The Germ Guy: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist

Believing in Climate Change

Last week on the pandemic SASScast, we touched on a subject making quite a few headlines these days…

(Climate Change…)

When you examine the definitions of a pandemic, you can see how climate change is akin to a worldwide scourge.

But getting people to believe in climate change, much like a pandemic, is not easy. You need more than data and statistics. You need to have reasons that impact your personal lives to be convinced.

This week, we focus on belief in climate change and what is being done to help convince people they should not only have credence in the phenomenon, but also get involved to help reduce the impact of the consequences.

We first start by examining one of the most incredible events that has occurred in our history. It involves the merger of two very different worlds. One is science. The other is…

(The Vatican…)

For hundreds of years, the two have not seen eye to eye but last year, the Vatican became a true believer in climate change and the effect of humanity on its progression. It all happened during the…

People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility
Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health Workshop

For me, as a scientist, the existence of this event seems to contradict everything I’ve learned about the rift between science and religion. I needed to know more about how this came about and what happened.

Which is why I have on the show…

(Dr. Lise Van Susteren)

She’s a noted psychiatrist and a climate change expert. More importantly, she was at the Vatican during this workshop and she takes us into the room as the workshop occurred.

I was fascinated at what she told me and I am sure you will want to hear what happened and why now is the perfect time to, as she says, let bygones be bygones.

We also talk about how climate change may be affecting more than you think. There’s a good change the consequences may be having an effect on your…

(Mental health…)

Although this subject doesn’t get much media attention, in the scientific world, there is a growing interest in how everything from higher temperatures to the increasing display of disasters can affect us emotionally.

Thankfully, Dr. Van Susteren also happens to be an expert in this realm and we have a fascinating discussion on how the effects can impact each and every one of us. She also explains how we may be able to counter the internal problem by taking action at a local level in order to make a difference on a global scale.

In our SASS Class, we take a look at one of the most depressing consequences of climate change. We may be at risk of losing…


In a recent study, a group of researchers suggested that climate change may affect barley much like it has rice, corn, and wheat, leading to a lack of the main ingredient in this staple of human consumption.

Our guest teacher is one of the authors of that paper…

(Dr. Nathan Mueller…)

He takes us through the paper and also what we need to know about the future of this beloved beverage. He also explains how we may be able to help avoid the so-called, beer crunch in the future. Hint: It’s not a matter of hoarding the two-fours.

I hope you enjoy this episode of the Super Awesome Science Show. If you do, please subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and tell all your friends, family, neighbours, and heck, even your local pharmacist (I did this week and she is now a fan!). We are having a blast putting the SASScast together and we want everyone to take part in the fun.

Oh, and one more thing. This episode was inspired by a listener who asked me about how we can find a way to increase belief in climate change.

If you have an idea for a show, let me know in the comments below or by sending me an Email at:



A Pandemic State of Mind

Today, on the Super Awesome Science Show, we delve into a topic that is near and dear to me…


If you haven’t listened to the show, just click on the image above and you’ll be taken straight there.

As I’ve been involved in this subject for some time, I decided to take a walk back in my own professional career to bring a different light to the subject.

First, we discuss the most common name when it comes to pandemics…


I’ve written quite a bit on this in the past both in the literature and also in the media. Now, I get to share one of Canada’s research treasures on the virus.

(Dr. Earl Brown)

While I was in Ottawa, we worked together on several fronts. Now, he offers some valuable perspective on the topic of the pandemic potential of the flu and also where we may be heading in the world of vaccination.

Next, do you remember from a few months ago headlines that went along the lines of…

horsepox(DIY horsepox created from mail-order DNA)

Well, the researcher behind this is…

dave-evans(Dr. Dave Evans)

He’s also someone I’ve known for close to thirty years. He was even my supervisor way back in the 1990s. I reach out to him to clarify some of the details of his work and how the headlines, although eye-catching, may not have been entirely accurate.

Finally, in the SASS Class, I talk with another old colleague about the…


His name is…

charles-greer(Dr. Charles Greer)

And for longer than the three decades I’ve known him, he’s been looking at the microbes in that frozen layer.

