Of Molecular Turtles and Other Oddities

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Working For The Weekend

This has been quite the week I have a presentation, assignment, exam and another presentation to do. If you’re interested S. my project had to do with using a component from garlic extract, ajoene as a mouth wash for the treatment of oral pharyngeal candidiasis. Before I get any further I’d like to ask Lala and Chrissy to drop me their blog addresses, they don’t seem to be in your profiles anymore and I like reading your blogs.

Although I have an exam this Friday I’m already looking forward to the weekend. It’s going to be jam packed with fudge, animals and yes even jam. I always look forward to this time of year because it’s the time when the Royal Ontario Agricultural Winter Fair comes to Toronto. I discovered the fair about 4 years ago when I was dragged and it was pretty much literally to something I thought would be hoaky, boring and inane. However, I was wrong, very wrong. I ended up having a good time once I opened my mind to the thing and was coaxed with chococlate. Now I intend to fulfill the circle and take the lovely Nikki to The Royal and make her a true believer. Think of it as my little cult, if anyone wants to go during the week after I’m game!

Now you’re all probably scratching you’re noggins wondering what the heck has this suit wearing molecular biologist so enthralled? Is it the cow pies? Well I have to tell you it’s a bunch of things and I’ll try to run them down in no particular order. They have the best fudge that I’ve ever had in my life. It’s so great in fact that I spend a whopping 25 bucks on this royal fudge. Now for normal people with some sort of income and not spending $15,000 on school this would amount to approximately $1.5 million dollars. Don’t even bother challenging me I have the best business prof’s from Rotman teaching me economics, they’re the ones that tell me I need to pay them $15,000 for a degree (yes that’s a year).

The animals also happen to be a big draw for me. I don’t know how it happened but at some point I developed an affinity for barn year creatures. Seeing all the pigs, horses, chickens, goats, alpacas and lemurs is tons of fun. Yes I have no clue where lemurs became barnyard animals but I guess they have barns in Madagascar. Also at some point I developed an affinity for hoses and would want one at some point so this is kind of like car shopping for me (I also want a mosquito but I’ll get into that in another post).

There’s also the tradition of me getting my photo done with the prize winning pigeon. I’m sure you understand so I won’t even bother explaining. Another thing that is tons of fun is watching the horse show. They do tons of things like dressage and carriage racing but I’m there for the jumping. I know it’s not as cultured as watching a horse with ribbons prancing about to the lion king musical but it’s pretty cool to see something jump higher than six foot four. Now there are also the candy apples and other things which I intend to ply Nikki with.

Now this is getting long but I’m also going to go to the zoo as well as hopefully see the Borat movie. What are you good people doing this weekend?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dress Up Your Favourite Turtle

Yes gals and ghouls Halloween is fast approaching meaning that you don’t have much time to pick out a costume. This was an interesting weekend for me filled with the rediscovery of Nintendo and pumpkin carving. Hopefully I’ll have a picture of the demonic botanical entity I summoned up in the next little while. I must say that I enjoyed the carving much more than I thought. There’s something about stabbing a fruit with a knife that just screams Halloween. On another note I came up with the brilliant idea to roast the seeds for a wonderful healthy snack. I encourage each and every one of you to do the same. There is a suggestion that I think you should follow though to get the most out of the experience. Although you’d think that putting them in at 560 F is a great idea it only works when you leave them in less than an hour. That suggestion doesn’t work if you prefer your snacks to be full of charcoali carcinogenic goodness. In other totally random news realizing that I have fun playing Super Mario three has made me understand that I am indeed getting old but that doesn’t mean that I can’t dress up on Halloween!

I’ve been invited to countless Halloween events and the thing they all have in common is they all want me to dress up. In fact one invitation put it well that address up is fun but it also gives the less fortunate a chance to finally get to wear a mask. This year I’m at a loss for costume ideas which is where I can use your help. I was thinking that being a pirate would be fun but I have no idea about the things I would need. If you can give me cheap costume ideas as well as what I would need if I pursue the pirate idea I’d really appreciate it. I’d also like to know if your dressing up and if you are what you’re going as.

