January 13th, 2022

All About Viruses

By Da Beattie

It’s coming up on two whole years of being in a pandemic, and some people are still confused as to what a virus is. Whether you are a non-science student, or my family members, this general post aims to tackle the basics. What is a virus?

Viruses are parasites that can multiply only in living cells and rely on host processes to reproduce. Thus, are deemed “non-living”. The simplest viruses are named viroids, which are circular single-stranded RNAs of plants. Other simple viruses include prions. Prions are normally expressed proteins that when their structure becomes altered, the misfolded protein induces proper protein to misfold and aggregate. The individual prion proteins that are misfolded can act as seeds for infectious spread. The most known example of human prion infection is the laughing death, Kuru, which arose due to ritualistic cannibalism. 

Viruses follow general rules with exceptions that this article will not cover. All viruses have a genome. This can be RNA or DNA. Single-stranded or double-stranded. Negative or positive sense. And while you might not know what all these terms mean, the general idea is that like living organisms, there is significant diversity. Unlike living organisms, larger viruses have larger genomes. 

Viruses also have a capsid, which is like a shell of protection made up of protein. Some viruses may be enveloped, which is the term for viruses covered by a lipid bilayer. 

Although viruses are given a bad rep, especially now during a pandemic, many viruses do not cause harm. Opportunistic infections only cause harm in immunocompromised individuals. In fact, some viruses have evolved to be a part of the human genome. The protein Syncitin-1 comes from an endogenous human retrovirus that is responsible for the fusion of cells forming the placenta, which suggests that infection of a virus in the past allowed the evolution from an egg laying species to a placental species. 

Now that the basics are covered, you probably want to know, what are coronaviruses? 

Coronaviruses are positive strand RNA viruses. Compared to negative strand viruses, positive strand viruses can be directly translated to make proteins. Like many viruses including influenza, bats are the reservoir for coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses that produce subgenomic RNAs through discontinuous extension/template switching. A complicated process in which the details are not relevant for a general understanding of viruses. 

There are three main ways in which viruses may mutate and generate diversity. Antigenic drift is the term for point mutations. Antigenic shift is the term for when segmented viruses reassort their segments. And recombination is the term for interactions between two segments. Although coronaviruses are not segmented and cannot undergo antigenic shift, they can generate diversity through recombination. 

Antigenic Shift: reassortment of virus segments to generate diversity

So, if you have made it past the science dump and are still reading you might be wondering, how many more variants will occur before the pandemic becomes a seasonal flu situation? The answer is, I don’t know. But leave it up to your imagination and the possibilities are endless.  

Source:

MGY378, Microbiology II: Viruses. Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Toronto Winter 2021. 

January 12th, 2022

Scientific Breakthroughs and Their Impact on the Earth

By Da Beattie

DNA is the genetic information for all living things. Although you cannot see it from the naked eye while looking at a given organism, it is hard to believe that it was once unknown. First discovered by Friedrich Miescher in 1869, it was James Watson and Francis Crick that identified the double-stranded helix structure and became well known. This discovery, on top of many more, has provided the basis for many new technologies such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and gene therapy. 

Physics nowadays sounds very complex to the average person. The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021 was given to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann “for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming” and to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.” However, back in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus theorized that the universe revolved around the sun which was a different belief from the thought that everything revolved around the Earth. It was Galileo that proved Copernicus’ theory by using a telescope to show the different phases of Venus that resulted from orbiting around the sun. 

Louis Pasteur, famously known for many things including pasteurization also discovered fermentation. He was the first to show that fermentation occurs due to microorganisms that can be killed by heat. This has saved many people from the diseases of unpasteurized foods like eggs and milk. This confirmed the germ theory which provided the basis for vaccines and antiseptic surgical techniques. 

