Koala breath

We might all soon be making like koalas to keep our breath fresh and our teeth free of decay, according to Japanese researchers.

Kenji Osawa and his colleagues at Lotte Central Laboratory Ltd in Saitama and at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences have extracted a group of novel compounds from eucalyptus leaves that can knock out the typical bacteria that cause plaque build-up on teeth that leads unchecked to tooth decay. And, if you doubt it will work ask yourself, if you have ever seen a koala in a dentist’s chair. I rest my case.

Sensing a turn on

The list of biological processes that rely on nitric oxide (NO) continues to grow – it is involved in muscle relaxation, the immune response, memory and, of course, sexual arousal and plenty more besides. Ever since that discovery, if not before, I suppose you could say that saying NO has become a prerequisite for sex. Although for legal reasons we should disassociate ourselves from such a puerile, or should that be penile, comment. For more chemical fun and games, check out Paul May’s silly molecules page at Bristol University where you will find arsoles, cummingtonite, and spermine. Over on ChemSpider.com you will find similarly puerile behaviour in the form of coxafloppin, mycoxadroopin, and more.

Patently Obvious

Patents guru Greg Aharonian runs the Internet Patent News Service and each year tots up the statistics on software related patents. The numbers several thousand software patents in the USA alone each year.

This, Aharonian posits, means that someone in the patent office thinks that in the early 1990s software developers came up with about 20000 entirely novel, never-been-thought-of-before, totally unobvious software ideas.

So are we likely to see some fantastic new programs in time for Christmas? Aharonian doubts it. The patents all claim one of several common-or-garden ideas: word processor, web browser, e-mail, spreadsheet, database and several others, stuff we have all seen before. The statistics seem to correlate with the size of the industry rather than reflecting innovation. This would point to the fact that either the companies simply ignore other patents in writing theirs or that the examiners are so overworked they cannot check back – or both.

If you happen to have been granted a software patent before the current boom, in 1971 say, when there were only 100, you should get on to your lawyer straightaway, your idea might not make it into the shops for Christmas but you might have a nice little earner suing IBM, Apple, Microsoft et al.

Happy Victoria Day to our Canadian friends, by the way.

Talk about the birds and the bees

Can anyone explain why we use the phrase “the birds and the bees” as a euphemism for explaining the facts of life to our children? Surely the sex life of bees is about as different from most people’s as you can imagine and birds…well…unless you’re talking about the male ostrich and a handful of other birds they don’t even have anything vaguely like the same “bits”.

I’ve often wondered why the honey and feathers didn’t go down too well on our honeymoon night.

Copious water

This particularly wet undergraduate was wandering aimlessly round the lab peering into fume-cupboards and scouring shelves of flasks and bottles, obviously looking for some vital reagent for their experiment.

Dr Helpfull Graduatestudentisch approached the rookie and asked what he was after. ‘Copious water’, was the reply, ‘it says use copious water to cool the reaction…so I was looking for the flask’.

Hearing of this, the resourceful lab technician printed off some labels for the distilled water bottles – ‘COPIOUS WATER: Use sparingly’. Take heed, they’ll be bottling it at source pumping in CO2 under pressure and charging for that hydrated dihydrogen monoxide next you know!

What’s in a chemical name

If you think picking a name for a baby or pet cat is hard take a look at the Nature Biotechnology archives, there you will find all sorts of options for choosing the name for the latest discovered genetic variants of Drosophila melanogaster, the molecular biologist’s favourite fly.

The latest batch of Drosophila with spines have lovingly named proteins such as hedgehogs and variations on the theme are Indian, Desert and Sonic hedgehog [[computer games pervade all walks of life]]. There are many more monikers for fly proteins to choose from such as four-wheel drive, prawny abdomen, and twisted genitalia – all of these somehow describe characteristics of the proteins in question although pity the poor fly with the latter name.

