Eye on Science: The Extraordinary Everyday

6 min read

It’s 3 weeks to Christmas, and also close to 2 years since we started the “Eye on Science” series. What a journey it has been!

When we started “Eye on Science”, we had one goal: to make daily scientific headlines more approachable to the general reader, people like you and me. We wanted to take seemingly complex discoveries and share them with everyone who wants to appreciate them, but don’t know where to start. We wanted to show that science is indeed everywhere, changing our daily lives one discovery at a time.

So, in our last article for the year, we share three headlines that would make you rethink science and daily life – from antibiotics, to beer, to the scientifically perfect Christmas song. (Christmas is coming, time to get festive!)

A Chemical Alternative to Antibiotics

You may have heard of antibiotic resistance, where bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to misuse or overuse. This is worrying as it means antibiotics are becoming less effective in treating infections – think pneumonia, tuberculosis and blood poisoning, to name a few. Research shows that a certain chemical extracted from broccoli could be an alternative to antibiotics.

In this study, Ben Gurion University’s Prof. Ariel Kushmaro and his colleagues treated pigs, each with several wounds, with an ointment containing diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM is a naturally-occurring chemical found in broccoli, cauliflower and other vegetables. The team found that as compared to wounds treated with antibiotics, those treated with DIM healed twice as fast. DIM works by interfering with chemical signalling between bacteria, which makes them more vulnerable to the body’s natural immune system. The team hopes to test this strategy on human wounds, and provide an alternative to antibiotics in the long term.

Can Beer Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Beer has been a crowd favourite through the history of humankind. (Fun fact: Did you know that the earliest archaeological evidence of beer dates back to 13,000 years ago?) Now, scientists might have found yet another reason for us to love this historically popular choice of booze.

Beer gets its distinctive bitter taste from hops, i.e. flowers of the hop plant. (Another fun fact: other than providing flavour, hops also act as a preservative in beer. This was very important in the past when refrigeration was not invented yet.) In early-November this year, an Italian research team reported that chemicals extracted from hops can inhibit the clumping of amyloid beta proteins in a lab setting. Why this matters: amyloid beta protein clumping in the brain is widely considered to be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder often marked by memory loss and personality changes in older adults.

Illustration of differences between a healthy brain and an Alzheimer’s brain. For the latter, amyloid beta proteins accumulate and form plaques (clusters), impairing the brain’s function.

In this study, the researchers were exploring the use of “nutraceuticals”, or foods with some type of medicinal value, to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. They created extracts from four varieties of hops using a method similar to beer-brewing. In the process, they found that the Tettnang hop (found in lagers and lighter ales) extract contains a high level of polyphenols, and most effectively prevented amyloid beta proteins from aggregating.

Image of the Tettnang hop, which originates from Swabia, Germany.

Furthermore, the team found that the Tettnang hop extract protected lab-grown worms (C-elegans) from Alzheimer-like paralysis… but only at a certain concentration. So for now, drinking more pale ales would not help keep dementia away; but, the team is hopeful that hop compounds could be developed as a nutraceutical to prevent Alzheimer’s in the future.

The (Scientifically) Perfect Christmas Song

We got to admit, this is not the newest of science news… but it fits nicely in a pre-Christmas Eye on Science article. Christmas songs come with all kinds of themes, tunes and moods. But, what would the most Christmassy of all Christmas songs sound like? That was exactly what two songwriters and a musicologist tried to create in 2017.

To find inspiration, the forensic musicologist from Berklee College of Music, Joe Bennett, analysed the top 200 Christmas songs streamed on Spotify in 2016. He created the following “recipe” for the perfect Christmas song:

– C or A major key.

– 4/4 time.

– Lyrics relating to Santa, snow, home/family, or being in love.

– Featuring sleigh bells.

– Approximately 115 beats per minute.

– Michael Buble singing.

This was where the songwriters worked their magic, and their creation was recorded by the London Community Gospel Choir. The end result was this:

So how did the song fair?

Honestly, not that well – as critiqued by Adam Behr, a lecturer in contemporary and popular music at Newcastle University. The song did not make it into the charts, much less the popular festive playlist. As it turns out, the final missing ingredient is the sense of nostalgia we often get from Christmas songs. There is no shortcut to creating this nostalgia other than playing the same song every year. This explains why many of the popular Christmas songs tend to be oldies, or songs that you hear year-on-year in shopping malls. (Cue the Christmas song by Mariah Carey!)

A Thank-You Note

As we gear up for the festivities, we also remember that Christmas is a season for thanksgiving and gratitude. As such, we would like to thank the wonderful team of writers from the Singapore Academy of Young Engineers and Scientists (SAYES) that made “Eye on Science” possible. In chronological order of publishing: Anshika, Amber, Karthik. Yi Zhi and Samiksha. Special shoutout to the editorial team of I Saw the Science – Eugene, Mei Bao and Lydia for your tireless guidance on our article drafts.

Wishing you a great festive season, and we’ll be back again next year!



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Written by Chang Jing Yi
Illustrated by Lee Ai Cing


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