Note: that you might even get to see me in make up for the first time. Also note that falling asleep in the middle of a conversation with your girlfriend is generally frowned upon and snoring heavily doesn’t seem to ameliorate the situation.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Unfortunately this week I don't have much cutting edge science to share because I've been doing more finance and investment work. I was actually really surprised that I liked it as much as I do. In fact two of our guest speakers encouraged me to seek a career path in the industry. Even though the starting salary is somewhere in the 150 k a year range I'm thinking not. If there's one thing that I've learned right now is that I want a life outside of work and something tells me that working 70 hours a week isn't conducive to that.

Initially the plan for today was to talk about genetically modified organisms or GMO’s but I’m not sure where you folks are coming from so I thought I’d start with a foundation and build. So what’s this evolution dealio? Well to put it simply evolution is a process of change that occurs in populations over a period of time due to heritable trait changes. Key words are it happens in populations not individuals. So what does that mean to you? Well no matter how much you try to lick your elbow your neck isn’t going to get longer, take that Lamark!

Second point is it’s pretty much all about sex. Now it doesn’t obviously have to do with sex but without traits that are heritable it doesn’t happen. Now you may ask what digestion has to do with sex but without being able to get energy from your food you don’t have energy to produce gametes (eggs and sperm).

Third point is that it’s called a theory but evolution is not disputed in the scientific community but it’s the mechanism is (natural selection is the prevailing thought). Evidence is all around us, just look at antibiotic resistant bacteria. Also keep in mind that even if it’s great for the individual if it doesn’t result in some sort of reproductive advantage it’s evolutionarily worthless.

What evolutions not: directional or purposeful. That means things aren’t going toward some sort of perfect incarnation. Another important thing to remember is what’s evolutionarily great in one environment isn’t necessarily best in other environments. Think of Shaq on the basketball court he’s pretty decent, now put him into a Smart Car and he might have some problems. Hopefully that little crash course lays some ground work but I’m curious as to what you people think of evolution?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Whatever Happened To Customer Service?

This post has been inspired by a really disappointing customer service experience I had when ordering a Pizza Pizza. I know I’m getting old when I think what has happened to customer service but bear with me folks and let me vent. The story begins in the lovely abode of the lovely Nikki with a rumble in my tummy and a night of unwinding ahead of us. So I picked up the rotary and called our friendly neighbourhood pizza pizza store and ordered a family platter. Now you may be asking yourself why a family platter? If so you’re obviously not students, we hoard pizza like western grey squirrels hoard pine nuts or in Toronto little packets of coke. So I order and have to repeat everything about 4 times, especially the part about not wanting to have bbq sauce on my pizza because I detest the stuff. After completing my order I’m told it’ll get there as soon as possible. This is strange to me since there is generally a forty minute guarantee. Forty five minutes and some stomach rumbling later I call and ask what’s happened to our pizza and I was told “not to worry about it it’ll get there”

Despite this quite reassurance I was slightly perturbed about where my pizza was, who it was hanging out with and if it might be lying in a ditch somewhere with four cheese topping all over the road. However I sat by the t.v and waited quietly for my tardy pizza pizza to arrive. Fifty seven minutes later those pesky pizza’s showed up and I asked about this forty minute guarantee and was told this area did not have such a guarantee which I can understand but I wanted to see it written on my receipt. Unfortunately the pizza guy decided he couldn’t part with it, after all they’d bonded on their journey. I was prepared even to let this fly but the pizza itself was not hot, yes there’s a guarantee on that as well but maybe not in my area or when the outdoor clines go below 16 degree celcius.