Isaac Newton discovered gravity at the age of 23. Newton also defined the three laws of motion: (1) an object will not change its motion unless a force acts upon it, (2) the force of on object is equal to its mass multiplied by acceleration, and (3) that when two things interact, they apply forces of equal magnitude in opposite directions. Gravity is the concept that underlies the satellites that orbit Earth. The International Space Station (ISS) has allowed us to view the Aurora australis from space. 

If you are worried that the best scientific findings have unfortunately already been discovered, think again! These discoveries, followed by many, many more, have allowed modern-day science to exist and thrive. Whether it is a drug to cure cancer or an organism to reverse global warming, there are and perhaps always will be new curiosities to uncover, new and old problems to solve with up-and-coming research.

As Walt Disney once said, “if you can visualize it, if you can dream it, there is some way to do it.” Let your imagination run wild, for the answers are out there if you dream to find them.

Sources:

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/lists/all-nobel-prizes-in-physics/

https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/scientific-discoveries-that-changed-the-world

January 6th, 2022

The Best Books of 2021 (Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult)

by Da Beattie

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, then you know I am a big fan of the library and reading. Here is my top ten list of books in 2021. 

The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea

Shipped by Angie Hockman

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer 

As If on Cue by Marisa Kanter

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown

Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

Always, in December by Emily Stone

Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting 

November 27th, 2021

The Kinds of Christmas trees

by Da Beattie

If you haven’t figures out already, I love Christmas!!! Although my previous article explains some of the pros and cons to fake and real Christmas trees, this post is dedicated to the different kinds of real Christmas trees.

There are many types of evergreens that are exploited for holiday use. The genus Abies, also known as the firs, comprise the most common Christmas trees. Mistletoe, which I know best from Justin Bieber’s song, is a parasitic plant that parasitizes larger trees.

The main Christmas tree trees are Pines, Firs, Spruce, and Cypress. Firs are coniferous trees that are thick and bushy. Pine trees are also coniferous but they have a less filled out look. Spruce trees are also less filled out and provide a more rustic look. And Cypress trees, although less common as household Christmas trees and more commonly used as yard trees, are tall and narrow.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in NYC is specially chosen and composed of multiple trees to fill in the gaps of larger trees. Some places have even made trees out of objects such as wine bottle tree.

For a fun at home activity, try making a 3D Christmas tree out of paper or out of gingerbread and sugar cookies!

Sources used

thttps://www.proflowers.com/blog/16-types-of-christmas-trees

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2020/12/20/covid-or-not-christmas-is-coming-21-beautiful-christmas-trees-around-the-world-in-photos/?sh=17fcb55e44bb

November 18th, 2021

Christmas Tree Farms

by Da Beattie

It’s November and for many that means Christmas! While we Canadians have already had Thanksgiving, there is no reason to wait to start your Christmas cheer!

Like the Halloween and pumpkin debate, there are many pros and cons to disposable versus reusable plastic Christmas trees.

Although real trees are single use, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and are biodegradable. Although they are cut down, and their emissions released, the Christmas tree industry continues to plant new trees which can offset the carbon emissions.

On the contrary, most fake trees, although re-usable and convenient, are made of PVC, which during production, emits a significant amount of carbon. Fake trees are also normally produced across the ocean and then transported to other countries compared to real trees which are typically grown more locally.

Eventually, upon disposal of a fake tree, many of these plastic trees contain other materials and plastics which make them hard to recycle, thus they end up in landfill. Real trees, as stated previously are biodegradable and can be shredded and composted.

Although it may seem that real trees could be better for the environment, fake trees have many benefits. They are easier to set up and take down. After multiple years of use, they are more economic. They are also able to stay decorated year round and do not have the same branch thickness differences real trees have and therefore they are easier to decorate and can remain in your house for a longer period of time.

Overall, the debate of disposable versus reusable, also known as real or fake trees has many pros and cons. As a Christmas aficionado, I of course, have a mixture of real and fake trees that go up every December 1st.

