Issue 15

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In this issue:


  • The influence of genetics on your coffee preferences

  • We've heard a lot about plastics in the ocean...but what about in your brain?

  • Take a deep breath, there's a new covid vaccine.

  • Why what you think about blood type is wrong, & weird animal relationships.


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Is drinking coffee your favorite part of the day?

It’s definitely ours. While our addiction to caffeine brings us together, individual coffee preferences can vary widely. Some people like it with cream and sugar. Others like it with a shot of caramel. But if you’re one of those weirdos who drinks their coffee black (yeah, we said it), science might finally have an explanation for why.

You didn’t have to come at me like that.

We don’t mean to be bitter but like… black coffee is pretty damn bitter. A group of scientists got curious about why some people are drawn to black coffee despite its unpleasant taste. They hypothesized that people who like black coffee might be genetically predisposed to prefer bitter things in general. To test this hypothesis, the researchers collected genetic information from more than 500,000 people while asking them about their coffee preferences.

That seems like a latte of work.

Not only was it a herculean task, but at the end of it all, their hypothesis was completely wrong (this happens in science ALL. THE. TIME.). Black coffee drinkers are genetically no different from the cream and sugar crowd when it comes to taste. Instead, people who prefer their coffee black have a genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine rather quickly.

How does that mocha sense?

The researchers deduced that this relationship might actually reflect the drinker’s perception of how strong a cup of coffee is. Those who metabolize caffeine rapidly are more likely to seek out a stronger drink, which they probably associate with the bitterness of the beverage. Either way, there does appear to be a genetic basis for your coffee preferences, no matter how weird.

Anything else?

That wasn’t the only coffee study brewing this month. According to a new paper, caffeine can help your body filter out cholesterol (the bad kind) from your bloodstream. It does this by triggering a molecular domino effect of proteins and receptors in your body. This in turn allows your liver to process excess cholesterol more efficiently (for details, you can check out the paper here). As if we needed another reason to increase our daily coffee intake.

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The Leak: Ah coffee, that sweet (bitter) ambrosia of the gods. If you drink it black, you have your genes to thank for that. And aside from a jolt to your system, caffeine can also help reduce blood cholesterol. Brb, gonna pour ourselves another cup.


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Love your favorite Tupperware?

We’ve got some news about microplastics that might change that. In case you’re not familiar, microplastics are tiny plastic particles that form via the degradation of larger objects (such as water bottles). These microplastics can make their way into our waterways (some of which we drink from). One study estimated that the oceans contain a whopping 24 TRILLION pieces of microplastic — a number so large it almost sounds fake.

That seems bad.

It doesn’t take a science whiz to infer that the presence of microplastics in our water is probably a bad thing. Until recently, researchers weren’t quite sure exactly how these microplastic particles might affect us. Well, according to a recent study, microplastics can damage the most valuable organ of all: the brain.

The experiment: A group of researchers fed microplastics to some mice (yum?). They then carried out various cognitive tests on these plastic-eating rodents.

What did they find?

The mice performed rather badly on the memory tests, suggesting that the microplastics had managed to infiltrate their brains. The scientists then analyzed the molecular make-up of tissue from the mice’s hippocampus (aka the part of the brain that helps create memories). As suspected, the microplastics had made themselves at home in the mice’s hippocampi and wreaked all kinds of neuroinflammatory havoc.

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The Leak: A new study shows that microplastics can damage the hippocampus and negatively affect memory. Kind of a big deal, since microplastics are so prevalent in all our water sources. Better ditch that bottled water for a tap filter if you wanna keep those memories in tip top shape.


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Searching for a new car freshener?

How about one that helps protect against COVID. That’s right — researchers at McMaster University have announced the development of an inhaled vaccine that can provide long-lasting protection against the coronavirus.

No needles? Sign us up.

Since COVID largely targets the upper respiratory tract, these scientists began to wonder whether inhaling an aerosolized version of the vaccine could provide a more robust, targeted immune response. Their recently published preclinical data suggests that this is indeed the case (at least for mice; human clinical trials are underway). The best part? The inhaled vaccine is so efficient that it can trigger an immune response with a far smaller dose than is required for a needle jab.

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The Leak: Advances in a new aerosolized COVID vaccine have scientists sighing with relief. If clinical trials are successful, vaccinating large groups of people could become literally as easy as breathing in air.


You might think that organ transplants can only happen between people of the same blood type...

Scratch that — scientists have figured out a way to change the blood group of a donor’s lungs from type A to type O. Kind of a big deal, since type O’s are considered universal donors. If this technique becomes common practice, it could dramatically reduce transplant wait times.


Monkey see wound, monkey heal wound?

Yup, chimpanzees can use insects as medication. How? By squishing bugs with their mouths and applying the insect goo to not only their own wounds, but their friends’ wounds too. Yuck.


Speaking of one species benefitting from another...

Thanks to Jyot, our newest writer, for sending us this!


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