So against my Canadian instincts I decided to call customer service. They were great, so great they put on my on hold for 10 minutes with out any explanation as to what was happening. Now I have things to do and a luke warm cheese steak pizza getting cold so I decide to let it go and enjoy my pizza. As I begin my pizza one thing becomes obvious, there appears to be a sticky red substance on my pizza pizza. Now willing to give the benefit of the doubt I went CSI on the pizza and made sure it was not blood or some sort or Red Blood Cell extract but it was indeed bbq sauce. Thus began my venture for truth and justice.

I decided to write them an e-mail since I had such a terrible time with them on the phone. On Wednesday I hadn’t heard back from them so I decided to call customer service again. It was there I was told that although I wrote an e-mail they couldn’t help me I had to deal with the e-mail people who apparently can take as long as they wish to reply due to the fact “they may get a million e-mails one day and zero the next” This seemed a little off so through some convincing I got my e-mail to get ahead of the other 999 999. I was told that they would give me a 5 dollar credit although they didn’t sound too happy about it. Now since the order was worth about 34 dollars and any pizza at the place (whose identity I have tried my best to conceal) would be more than 7 that seems slightly unfair.

What do you guy’s think about this? Also what’s the worst customer service experience you’ve ever had? Also isn't office space a fantastic movie?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bioethanol The Way Of The Future?

I decided today while I was working on a presentation that it might be nice if I let you folks know what’s going on in the world of biotechnology. So I’m going to endeavour to do two posts a week, one pertaining to biotech and the other pertaining to important matters such as why I wanted to be a turnip when I was younger. With each course in my master’s programme we’re tasked with developing a product from the bench (lab) to marketing and business organization. This time around I decided I wanted to learn more about biofuels. The reason for this is because there are several initiatives around the world that are seeking to raise the amount of ethanol in gas. What does that mean, well lots of money is going into it, it is a billion or even trillion dollar market. So I want in and so should you.

You might find this strange but Henry Ford's first car or quadracycle (wonder why that one didn't catch on?) was first designed to run on ethanol. As a preamble if I ever get too technical in my rants let me know and if you want things further explained I’m happy to babble even more. It would also be interesting to see what you folks thing about these topics. Alright lesson one what are biofuels? Quite simply they are fuels derived from a biological source, for example plant biomass. The area that I am interested (at least for the next 3 weeks) is extracting ethanol from plants, poplar trees to be specific. There are other sources of bioethanol like corn but these methods are environmentally harsh, and relatively inefficient. Currently most of the ethanol extraction facilities, or biorefineries, use huge machines, expensive enzymes, and lots of energy input. The area that I’m interested in is genetically modifying poplar trees. Now your probably asking yourself why poplars (and why the hell am I bothering to read this but I’ll get to that later) and the reason is they already have types that grow quickly (up to 20 feet in 5 years), have decreased lignin content (woody stuff that gets in the way of ethanol production) and sterility. Now the sterile tree thing is so that genes don’t go out into the environment and give us weeds that grow really fast or boxing tomatos etc. Now where I suggest we improve on the process is put in an inducible gene (you can turn it on or off by say spraying the plant with something like chocolate fudge, that ones for you Jin) that encodes for a cellulase and tagged so it would go to the cell wall, which is where the cellulose is.

This would allow for you to spray your tree with your chocolate fudge and get it to produce this enzyme. Now the enzyme goes to the cell wall and munches on cellulose and barfs out stuff we can use (mainly glucose). This glucose we give to yeast and it turns it into bioethanol. So it’s like prechewing food for grandma and like prechewing it saves time for the next person (begging the question why am I wasting my time chewing when there are important matters to attend to?). Why this idea is so interesting is that you can cut the tree down, ship and store it and these enzymes will still work. This means that there is never a wasted second, and as we know time is money. It's like having a plant that's a factory in and of itself.

In terms of investment in biofuels there are literally thousands of people willing to invest in it. Our friend George Bush proposed an Advanced Energy Initiative bill which is funding start up research. More importantly venture capitalists and other investors are seeking to get in on it.