You might think we’re going to discuss the potential of finding a pandemic virus of bacterium that could end us all. But we discuss a very different kind of pandemic…

global-warming(Global Warming…)

I know…I know…pandemics are supposed to be all about viruses and bacteria and other microscopic organisms. But when you look at the definition of a pandemic, which I discuss in the show, you realize that chemicals can be just as troubling.

Global warming is all about carbon dioxide and methane and as these levels rise, we face significant problems. But, as Dr Greer points out, the bacteria living in the permafrost may be able to help reduce the chances of disaster thanks to their appetite for these chemicals.

But while this may be a short term solution, it probably won’t be the answer.

The SASS team and I had a blast putting this episode together and I hope as you listen, you are able to share in the enthusiasm we had making it.

If you like the episode, please subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as each week, we’re going to take a unique look at how science affects our lives. I guarantee you’ll see science in a different light and maybe, like germs, love it. Because as we know and want you to agree, when it comes to science, it is without a doubt…


It’s Time To Show Some #SASS

Hey everyone,

As you might remember, back in July of 2017, I announced I was moving from Toronto to Edmonton as Anastassia Voronova – my better half – was taking on a position at the University of Alberta as a professor.

We made the move and it took some time to get back on our feet. But as we head towards our one year anniversary here, we are feeling much better and ready to continue the good work we do.

Before I came here, I had an idea as to how to do something a little different with science communication. An experiment if you will. Now that has turned into the Super Awesome Science Show and I am hoping you will love it as much as I do.

How I got here has been a wonderful journey and I want to share it with you.

Let’s start with…

The Background

I had spent the last five years trying to get people to love something that was foreign to them. I think you might know what that topic happened to be…


(This is such a cool cover, don’t you think?)

In addition to the posts on this blog, I was able to see some good success. As I travelled to various places in the world, I witnessed a change in the way people see microbes. It was heartening to see a goal come to fruition.

The Problem

While my journey has been positive, the same cannot be said for the rest of science. Over the last few years, this branch of knowledge has been dealing with some rather difficult times. To put it lightly, science has been going dealing with…


(You get the idea…)

When you are constantly defending science, it’s difficult to convey the joys of this world. It get harder when you are being flanked by non-scientific campaigns that don’t care if they bend or ignore the evidence.

This isn’t new, mind you. Throughout history, science has had to deal with this issue. It’s been going on for centuries.

Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts on how to approach this challenging landscape in  the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.

Tetro-JMBE(It’s light fare despite the long title…)

As you’ll see when you read the article – and I hope you do – there are ways to deal with the opposition to science in a way that is not antagonistic. Instead, we can use science to show how it matters to the public. When we do that, there’s a surprising turn of perception.

To put it succinctly,  when communicated right, science becomes…


The Design

As I was planning to move to Edmonton, I wanted to find a way to convey how awesome all of science happens to be in the same way I did for microbes. I went through a variety of ideas and talked with several people and realized the appetite had changed. People wanted something short, fun, and to the point.

In the words of a Tim I know and cherish…


(The other Tim also said something similar…)

This led to the idea of putting together a show that would focus on science and how it mattered to the person listening.

A few ideas were thrown around and eventually, the right mix of the objectives in my JMBE paper above – which if you’ve read it you already know – came in the form of a podcast. It had all the right elements and had the right accessibility so anyone in the world could take part in the joy of hearing about science that mattered to them.

The Principal Investigators

As with any scientific experiment, one needs to have a team to achieve any kind of success. When I first came up with the topic, I had great ideas but honestly, didn’t have the experience to put it together.

Enter Kelsey Campbell…


(My mentor)

Kelsey is a radio executive producer, host, and all around audio genius in the station. If there is anyone who can help me get to this goal, it’s her.

She knew about my aspirations as far back as Toronto. Since I arrived, she has been guiding and directing me from writer and stage performer to studio host. Let me just say I’m not an easy student but this old dog can definitely learn new tricks.

Whenever you hear my voice in the podcast, you can be sure that tone and cadence is thanks to Kelsey’s wonderful training.

