Have I mentioned lately how awesome chemistry is? It’s pretty freaking awesome. I’ve learned several things this week that absolutely blew my mind, so, naturally, I’m going to share them with you (yay, sharing!).
The first thing has to do with Scotch tape. I don’t usually jump up and down with excitement over my chemistry textbook, but this week’s chapter on spectroscopy and light contained some information that was jump-worthy (to my roommate’s surprise). Apparently, if you peel a roll of Scotch tape in a 1.3µbar vacuum (that’s an enclosed space with very, very low pressure), it actually emits x-rays strong enough to create the image of a finger bone on dental film in a mere second. Electrons sometimes suddenly accelerate as the adhesive strip is separated from its backing creating a visible stream of blue light (1). It only occurs in a vacuum, probably because moisture in the air acts as a short circuit to the movement of electrons in the tape. In addition, different brands of tape give off different spectrums of light. There are all kinds of potential applications for this strange phenomenon from electron-bursts directed at cancer cells to research in nuclear fusion (2). My roommate and I peeled some tape in the dark in our dorm room and
freaked out about observed the same glow-in-the-dark-esque light emission that was observed by scientists in 1939. Pretty incredible, if you ask me.
The second thing has to do with apples. Again with the apples, I know. But this doesn’t have anything to do with cider. In the April 8, 2013 edition of Chemical and Engineering News in the Government and Policy section (31-33), there’s an article (“Engineered Apples Near Approval”) about genetically engineered apples that don’t brown. There’s a good chance that these apples will be approved for use in the U.S. because there’s really no reason not to grow them except for a few concerns about very unlikely cross-pollination with other apple trees. The Arctic Granny Smith apples that are being modified by Okanagan Specialty Fruits of British Columbia have simply had a gene inserted that is a duplicate of a gene apples already contain (the one that causes a chemical reaction that results in browning). The duplication causes cells to undergo a natural process that prevents double-genes from appearing. This technique is known as co-suppression, and the gene insertion is performed using a modified bacterium. There are a lot of good reasons to make these apples. Money will be saved for growers, packers, and retailers who won’t have to worry about brown spots on bruised apples. In addition, the consumer will throw away less fruit. The modified Arctic Granny Smith performed just as well as other apples against pests and diseases, so the concerns about proliferating orchards with a more susceptible variety were eradicated. The nutritional value of the apple also improves because the chemical largely responsible for browning, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO), breaks down the antioxidants in the apple’s flesh when exposed to air. Without that enzyme, more antioxidants remain intact for consumption. I’m not totally pro-GMO or anything because some of them (like Monsanto’s NewLeaf potatoes that produce their own pesticides) are kind of unnerving from an environmental stand point. I think that making apples that don’t brown is a good use of our understanding of genes. Plus, it’s pretty nifty.
Finally, the article right after the one about apples (“Reviving the Dead,” 34) summarizes a TED-talk about de-extinction. With our ever-increasing understanding of genomes, it’s apparently now possible to bring extinct species back into existence. The article says, “The talks were not about mere possibilities. Recent advances in cloning, genetic engineering, stem cell research, and other scientific fields have brought humans much closer to [bringing extinct animals back]. One of the biggest announcements at the conference was the successful creation of a gastric-brooding frog embryo. The frog has been extinct since 1983.” So, basically, now we have to decide whether or not it’s ethical to bring extinct species back that might no longer have habitats. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not it would be right to re-create a species just to keep it locked up zoos or labs. Our bio-technology has advanced more quickly than we’ve been able to repair environments. Also very interesting.
That’s all for today’s post. I hope you find these tidbits as fascinating as I did. Keep reading! Subscribe! I’ll be updating monthly or so from now on : )
(1) Harris, Daniel C. “18: Let There Be Light.” Quantitative Chemical Analysis. 8th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 389. Print.
(3) Bettenhausen, Craig. “Engineered Apples Near Approval.” Chemical and Engineering News (2013): 31-33. Print.
(4) Heidari, Nader. “Reviving the Dead.” Chemical and Engineering News (2013): 34. Print.