Now why the heck does this matter to you? Well you’re going to be seeing bioethanol in the news as well as at the pumps in the next few years. In fact in the states by 2010 there will be about 5% bioethanol in your gas. What we should be pushing for is more. The reason it’s not happening may have something to do with oil companies loosing money. To close up our lesson for today there are people that say cars won’t work with more ethanol in them, what you can tell those folks is that they’ve been doing it in Brazil (85% ethanol to be exact) for quite a few years.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know

It seems that I've been tagged by CP and as promised here is my list:

1) Would you bungee jump?
No. There seems to be something that's unnatural about falling several feet only to be yanked back up at breakneck (literally) speeds only to fall back down again. The imagine of the grey matter swirling around in my noggen seems unappealing. To eachs own though.

2) If you could do anything in the world for a living what would it be?
Nothing, absolutely nothing. In other words I would be a Canadian politician

3) Your favorite fictional animal?
Any animal in a Douglas Adam's novel. Including but not limited too the mice, dolphins and whale before it impacted the ground. Just remembered perhaps my favourite, was the cow that could talk at the restaurant at the end of the universe.

4) One person who never fails to make you laugh?
Nikki out of funniness, ruben out of strangeness, and me when I see myself on video, I'm absurd!

5) When you were 12 years old what did you want to be when you grew up?
The age of twelve was an interesting time for me. I wanted to be a turnip for a span of about 3 weeks, then for some reason I wanted to be a singer. This was inspired by seeing myself as a child singing on t.v. Once I opened my mouth puberty seemed to hit and my voice was gone, much like a young homer. Following this I wanted to be a nature photographer and travel to Africa. Then I wanted to be a doctor, mostly because everyone told me I wanted to be one. I realized later that I don't have what it takes to make a great doctor, although I was able to get into med school it's not in my personality, which gives me much respect for our friend S.

6) What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Depends where I am. If it's the weekend I think that I'm a very lucky guy, roll over and go back to bed. If it's a weekday my mouth emits a low bassy grumble, I stretch out then jump out of bed.

7) Have you ever gone to therapy?
No although many of my ex girlfriends have suggested it, when they became ex's. Apparently normal people have these things called "feelings" and something that goes with them, I think called "emotions". Now thinking on it I think it would be great to go. It combines two of the things I enjoy most laying down and talking.

8) If you could have one super power what would it be?
Totally with CP on this one although I'd like to be a wizard a'la Richard Rahl. If it had to be one power it would be teleportation. That's probably due to the fact that the gas it takes to get to school is costing me a small fortune.

9) Your favorite cartoon character?
Either Bugs Bunny from loony toons or the really old school spiderman. You know the one where they were too lazy to draw in the web lines on the costume. They also tended not to use more than two differnt frames to make him walk.

10) Do you go to church?
Not often. When I do these day's it's to visit a friend of mine who is a priest. He also likes gothic everything and dungeons and dragons.

11) What is your best childhood memory?
My best childhood memory would probably have to do with the trip my dad took my family on before he had heart surgury. We went to universal studeo's and also saw dolphins. For some reason the captain also thought feeding sea gulls was something special. He should really go to University in Toronto

12) Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual?
Marriage is a special thing and totally not respected in our society as it should be.

13) Do you own a gun?
I own a caulking gun, which I use to seal up my fish tank, a staple gun which I use to lay down carpets and a glue gun which I use to make fashionable macaroni neclaces for my lady friends.

14) Have you ever hit someone of the opposite sex?
As anyone will tell you I maybe coordinated when it comes to most things but when it comes to gals I tend to be spastic. I've accidentally elbowed, headbutted, stepped on, ran into, fell ontop of, and kneed more girls then I can count.

15) Have you ever sung in front of a large number of people?
Yes as a child my parents used to dress me up and make me a part of their folk band. I was on T.V a couple of times. In more recent times if I've been in the drink I'll sing. Especially if they're drinking songs.