She also brought the show to a point where it could go to the team at…

curiouscast-logobanner(Podcasts for Curious minds)

At this point, three new faces came into play.

(Dila Velazquez, Rob Johnston, Chris “Dunner” Duncombe)

Dila is a script genius. 
She has guided me to develop scripts that are engaging and fun.

Rob is a master of music.
At times you might think you’re listening to a movie.

Dunner is the man who runs it all.
He’s supported Kelsey and me from the moment we first talked.

These three have given me the opportunity to put together a show that is beyond anything I would have expected.

Add In Some SASS

During my campaign to get people to love germs, I’ve found that incorporation of humour and snark seem to work best to get people to listen and to act. Some have jokingly called it fecal fomenting. However, the Fecal Fomentor Show, regardless of how cool it may sound to me was well…

1288540801000(not going to happen)

But thanks to Kelsey, a new title came about that just worked in every way possible.


It had all you could ask for in a title. It was direct, it was engaging, and best of all, it had an acronym that I loved.


It was everything that Fecal Fomentor was not. You could turn it into a hashtag, you could use it for promotion. And it made for a great catchphrase to end the show.

Make sure to show ’em some #SASS.

Theme-ing The Plot

When we were putting the ideas together for shows, it became clear that a run of the mill news program wouldn’t work. This was a podcast and we didn’t have to adhere to the news cycle. It also meant we could avoid the perils of being listed as…

fake-elaine(News that is…)

As we schemed towards a model, the idea of themes came to mind. As this happened, it became clear that one subject could go dozens or hundreds of ways. This opened the door to qualifying the themes a little more.

The topics will be broad in general but have certain specific branches that can help us all to understand what is happening and how it involves our lives. We may visit the same theme over the course of the show but no two will be alike. Each one will be a new experience and offer new ideas for you to ponder.

Throw in a SASS Class

In every episode, I want to have something that you can take with you after the show ends. When we discussed how this was going to happen, it was suggested that it become a lesson of a sort. A class if you will. The SASS Class was born.

Initially, it was going to be my class as the “Professor,” so to speak. The idea was to use a model like Julius Sumner Miller…

professor-cremasco(I’m sure you know about because you read my JMBE paper, right?)

But as I started looking into the various syllabuses, I realized having a guest teacher works so much better.

When you listen to the show, you’ll be certain to have at least one detail that will stick with you presented to you by an expert on the topic. When class is dismissed, you’ll have something you can talk about with family and friends and maybe use as a means to liven up a dinner party.

It’s Time To Get Started

In the lab, when I was ready to run an experiment, I would get my energy up and prepare for the tasks to come. I would always say, “It’s time to get started…” It would look kinda like this…

(I’m such a drama lab rat…)

As I view the podcast as an experiment in science communication, I use the same saying in every episode. When you hear that line, you know I’m in the zone and I am going to give you the best I can to make your experience for that half hour enjoyable, entertaining, and useful.

Making SASS a Success

Although so much time and effort has gone into making this show, we have no idea how it will do. That all depends on the audience…and you.

That’s why I’m adding in this post a request.

Help me show the world science is awesome.

Share the podcast with your family, friends, work colleagues, school teachers, parliamentarians, and whoever else you happen to know. If you’re on social media, share it with the world so they too can experience the joy of science in their lives.

Also, if you can, please subscribe to the show so we can demonstrate to those who control our destiny that we have an audience who believes science matters. It’s free and on pretty much every podcast platform.

Finally, if you happen to have a catchy name for the #SASS listeners, share it with me below. As we move forward, I want to reach out to everyone of you as an equal. It doesn’t matter how…sassy…it may seem, let’s see what we can create together.

Enjoy the Show…

Now that you know more about the history, it’s time to move forward. I hope you enjoy the show and find it as much fun to hear as I had to make. Feel free to share your thoughts with me here in the comments or at As many of you who have already contacted me know, I respond to every Email…it may just take a day or three.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for listening to the podcast in advance. Much like the books, I hope this will be a fun and wondrous experience for us all. Let’s keep the momentum going as we bring some #SASS to the world.