Source used

November 10th, 2021

November 1st: “What should I do with all these pumpkins?”

by Simran Randhawa

Okay, so, somehow?? It’s November?? I swear it was like 2020 two days ago, but no, it’s November 2021. I’m shocked.

Anyway, October was our thrilling spooky season, and I went trick-or-treating because I still pass for sixteen (especially when I wear a mask), but now it’s November. So, why do I still see pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns outside homes? Granted, people are busy, but it’s the second week of November – people!! You should have your Christmas lights up already!!

But seriously: on November 1st, you might be wondering, “What should I do with all these pumpkins?”

There are many eco-friendly options out there for reusing pumpkins post-Halloween. For one, pumpkins, like any other fruit or vegetable, works as an excellent natural fertilizer for your garden and grass. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, you should cut it into smaller pieces to speed along decomposition. Then, put the pumpkin pieces out in the sun or bury them with thin layers of dirt with worms and insects so that nature can run its course. Don’t forget to remove the candles or any wax from inside the pumpkins before you do this.

Another option is to use it in your food! You can get really creative here: pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin soup, baked pumpkin bread – the list can go on and on! Now, I’m not a major cook or anything, but I would love to give any of these a try.

If your pumpkins are still in great shape, you can still use them decoratively! For example, you can create bird feeders or food bowls (for yourself or your pet). There are also pumpkin pots and planters, or maybe a decorative piece for inside your home. If you’ve painted on your pumpkin something scary, you can paint over it again with something beautiful or a cliché saying like: “Live, Laugh, Boo” (bad joke, I’m so sorry, I tried).

What I’m getting at is that there are options.

Sure – there’s always the compost bin. This is probably the easiest and fastest option for those who don’t have time to reuse their pumpkins decoratively or in their food. But not everyone has the option to compost because their regions don’t have compost systems in place. So does that mean going out of your way to compost in another region? I hope not – and this is where you get the government involved.

Some of us may not care at all about any of this and may continue to leave our pumpkin decorations to rot while they wait to be picked up by the dump truck. Don’t let another pumpkin waste away in a landfill. We can literally use it as soil to make our planet stronger or feed it to our pets or leave it for the squirrels (unless they’re painted on – I repeat, do not let painted pumpkins near animals). All I’m saying is that we don’t have to waste anything. All it takes is some patience and creativity, time and interest.

November 3rd, 2021

#TeamSeas and their Goal to Raise $30 Million before 2022

By Simran Randhawa

On October 29th, 2021, Jimmy Donaldson, popularly known as the YouTuber and philanthropist, MrBeast, started trending on YouTube with another eco-friendly challenge for viewers: to help clean the seas. Collaborating with Mark Rober, a fellow Youtuber and former NASA engineer, MrBeast hopes to beat his previous record with #TeamTrees, where he helped raise over 20 million dollars in planting 20 million trees before January 01st, 2020, by raising over 30 million dollars with #TeamSeas and cleaning up over 30 million pounds of waste from rivers, beaches, and oceans.

I first came across the #TeamSeas campaign while watching the latest video on Doctor Mike’s channel, who is a YouTuber and medical professional educating viewers about the realities of medicine and the life of family care practitioner (no, I’m not studying medicine – I just prefer Doctor Mike over Grey’s Anatomy – I said what I said!). In his video, Doctor Mike introduces his partnership alongside other creators around the world with #TeamSeas.

I’m not too big on social media but I’ve always loved seeing individuals with money, influence, and means use their platform for eco- and just initiatives. That’s when I did some research, came across MrBeast’s and Mark Rober’s videos on #TeamSeas.

As I write this article, MrBeast’s video with #TeamSeas has over 29 million views, but I’m sure that by the time you read this, it’ll have much more. In his video, MrBeast is set on one of the dirtiest beaches on Earth, polluted with garbage, lots and lots of plastic, and… underwear? Working with a large group of volunteers, MrBeast and his friends clean up the entire beach by picking it up, using sifts, and filling up an entire parking lot with garbage and recycling bags. He also had a group clean another beach nearby once informed by locals about it. After 4 days of cleaning, MrBeast and the volunteers cleaned up over 60 000 pounds of trash!

