FACTOID FRIDAY: Cell phones that run on spit, antibacterial soaps cause nasal staph, and the lab-grown vagina

Bright morning light keeps off pounds
A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light. People who had most of their daily exposure to bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, reports a new study. The earlier light exposure occurred, the lower the BMI. The influence of morning light on weight was independent of physical activity, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season.

"Light is the most potent agent to synchronize your internal body clock that regulates circadian rhythms, which in turn also regulate energy balance," said study senior author Phyllis C. Zee, M.D. "The message is that you should get more bright light between 8 a.m. and noon." About 20 to 30 minutes of morning light is enough to affect BMI."

  • This is not good news for those of us in the Pacific NW, where traditionally the sun peeks through the clouds on either the third or fourth Sunday of August every alternate leap year.

Tiny power generator runs on spit
Great headline, huh?  It has been learned that saliva-powered micro-sized microbial fuel cells can produce minute amounts of energy sufficient to run on-chip applications, according to engineers at Penn State. Biomedical devices using micro-sized microbial fuel cells would be portable and have their energy source available anywhere.  And lead to people spitting on their I-Pads and Blackberries more than they already do.

Bruce E. Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State, credited the idea to fellow researcher Justine E. Mink. "The idea was Justine's because she was thinking about sensors for such things as glucose monitoring for diabetics and she wondered if a mini microbial fuel cell could be used," Logan said. "There is a lot of organic stuff in saliva." (Unless you use an antibacterial toothpaste, then you're stuck paying for batteries.)

Microbial fuel cells create energy when bacteria break down organic material producing a charge that is transferred to the anode.  By producing nearly 1 microwatt in power, this saliva-powered, micro-sized MFC already generates enough power to be directly used as an energy harvester in microelectronic applications.

  • "Hang on a moment, guys, gotta spit on my phone.  What a time to have dry mouth. Anybody got some gum?"

Researchers design trees that 
make it easier to produce paper
Researchers have genetically engineered trees that will be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel, a breakthrough that will mean using fewer chemicals, less energy and creating fewer environmental pollutants.

  • I thought the idea was a paperless society?

Antimicrobial from soaps promote 
staph buildup in the human nose
I know more than a few clean freaks who are constantly cleaning despite clear evidence that over-cleaning causes allergies and asthma in children.  Now more bad news for the hyper-clean.  The use of a soap, shampoo or toothpaste PROMOTES the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the nose.  

According to the study, triclosan, a man-made compound used in soaps, toothpastes, kitchen surfaces, clothes and medical equipment, was found in nasal passages of 41% of adults sampled. Good news?  Nope, these people also had colonies if staph there as well.

The danger?  Infections in people undergoing surgery to name one. Staph that has evolved to resist antibacterial products such as triclosan, a product in common use for the past 40 years, and incorporated into many household products within the past decade. Other studies have found traces of triclosan in human serum, urine and milk.

  • Studies in mammals have found that high concentrations of triclosan can disrupt the endocrine system and decrease the function of heart and skeletal muscles.

Their conclusion: "Triclosan is really common in hand soaps, toothpastes and mouthwashes but there's no evidence it does a better job than regular soap."

  • I've sworn off my annual shower, whether I need it or not.  If you look at my schnoz, you understand why.

Laboratory-grown vaginae implanted in patients
This is one of the coolest results ever, not because it cured a serious problem for the women involved in the study, it clearly shows what the future of stem-cell research and therapies may bring.

Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Children's Hospital Mexico reported the first human recipients of laboratory-grown vaginal organs engineered with their own cells.

"This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans," said one researcher. "This may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries. In addition, this study is one more example of how regenerative medicine strategies can be applied to a variety of tissues and organs."

The girls were between 13 and 18 years old at the time of the surgeries, which were performed between June 2005 and October 2008. Data from annual follow-up visits show that even up to eight years after the surgeries, the organs had normal function.  The patients' responses to a Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire showed they had normal sexual function after the treatment, including desire and pain-free intercourse.

Quite a week in science, wasn't it?  So until next week. . .


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