You can subscribe for free on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, you can check here for the latest updates.

You can find all the links at the SASS homepage…

(Click HERE)

Do You Really Need An Antibiotic?

This week has been filled with controversy. In that vein, I feel it’s a good time to say something equally controversial:

Sometimes the best antibiotic prescription
is no prescription at all.

Okay, if you happen to be in public health, especially in Canada, this might not seem all that troublesome. After all, it’s been a mantra in the medical community for years. Yet, considering we still hear about the abuse and misuse of these life-saving drugs, the guidance hasn’t been accepted universally.

One of the reasons for the lack of compliance is based on a statement I hear quite often when I’m out in the public realm. Maybe you have heard it – or said it – at one time or another:

Prove to me I don’t need an antibiotic.

Admittedly, it’s a difficult request. But over the last few years, researchers have been exploring whether a person can deal with a bacterial infection without the use of antibiotics. The answer is yes but finding a way to show this to the public has been a real challenge. Usually, the information is hidden in statistics, which can be subject to skepticism.

However, I came across something that might demonstrate why forgoing an antibiotic may be worthwhile. It looks something like this…

 (Kinda cool, eh?)

What you’re looking at is a figure that comes from a paper entitled, Symptom response to antibiotic prescribing strategies in acute sore throat in adults: the DESCARTE prospective cohort study in UK general practice. You can click on the title to read the paper.

As you can guess from the graph above and the title of the paper, the researchers examined the progression of the traditional sore throat based on symptoms. They looked at 1512 people who had suffered the illness. The symptom information then was matched with the treatment the individuals received.

  • Some had no antibiotics (the blue);
  • Some had a regular antibiotic prescription (the red);
  • Some had what is known as a delayed antibiotics (green).

Delayed antibiotics is a recent trend going around in which a patient is asked to wait a few days after an initial visit to determine if the infection goes away. This is a great way to determine if the infection is bacterial and may need antibiotics, or viral, in which case antibiotics are useless. This approach also allows the body to fight the infection few days. There’s a good reason for this:

The immune system can handle
many infections on its own.

Based on all the results, the addition of antibiotics resulted in an observed reduction in the length of the worst symptoms. But the extent was far less than anyone might have believed. In fact, once all the numbers were crunched, the benefit ended up being equivalent to a grand total of…

One day.

That’s it. Twenty-four hours of lessened symptoms. Nothing more.

The researchers did happen to point out that those who didn’t take antibiotics had a harder time dealing with the infection throughout the period. But in the end, they recovered just as well as those who had taken the antibiotics.

The results of this study may help add credence to the mantra, but that doesn’t mean forgoing antibiotics is valid for every infection. Just recently, I came across an individual who had a sore throat and decided not to take antibiotics. The person lasted a week before caving in to the pain. The bacterial infection was more troublesome and the immune system needed a boost.

If you are wondering what the best option might be should your throat start to scratch, your urinary tract start to burn, or your eyes begin to turn red and water, let me be perfectly clear:

I can’t tell you.

This is a decision that only can be made between you and your doctor.

What I will advise is that when you do feel those troubles and you make that appointment, don’t be quick to ask for a prescription. Your doctor may want perform some tests first to find out what might be causing the troubles. You may be asked to wait and see if your immune system can pull through. Or, there may be ample evidence to make the prescription immediately.

Just remember, if you are given a prescription and fill it, you need to stick with it until the end, even if you feel better. This way you can be sure that you are clearing your body of the infection and reducing the chances for recurrence down the road.

Finally, I’m curious about the use of antibiotics. So, let me ask a relatively simple question I hope many of you won’t mind answering:

When was your last antibiotic prescription?


Solving World Hunger With Bacteria…

Back in 1999, a movie came out that revolutionized science fiction and led to one of the most iconic lines in movie history…

(Welcome To The Real World…)

If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you take a few hours and immerse yourself in the concept of a world created within a world.

But within the script of this nearly flawless film, there is one term that has raised eyebrows for nearly two decades. Rather than watch the whole film to find it, I’ve put the moment in question here:

(It starts at 48 seconds…)

If you didn’t catch it, they are eating something called “Single Cell Protein.” While this may sound rather futuristic, it comes from a concept developed in the past….