Mark Rober also shared a video with #TeamSeas and in collaboration with MrBeast where he competes with him and hundreds of volunteers on who can collect the most trash. Rober showed his viewers how he would collect trash differently from his competitors on the beach with the help of his one and only teammate: the 004 Interceptor of The Ocean Cleanup, or as he calls it, “floating 50 ton trash-eating robot.” In the end, MrBeast and the volunteers collected 62 738 pounds of trash from the beach, beating Rober and the 004 Interceptor which collected 37 824 pounds from the river. Despite MrBeast’s win, this trash-collecting machine is a great product that can do the work of hundreds of volunteers all by itself.

Other YouTubers are also getting involved with the eco-friendly campaign and raising awareness on their channels, and both MrBeast and Rober brought this issue to Jimmy Kimmel Live on November 02nd – continuing to spread awareness with their platforms and others’! In less than a week, MrBeast’s campaign for #TeamSeas raised 10 million dollars (and it might be more when you read this)!

Every dollar you donate is one less pound of trash in the ocean, and the goal of 30 million dollars can remove 30 million pounds!

So, go, donate now! Volunteer! Spread awareness! MrBeast used his platform to encourage necessary change, as did Mark Rober. Maybe it’s time for us to use our influence in that same way, even if it’s just holding ourselves accountable for what change we can make in this world. After all, it’s our future and our home on the line.

October 5th, 2021

Where the Leaves Fall

By Da Beattie

It’s officially Fall! While the weather may be a bit warm for jackets and cozy flannels, the leaves are changing colour and the apple orchards and pumpkin patches are open.

If fall fruit is not your passion but you still want amazing fall photos, Hockley Valley Provincial Park is one of the best trails. Along the Bruce Trail, Hockley Valley can be accessed by Hockley Valley Road where a gravel parking lot runs 100m away from the trailhead down the street. After walking alongside the road for a small distance, the trailhead is an entrance on the side of the road that starts with a small hill taking you into the forest.

For hiking lovers, the trail and its side trails can be nearly a four-hour hike with many ups and downs and clear streams and tiny waterfalls. Although the parking lot may come across as busy and the trail is often quite narrow, the long trail is quiet and running into other hikers is rare.

Although the ground can be uneven, this is an amazing hike for beginners as the trails are well-marked.

There is no need to plan in advance! The trail and the parking lot are free and accessible from the main road.

With the leaves starting to change, the park is only going to get more beautiful!

August 19th, 2021

Turning Food Waste into Profits

By Da Beattie

According to a 2011 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted; and this percentage is expected to increase by 2030. However, the definition of food waste is disputable due to cultural differences in what is considered edible.

As of 2016, 40% of food waste occurs during harvest and processing in developing countries due to a lack of sufficient technology to efficiently harvest crops.

In 2012, developed countries wasted over 222 million tonnes of food which is the equivalent to the net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Generally, the most common foods thrown away are fruits and vegetables, which make up 42% of total food waste, with fish and seafood being the least common to waste at 1%. In terms of how much food is wasted compared to production levels, fruits and vegetables are once again at the top of the list. The graph below provides insight on food waste, organized by food category.

FAO and National Geographic 2016 (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/global-food-waste-statistics)

Despite the increasing amounts of food waste, the issues surrounding it continues to be left unaddressed. Many individuals suffer from chronic food deprivation, and as of 2017, this number was estimated at over 821 million people. Although the number of individuals malnourished occupies a larger percentage of the total population in developing nations, hunger and food insecurity are global issues that occur all over the world.

Not only is world hunger an issue, but food waste also wastes global resources like water and money spent on food production. As more food is wasted at a rate faster than degradation, landfills are becoming increasingly full. This can leach toxic byproducts and chemicals into the soil and wastewater. As well, some studies show that there are many short and long-term health effects due to living nearby a landfill such as cancers, allergies, and issues regarding birth and fetus development.