16) What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex?
Appendages (4), hair (as james would say, we tend to associate hair with girls)

17) What is your biggest mistake?
My biggest mistake was neglecting people while I was working hard in my last year of university. This is not a mistake I'm ever going to make again.

18) Say something totally random about yourself.
I play a game that I'm ashamed to admit in front of anyone I know. In fact there are probably about 3 people that know I play it. Yes, I play magic the gathering strategy card game. I've played for the last 9 years and I can't see myself stopping. *hangs head in shame*

19) Has anyone ever said that you looked like a celebrity?

Well I'm told I look like Adrian Brody, who is apparently "as sexy as hell". Therefore by the transitive principle, I'm sexy as well. Thanks Jin ;) I've also been told that I look like Nicholas Cage when I'm wearing my contacts, although that one I don't see at all. You folks help me out, Who do I look like?

20) What is the most romantic thing someone of the opposite sex has done for you?
made me dinner and wrote me letters.

21) Do you actually read these when other people fill them out?
Yes I do. It takes me a while but I find it interesting.

The three people that I'm tagging are Lala, demara, and S.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If You're Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands

Greetings and saluations my good folks. How I've missed you guys, I apologize in advance if this post is a tad long and has spelling mistakes in it. I thought I’d give everyone a bit of an update as to what I’ve been up to. Well I’ve been working hard at a course that’s been dealing with Medicine and Biotechnology. Pretty interesting stuff but it required me to go to lunch with people and have questions prepared for them so that I sounded quazi intelligent. The conversations were good because I got to get some insight into the pharmaceutical world and got to converse with some important people with jobs I might one day like to have. The wraps were’nt to shabby either.

On top of this I had to complete a project. As I’ve mentioned earlier we do most of our work in groups and most of our courses involve us coming up with a biotechnology product that will function from a scientific perspective as well as from a business one. This time around we went with a product that would down regulate the levels of this thing called P glycoprotein. This is a protein that gets over expressed in cancer cells. Now you’re probably scratching your heads wondering what the heck does that mean? Well the function of this protein is to pump things such as drugs out of your cells. The end result is that you have lots of these pumps pumping out chemotherapy agents such as doxorubicin. This makes chemotherapy ineffective, in the case of liver cancer most people die in 5 years. So we designed something called an siRNA which gets a complex called RISC to chop up RNA which stops these pumps from being proteins and hence working (do you folks know about DNA, RNA and protein? Say yes if you don’t ever want to hear me describe what they are). We conjugated it to cholesterol to target it to the liver so you don’t get bad side effects and WHAM we have a product. Much more complicated than that, 29 pages more complicated in fact but I don’t want to bore my adoring public (yes I mean you nikki)

As I mentioned in my previous post I also had to apply to jobs and submit cover letters. I would like to thank everyone for your advice and I made sure to follow it. I did in fact get an interview for the position I had my heart set on and I’m proud to admit that I now have a job for my co-op placement and it’s with one of the worlds largest pharmaceutical companies. I couldn’t have asked for more and I can’t wait to start in January.

Now while this is going on the date my group was supposed to present our seminar on was moved up by two weeks. This meant that I had my exam on the same day as I had my seminar (given to about 150 people and those who cared to watch online). The exam went fairly well as did the seminar. The topic of conversation is one that I suggested, Lifestyle drugs. Now to give you some background lifestyle drugs are drugs that 1) either address an issue that is not directly health related, for example hair loss, or erectile dysfunction or 2) address issues that can be addressed by changing your lifestyle for example obesity. Now this is getting fairly long and I want to comment on all my favourite bloggers sites so I’ll end here and pick up on discussing obesity later but as always I have a question for you folks. Do you think that pharmaceutical companies should be investing money to solve problems such as erectile dysfunction, obesity, hair loss etc? Keep in mind the market is about 8 billion dollars.