(In the 1960s…)

The idea was to somehow find a way to make food from bacteria. Back then, the concept was considered futuristic and not possible at the time.

But now the future has become reality thanks to a Finnish company called VTT. They have created the first viable single cell protein mixture. You can read more about the story by clicking on the title, “A Team of Scientists Just Made Food From Electricity — and it Could be the Solution to World Hunger

What makes this discovery so interesting is the actual look of the food source…

(Looks like the stuff in the movie..)

The link between VTT and film goes beyond visual appearance. This single cell protein mix is made using equipment that play a major role in the film…


Of course, this cinematic version is quite different from the one used by VTT. First off, the scale is significantly smaller. Then there are the living organisms contained in the reactor. I won’t give away what is inside those fictional reactors but VTT is happy to share what is inside their system…

(“Knallgas” Bacteria…)

The name may seem strange but the decision to go with these types of bacteria is quite sound. Here’s why…

If you happen to speak German, you’ll know that “Knallgas” means “Bang Gas.”

If you happen to know anything about gases, you’ll realize that bang gas is another name for hydrogen.

If you have studied hydrogen utilizing bacteria, you’ll know they use carbon dioxide as an energy source to grow.

Finally, if you have any appreciation for what bacteria produce as they grow, you’ll come to realize that this reactor will end up in the production of single cells filled with proteins and other components such as sugars and fats.

We tend to call these bacteria chemolithoautotrophs but thanks to VTT you can also call them by a different moniker…

(The solution to global hunger…)

As mentioned in the film, single cell protein has everything the body needs. But that isn’t the reason why this discovery could revolutionize food security. That lies in the necessities to produce this nutritious product:  carbon dioxide, water, bacteria, and a source of electricity.

In light of the problems we face with climate change, reduced agricultural space, and an ever-growing human population, this route may be the key to improving health across the globe.

With a little more time and some upscale efforts, we may use single cell protein as a viable means to keep the world’s population fed. Perhaps more importantly, having well-fed people may help to foster brilliant minds from all over the world. This then can lead to even more fantastic and amazing revolutions…

(Unlike this one, which was a true disappointment…)

Ivanka Trump And A Different MAGA (Mosquitoes Ain’t Gonna Attack)

I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys getting bit by a mosquito. The only exception might be…

(Mosquito Researchers…)

The bites themselves are bad enough with the welts and incessant itching. But when you take into account the potential for disease transmission, a mosquito meal may present more than a mere annoyance. The list of potential infections is getting longer and the impact of these agents on human health is well…


There’s one sure way to avoid an infection…don’t get bit. That’s why media stories on mosquitoes and health usually include advice such as wearing long clothing, avoiding prime mosquito meal times, and of course, using a repellent, such as N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, which is better known as…


How DEET works is pretty fascinating. It’s a chemical that gives off a particular odour that repels mosquitoes. The mechanism behind this action took quite some time to figure out but as always, scientists were on the case and eventually figured it out.

Much like humans have the olfactory system, which allows us to detect smells and determine whether we like them or not, mosquitoes have a similar mechanism to recognize molecules in the air. It looks something like this…

(Feel itchy yet?)

That ORN is known as an olfactory receptor neuron and it possesses a number of different proteins capable of recognizing various molecules in the air called odorant receptors. Somewhere within those neurons is a receptor that tells the mosquito to veer away when DEET is around.

Unfortunately, no one knew which one receptor was responsible. This made attempts to study this process any further difficult at best. Then in 2014, a team of researchers examined those odorant receptors and figured out which one detected DEET.  They published the finding in the paper, “Mosquito odorant receptor for DEET and methyl jasmonate,” which you can click on to read.

The receptor is called CquiOR136, which stands for Culex quinquefasciatus Odorant Receptor 136. It’s not a fancy name but the team makes up for this apparent lack of creativity with a cool sense of…


The data reveals CquiOR136, upon sensing DEET, or another molecule known as methyl jasmonate, sends a message to the mosquito’s brain that the environment is threatening and that it’s best to move on to other places. If that area happens to be your skin, you are saved from a bite.