Methane emissions from decomposing food also contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, thus, exacerbating climate change and increasing the global temperature, which causes many undesirable effects, including making agriculture more unpredictable.

The biggest problem with food waste is that it is largely preventable. With proper legislation, organization, and technology, the amount of food waste can be reduced, and Too Good To Go, also known as toogoodtogo is just one of many companies whose mission focuses on doing so.

Toogoodtogo is a company that uses its app to reduce food waste by connecting businesses such as grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants to consumers who can buy nearly expiring food that is still edible at 1/3 the cost of the original retail price. Although initially implemented in various European cities, toogoodtogo has recently come to Toronto with participating stores like SummerHill Market, the Pantry, and many others. Depending on the participating store, consumers can choose between bakery, produce, or prepared foods through the toogoodtogo app. Although the consumer must go in person to pick up their mystery bag, payment and confirmation of pick up are all done contact-free through the app, making the process easy and COVID safe. This is a great way to save money and reduce food waste!

By supporting companies like toogoodtogo and by encouraging the development of food waste prevention businesses, many elements surrounding the issue can be resolved. Companies can profit by helping the planet and make food affordable and accessible to those who need it, reducing the build-up of food waste in landfills.

Check out toogoodtogo and keep an eye out for other companies with similar goals. Remember to think twice before wasting food and find alternative ways to prevent doing so!

Sources:

http://www.fao.org/3/i2697e/i2697e.pdf

http://www.fao.org/3/c0088e/c0088e.pdf

http://www.fao.org/3/mb060e/mb060e.pdf

https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/tackling-1.6-billion-ton-food-loss-and-waste-crisis

https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/un-hunger-climate-change-1.4818400

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Impact-of-Landfill-Waste-on-Health-%3A-An-Overview-Swaroopanand-Mahavidyalya/7b702ed22a7eeb6e465dbda1e905b6e1d9f4a680?p2df

July 11th, 2021

The Future of LEGO

By Da Beattie

LEGO is an iconic childhood toy. The colourful plastic bricks that come in many sizes and themes are notorious for being painful to step on when the inevitable piece does not find its way back to where it belongs.

In 2019, LEGO introduced a treehouse kit made of bioplastic sourced from sugar cane, which is not durable enough to make regular LEGO blocks. However, the new process, still in development, allows every one-litre polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle to be converted into ten 2×4 LEGO bricks.

LEGO’s 2015 pledge to improve sustainability has been witnessed in the past few years. As of 2014, LEGO is a part of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Climate Savers Programme, where the company has set goals to become more carbon neutral. In 2019, three years ahead of schedule, the company was announced to be using 100% renewable energy.

Currently, turning plastic bottles into LEGO bricks is a multi-step process, more complex than re-shaping PET. Firstly, plastic bottles made of PET are ground into flakes. The flakes get cleaned to ensure quality control and then are granulated. The granules then undergo other processes to become a durable material that passes the quality of LEGO that has not yet been finalized or announced. Before being moulded, further quality control testing is completed, after which more testing for quality is done. If the material passes all the tests, the granules of plastic are tested for mechanical properties. Only after all this testing is successfully completed do the bricks and pieces undergo colouring. If all goes well, the machinery to manufacture the new product gets evaluated.

The Process of PET to LEGO: Image from the LEGO group

Although there are other toy companies that manufacture their products from recycled plastic, such as Green Toys, LEGO would be the first mainstream brand to bring recycled plastic toys to the children’s market. By taking the initiative to become more environmentally aware in both education and production, LEGO can inspire other mainstream brands in toy making to do the same. We can only hope that more brands will turn to recycled plastic and other sustainable manufacturing in the future!

Sources:

https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/news/2021/june/prototype-lego-brick-recycled-plastic

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