Coming up with such a witty and humorous name for a choice molecule is even harder for yeast, or Caenorhabditis elegans, researchers who by international convention are stuck with three terse letters and a digit.

Chemists, of course, retain the crown for thinking up easy to remember names, a boon for attracting new students into the field. For instance, a recent news item in New Scientist described the wonders of a toroidal molecule with the easy to swallow name of {4,34-dimethyl-1,4,7,10,13,16,19,22,25,28,31,34,37,40,43,46,49,52,55,5
-icosaazatricyclo[,10,28,31,37,40]hexacontane. Then again “bagel-ane” was probably a bit too sweet.

Video head cleaner

An engineer friend tells us he was rather heartened to discover that even in the face of
hi-tech problems the young electrical engineer who had come to fix the family video recorder could improvise a low-tech solution to the problem.

Half way through his grandchildren’s viewing of “The Jungle Book” the picture became distorted devastatingly – in the eyes of his grand children, at least. Our friend suspected that an expensive, proprietary head cleaner would be the only answer but having shelled out for said device and found the picture just as bad afterwards he contacted the local repair shop.

He expected the engineer to arrive with an array of tools and equipment and was shocked when, after a quick inspection of the machine, a piece of his cigarette packet was removed, the VCR opened, and the fragment of cardboard scraped across the delicate playback heads.

Biting his tongue for fear of inciting further wanton vandalism, our friend watched as the engineer slotted “The Jungle Book” back into the machine, pressed play and then sat back as the video played perfectly.

For the politically correct, the edge of a business card or stout envelope may work just as well and we’re considering patenting the idea. Just don’t blame us if you b*llox up your machine.

Athletic footsy

A friend of mine changed gyms recently – price hike at the old one – and had been for a couple of workouts and a swim & sauna when he noticed a nasty itching between his toes and that the skin was peeling and inflamed looking.

He guessed it was athlete’s foot and booked an appointment to see the doc. By the time he got to see him, my friend’s feet had gone from bad to worse. The toes were a mess and there were blisters all over the tops of his feet. The doc said it was the worst case of athlete’s foot he’d seen and stuck him on an antifungal and antibiotics to clear it up.

Thankfully, it seems to be going, but it’s left him wondering whether he should have stuck with the old gym. Could it have been a sweaty session in the sauna that did it? Don’t they disinfect these places? Apparently, athlete’s foot is on the up and poor sanitation in health clubs is partly to blame. Still, best foot forward, eh?

Monthly pumping crisis

Despite living on the edge of the fens the house of a friend of ours is slightly “downhill” of the main sewer pipe at the end of the road. Consequently, the house relies on a powerful electric pump-house to assist in the removal of soil water.

At least once a month, however, our friend has to alert the water authorities to another pump failure. They duly send a team of experts to hammer the right valves and kick the starter motor etc.

Recently, our friend cornered one of these “engineers” as he was applying steel toecap to a particularly heavy duty metal casement and asked what he thought the recurrent problem might be. “Sanitary towels”, was his succinct reply qualified with, “‘specially them with wings, they float like fish, see?” “The other thing,” he added “is bloody recycled toilet paper, it just don’t break up the way the old stuff used to.” My friend left the engineer to his unenviable task and went away a little the wiser as to the cause of the periodic effluent disturbances, as well as wondering about the environmental benefits of recycled toilet tissue.

Sex toy

A while ago now, the state of Alabama, USA, passed a noble law making it illegal to sell any device ‘for sexual stimulation of the human genital organs’. In other words if you fancy self-gratification with an appliance of science you’re stuck. The State argued that good vibrations in the bedroom are obscene.
Subsequently, however, six frustrated women went to court in an attempt to get the law overturned on the basis that it violates privacy rights.

The offence carried a $10,000 fine and a jail sentence. But, I wonder, in a country where free expression is so proudly proclaimed, and at a time when serious ethical and moral dilemmas are high on everyone else’s agenda, did Alabama waste taxpayers’ money arguing the toss over dildos?