This discovery allowed us to develop a new definition for the now common acronym, MAGA. Instead of Make America Great Again, however, these researchers have found the trick to ensure…

(“Mosquitoes Ain’t Gonna Attack.”)

After the discovery of CquiOR136, researchers tried to find other products capable of triggering that molecule and keeping mosquitoes away. Over the coming year, certain soaps and perfumes were found to repel mosquitoes. Some were even as good as DEET.

With this in mind, a team of Californian and Brazilian researchers decided it was worth looking at a specific perfume to see whether the product also could keep mosquitoes away.

The fragrance they settled on happened to be…

(You could say they were allured…)

Actually, we don’t know the answer as it was never mentioned in the paper. You can check for yourself by reading it here: Ingredients in Victoria’s Secret Bombshell and Ivanka Trump eaux de parfums that repel mosquitoes.

One could surmise, however, the choice was due to presence of an ingredient in the perfume. If you look at the title of the paper from the DEET researchers above, you’ll find a specific name, methyl jasmonate. As you might expect, it’s a molecule found in the jasmine plant, which is included in Ivanka’s fragrance description.

The team went searching to find something that looked like methyl jasmonate and they indeed found it. It was a little different in name – methyl dihydrojasmonate – but the group figured it may have the same effect on mosquitoes.

They performed the tests using another product already shown to repel the insects – Victoria Secret’s Bombshell – and observed whether the mosquitoes found the fragrance alluring or repulsive.

I’ll let the data speak for itself with this graph comparing DEET, Bombshell, and Ivanka’s perfume on how well skin was protected against bites…

(Pretty impressive…)

With this in mind, you might think about making the switch from DEET to Ivanka’s pink potion. But there is a slight issue one should consider. To get an equal level of protection as DEET, the same amount of perfume would have to be used as one would use with a repellent. This would probably mean changing the bottle top from the gentle, mist-forming, atomizer to well, this…

 (You get the point…)

In light of all the concerns we have these days with sensitivities to fragrances, it may not be all that great of an idea.  Not to mention, the cost of Ivanka’s fragrance is about US$30 a bottle. In comparison, that good old fashioned DEET spray will set you back less than $10.

While this study is obviously as much fun as it is science, there is a serious message. In light of the troubles mosquitoes can cause, you can never go wrong with keeping a good repellent around. It’s all about keeping true to MAGA – Mosquitoes Ain’t Gonna Attack.

Whether you go with the usual brands or take a chance on Trump, just be sure to have something to keep those mosquitoes away. Because unlike the other Trump MAGA, this one deals not with society, but your own health. In light of the risks associated with mosquitoes these days, you can never be too safe.

The Secret Behind Stress Eating And Obesity…

Mysteries are a staple in the entertainment business. Something nefarious has happened and it’s up to the hero to go through the clues and find the responsible suspect. Usually, when the answer is discovered, all the pieces are put together and eventually, the revelation is made…

(Usually with an all-knowing smirk…)

Mysteries are also a major part of scientific research. Large, scoping questions are asked and over years, clues are revealed through the tireless work of labs all over the world. It may take decades but eventually, the answer is found and the results are shared with the world.

Of course, there are times when the answer seems to be impossible to find. Researchers are left scouring through the data in the hopes of finding something that may open up a path to discovery. But more times than not, the results offer little direction allowing hope to be replaced with…


I’ve been there numerous times and one of the things I find is that when I get stressed, I tend to get hungry. Making the situation worse is that the pangs are not satiated by eating healthy food. I want something bad, fatty and sugary. It could be fish and chips, a fatty burger, or…

(A tart…)

This phenomenon, known as stress-eating, is quite common although how it happens has been, in itself, a mystery. For decades, researchers have been working with people and animal models in the hopes of finding the one mechanism – or if they are lucky the one cell type – responsible for this rather poor health choice.

