atmosphere.  They have a wide variety of tequilas, and a generally well-stocked bar.  The food is southwestern style, and you can get the typical quesadillas, tacos, etc.

Sapphire

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Sapphire is a bit fancier than I usually go for, but they have a super fun cocktails and shooters, including the “Pop, rock, and drop it” which features pop rocks on the rim and local honey.

Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern

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Suttree’s doesn’t have a huge selection*, but their drink prices are low. Best of all, they have an arcade!

*To be fair we visited the bar in the back with the arcade games, and not the main bar in the restaurant area

 

Knoxville is a fun city, with tons to do whether you’re 2, 22, or 42. There are a variety of attractions that appeal to a variety of interests. I didn’t even touch on the art museum, Dollywood, or the Ripley’s museum, to name a few nearby attractions, simply because I haven’t visited them (yet!).

Have you visited the Knoxville area? Did you enjoy it? What were your favorite attractions and restaurants? Let me know in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this.

Links:

Wonderworks photo: https://smokymountainsbrochures.com/coupons/wonderworks/

UT photo: http://tennessee.edu/campus-guide/

Bud’s photo: http://www.wsmv.com/story/26820795/largest-gun-store-in-tenn-opens-in-sevierville

Smoky Mountain Knife Works photo: https://smokymountains.com/attractions/smoky-mountain-knife-works/

Blue Coast photo: http://www.restaurantnews.com/blue-coast-grill-bar-market-square-knoxville-tn/

Downtown Grill photo: http://knoxbrewery.com/

Chivo photo: http://www.utdailybeacon.com

Sapphire photo: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g55138-d829425-Reviews-Sapphire-Knoxville_Tennessee.html

Suttree’s photo: https://www.yelp.com/biz/suttrees-high-gravity-tavern-knoxville

Earthquake Cafe photo: http://www.smokymountainvacationinfo.com/smoky-mountains/blog/

All other images are the property of The Globetrotting Scientist.

There’s More To Elephants Than You Think

You are probably familiar with elephants…

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Yeah, these guys:

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You were probably taught that there are two species of elephants, Asian elephants, and African elephants. You were also most likely taught that they’re distantly related to Wooly Mammoths.

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It’s true that for years the family Elephantidae was believed to have two extant (currently living) species: Elephas maximus (the Asian elephant) and Loxodonta africana (now known to be the African savanna or bush elephant).

However, in recent decades it has been discovered that African elephants actually fall into two species, Loxodonta cyclotis (the African forest elephant) and Loxodonta africana (the African Savanna Elephant).


(Top photo: African forest elephant; bottom photo: African savanna elephant)

Recently as of 2001, morphological comparisons of skull measurement and molecular tests were performed on nearly 300 elephants, and distinct differences were found between the two kinds of African elephants

The forest elephant differs from the savanna elephant in several distinctive ways, including:

  • Ear shape
  • Tusk anatomy
  • Distinct skull morphology

This lead scientists to often classify the forest elephant as a subspecies, L. a. cyclotis.

However, there was much controversy and these differences were often ignored.

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By using previous data gathered from mitochondrial DNA analyses, scientists have found that the closest living relative of the extinct woolly mammoth is the Asian elephant.

(Top photo: Asian elephant; bottom photo: Wooly Mammoth)

It is now believed that the two species of African elephant actually diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from the extinct genus Mammuthus (including Mammuthus primigenius, the woolly mammoth), meaning that African elephants are far less closely related than scientists once believed.

The mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) analysis suggests that wooly mammoths and Asian elephants diverged 5.8–7.8 mya (million years ago).

MtDNA analysis also suggests that the 2 species of African elephant diverged earlier; about 6.6–8.8 mya.

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Through DNA analysis scientists discovered a lot of new information about elephants. They realized that African elephants actually fall into not one, but two species. They learned about the extinct woolly mammoth, and its connections to the extant Asian elephant. Finally, scientists concluded that African elephants diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from wooly mammoths.

Do you like elephants as much as I do? What do you think about these discoveries? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter, and follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Sources:

African Elephant photo 1: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/species-spotlight-african-elephant

Asian Elephant photo 1: http://elelur.com/mammals/asian-elephant.html

Wooly Mammoth photo 1: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/woolly-mammoth/#woolly-mammoth-standing.jpg

Elephant family photo 1: https://iso.500px.com/baby-elephant-photos/

Nadin Rohland, David Reich, Swapan Mallick, Matthias Meyer, Richard E. Green, Nicholas J. Georgiadis, Alfred L. Roca, Michael Hofreiter “Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants” Plos Biology

Alfred L. Roca, Nicholas Georgiadis, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Stephen J. O’Brien “Genetic Evidence for Two Species of Elephant in Africa” Science Magazine

At-Home Genetic Testing–What Information Should Companies Be Able to Provide?

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When asked about your origins, do you tell others you’re 50% German and 20% Irish and a little bit Polish, Dutch, and French? Have you ever wondered exactly where your family is from? For around $200 you can unlock the secrets of your own genetics. Many online services including 23andMe, Ancestry.com, Orig3n, and others offer kits to test your genes. Simply spit in a tube and send it off with the fee and they’ll send back stats about your roots. Pretty cool, right? But what about the other information they can provide? Your risks for certain cancers, diseases, and other disorders could be given to you in hard numbers. But what do you do with that information?

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When these tests first came out, they handed you an armload of information, but no means to interpret it. The FDA realized that this information was causing people unessescary panic, so they froze the ability to provide information about genetic predisposition to diseases, only allowing companies to provide the public with their family history of origin. This past April (2017) the FDA partially lifted this ban, allowing 23andMe to provide you with your risk for 10 diseases. According to CNN, these diseases are: “Parkinson’s; late-onset Alzheimer’s; celiac disease; a movement disorder called early-onset primary dystonia; a disorder that elevates your risk for lung and liver disease called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency; a blood clotting disorder Factor XI deficiency; an organ and tissue disorder called Gaucher disease type 1; a red blood cell condition known as G6PD; hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron overload disorder; and hereditary thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder.”

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While it’s amazing that this information is available to you at a low cost, what do you do with it? So you find out you have a 90% of developing Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, no treatment, nothing you can do about it. I would highly recommend talking to a genetic counselor. They can discuss with you what these numbers mean, and what you can do about it. Always keep in mind that your results are not a diagnosis. Even a high risk of a disorder does not guarantee that you will develop it.

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Genetic testing is an amazing scientific advancement. If you can afford it, I would recommend getting your genes tested. You can learn so much about your family history and yourself. Just be aware of the accuracy of the tests and what to do with the information you receive. Happy learning!

Did you like this post?  Have you ever gotten your genes tested?  Tell us about it in the comments below!  Share via Facebook or Twitter, and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Resources:

http://www.fox5atlanta.com/health/fox-medical-team/261335319-story

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/health/23andme-fda-approval-genetic-disease-test-bn/index.html