Now, we may finally have an…

(Aha! moment…)

It comes in the form of a paper entitled, Microglial Inflammatory Signaling Orchestrates the Hypothalamic Immune Response to Dietary Excess and Mediates Obesity Susceptibility. You can click on the title to read the paper.

The researchers used mice to explore what happens inside the brain during what is known as diet-induced obesity. It is a well-known condition caused by a very familiar villain of health. I’m sure you’ll know it as soon as its name is revealed…

(Sorry, Moriarty…)

It’s inflammation.

When the body suffers from this ailment, immune cells drive other bodily systems to alter their function. This happens in the gut, in the blood, and yes, even in the brain. In the latter, the immune cells involved are known as…


They are the soldiers responsible for ensuring the brain is protected from infections, injury, and other invasions. These cells had been shown to be involved in increasing one’s appetite for unhealthy foods particularly when the body experiences stress.

But no one could quite figure out how or why…

The team focused on the area of the brain known to be responsible for the need to eat. It’s officially called the mediobasal hypothalamus, but is more commonly referred to as the MBH. To give you an idea of the size of this region…

(Here’s the hypothalamus…)


(And here is the MBH…)

The first experiments examined the concept of a loss of function. In other words, they reduced the cell’s population from this area and also prevented these cells from doing their jobs properly. As expected, both helped to reduce the urge to eat in the animals.

The next stage of the process required them to do the opposite and amp up the effects of the microglia. To do this, they created a hyper-inflammatory environment. When they did this, the mice had severe hunger issues.

These experiments were run of the mill neuroscience and little can be concluded from this information. But before you start wondering…

(When will he get to the good stuff?)

Let me tell you that we’re close to that Aha! moment.

When the microglia were hyperstimulated, something else happened. The mice became resistant to a particular chemical known to be involved in obesity and other weight-related issues. It’s called…


I know it doesn’t look like much but this little protein has a huge impact on our ability to control our weight. It helps to control how happy we are with the nutrients inside us.

But if we lose out on the ability to respond to leptin, a condition called resistance, a rather vicious cycle occurs. We tend to eat more sugary and fatty foods in order to feel full. But since we can’t sense that fullness, we continue to eat. Put it this way…

(Leptin resistance is bad…)

In this experiment, the researchers had caused leptin resistance by making the microglia hyperactive. In turn, this led to the initiation of the cycle, and the mice became obese.

Now you can say Aha! or perhaps even…


So, to recap:

  1. Stress changes the way microglia function in the brain including the MBH;
  2. They can get overexcited and become resistant to leptin;
  3. Leptin resistance can lead to changes in energy balance & reduce the sense of fullness;
  4. This leads to an urge to eat sugary foods;
  5. This in turn eventually can lead to weight gain.

The overall results of this study do help us to solve the mystery of stress-eating (at least in mice). But the information also introduces another more intriguing question…

(Can we prevent obesity?)

Although we won’t know this for quite some time, the clock may already be ticking in this direction. When the researchers took out the microglia, they used a drug called PLX5622. It’s being tested in clinical trials to manage arthritis. With these results in hand, the drug may be given further examination to see whether it may be able to help calm down the microglia and possibly control stress eating.

But that is for the future. In the meantime, when we feel stressed and find ourselves stricken with the munchies, just realize we may not to blame. Based on this study, it may be just our microglia forcing us to think and act this way. With more research, we may be able one day to find ways to reduce the stress we feel and reduce the chances for obesity.

In the meantime, if you want to avoid stress eating, the best way to achieve this may be to find at least a few moments during the day when you can exist is the state known to reduce the hunger…


From Germ Guy to YEGhead…

Normally, I am contacted by the media about three to five times per week for interviews although that number can reach into the dozens over a seven-day period. As a result of the sheer number of appearances, I tend not to post the reports lest this blog be little more than a link hub.

However, I want to share one particular interview from yesterday with you.

(The Ryan Jespersen Show)

If you have about twenty minutes, you can listen to the entire discussion as the topics encapsulate most of the stories I’ve been discussing over the last seven days.

Even if you don’t have that amount of time, I would suggest you listen to the first two minutes as I make an announcement live on air. As to the nature of that announcement, if you are familiar with airport codes, you might already know the details from the title of this post.

If not, this might offer some assistance…

(If, of course, you are familiar with hockey…)

If that isn’t helping, this visual clue may help…

(If, of course, you are familiar with shopping malls…)

If it’s still not clicking, perhaps this can make everything perfectly clear…

(a.k.a. YEG)

Come January 2018, I’ll be leaving the metropolis of Toronto and heading out west to the exquisite environs of Edmonton.

The move is not random, I assure you. This has been in discussion for almost a year and only recently became official. I won’t share the details here but if you wish to learn more, you know how to contact me.

What I can tell you is this. The move has the potential to open up new avenues in the realm of science communication. Being The Germ Guy has brought me to this incredible point in my life. Yet, I have expanded my horizons over the last decade. I hope to increase the scope of my work over the coming years although perhaps not with the moniker, The YEGhead. But who knows…

The process most likely will be slow but I promise you, I will do my best not to lose my mercurial nature. It is a part of who I am and I cannot imagine losing it. Besides, I find it always helps to deal with stories such as one I recently discussed on TV dealing with…

(Germy birthday cakes…)

I hope you will continue to stick with me as I make this transition. I have been thankful for your support over the years and will do my best to keep you engaged and entertained regardless of what place I call home.


Would You Accept A Hepatitis-C-Infected Liver Transplant?

A few days ago, I came across a news article that intrigued me. It involved the practice of performing liver transplants using donors who are infected with Hepatitis C virus. You can read the article here: Could hep-C-infected livers solve New York’s organ-donor shortage?

Right off the bat, you might think this concept would be described best as…

(Who would do such a thing?)

Up until a few years ago, you would be right. The mere idea of transplanting organs, blood, or other tissues infected with hepatitis C was considered completely unethical. After all, you would be giving a person a potentially lethal disease.

Yet, times have changed. Today, there is a treatment for this viral disease with up to 99% success rate. It’s known as…

(aka “The Cure”)

This drug is a combination of two effective means to prevent Hepatitis C from reproducing in the body. One, known as sofosbuvir prevents the virus from multiplying inside the cell. The other, velpatasvir, blocks the ability to assemble new viruses.

With this in mind, the concept of transplanting an infected liver becomes a little less worrisome. After all, if there’s a cure, then why not give someone a shot at living a longer life? It fulfills the human belief that…

(No one would argue with this…)

But unfortunately, there is a catch. The drug is expensive. We’re talking in the region of US$75,000 per treatment. That’s an incredible amount, particularly those without proper insurance.

Upon hearing this number, the usual approach to pharmaceuticals may come into play, which usually sounds a bit like this…

 (Remember, this is a family-friendly blog…)

But the exorbitant cost shouldn’t cause much surprise. Advanced pharmaceuticals such as this drug combination are going to be expensive. We’re not dealing with run of the mill tetracycline, which can be made for pennies a pill. The process of making these drugs is difficult and maintaining proper quality control requires far more effort. Also, Epclusa is not as pricey as other treatments offered, which can be tens of thousands of dollars higher. So, according to its manufacturer, this drug is a bit of a deal in comparison.

I understand this may seem like a defense of the pharmaceutical industry and that for the sake of public opinion you might suggest…

(Which is usually good advice…)

But when dealing with a serious topic such as transplantation, in which the end result is either life or death, the issue of what is the right cost for a drug becomes secondary to the situation at hand.

I do think the amount is too high. Yet this is the reality as we face it. It’s not what most people – other than perhaps stockholders of the company – would like to hear but as we’ve learned in many health-related issues, we have to…

(It never gets easy…)

Which brings me back to the article. Should we use infected livers for donation? I feel if a system in is place that allows the recipient to receive cost-effective and/or fully covered treatment, it may help to lower the burden of waiting lists.

But what if a person is going to undergo the treatment and then be left to deal with figuring out how to deal with the disease? The individual may be faced with a question of prolonged life in a state of continual debt.

At this point, the decision should be left up to the person to decide which is the better option. Then, when the choice is made, we should all stand with that person and say only…

(Also, “I support you.”)


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