The neanderthal lurking within

Sometimes in the course of writing a novel, an author will find a minor character becoming much more interesting than expected and a once major character fading. This has happened as I pen Book Three of the Unstable States Series. A minor character, a Neanderthal escort, became more important and a henchman was moved to a minor character. Cavemen Crispers (genetically modified erotic partners) were briefly mentioned in Book 2. Here, I quote a scene from Lost in Waste in which the protagonist asks a genetically modified male stripper, Ohho, if he has seen her genetically modified philosphically-minded stripper boyfriend, Remmer:

I was going to wet my pants before I learned anything of value from Ohho. Still, I had to try.

            “Do you know any stripping philosophers?” I asked. “Have you met a red-haired guy with a roundish nose who’s new in town?”

            “Philosophers?”

            “Someone who wonders about what if we lived in a cave? That kind of thing.”

            “A caveman. Good idea. We’ll add one. You get a free pass to the next show.”

I’ve had cavemen on my mind these past few months. Of course, this Neanderthal interest didn’t come out of the blue. Several family members turned over their DNA to 23andme as part of their Parkinson’s study. No evidence of a genetic link to Parkinson’s was found in our family. We did, however, have plenty of Neanderthal DNA. Being from mostly North Western European ancestry, this is not surprising. Most Eurasians & Native Americans have a small but significant amount of Neanderthal DNA– upwards of 4%. In chemistry, we’d call this a major component. In fact, even Africans contain some (although usually less than 1%) Neanderthal. Neanderthal DNA is everywhere.

There’s plenty of agreement on how Neanderthals looked when they lived 250,000 years ago–they were strong and sturdy, compact with a prominent brow, sloping, skull, large nose, and small eyes. They had good dexterity and loved tools. Around 40,000 years ago, they met up with ancient humans who spread into their territory. It’s suggested that humans, with the help of dogs, out-hunted the Neanderthals. Neanderthals hunted with spears in intimate combat with their prey. Humans hunted in tandem with dogs, which chased down prey and surrounded it before the humans moved in for the kill. It’s possible that this allowed modern humans to kill bigger prey. Human had dogs and killed mammoths. Neanderthals didn’t. (They possibly ate wolf/dogs.)

Neanderthal women probably had an easier time giving birth than we moderns, nursed their babies, and had grandmothers helping. But interestingly enough, all of the human-Neanderthal DNA discovered so far comes from female humans mating with male Neanderthals.

Evolutionary genetics points to things which are troublesome today such as ADHD and blood that clots easily,-as being of benefit to ancient hunter-gatherers, and humans prior to the past 10,000 years. These traits probably came from Neanderthals.

Modern people of Eurasian ancestry have thousands of Neanderthal DNA fragments. Neanderthal DNA is associated with depression (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder & depression from disruption in circadian rhythms) & skin lesions resulting from sun exposure (keratosis). “Neanderthal alleles” are associated with an urge for tobacco use.  Bladder dysfunction and respiratory illnesses is blamed, in part, on Neanderthal DNA. Neanderthals introduced light skin and eyes to modern humans–although they had a variety of skin and eye color. They even might have been the first humans to have had blood type O. They are thought to have been night owls.

Neanderthals did not easily absorb thiamine–found abundantly in meat. Some source speculate that people with Neanderthal genes may have a tendency towards thiamine deficiency which might even cause or be related to alcoholism. But not all Neanderthal genes are bad–besides muscular strength, the DNA gives immune systems a boost–especially in fighting viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. But perhaps the active immune system can also cause allergies.

It’s not certain if the aforementioned traits are solely due to Neanderthal DNA. There’s still much to be learned. One of the happiest people I’ve known had relatively lots of Neanderthal DNA and never drank, smoked, or got sun-damaged skin. Did not much care for dogs.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing, keep my circadian rhythms on an even keel, and eat a lot of thiamine.

keratosis skin lesions are usually harmless and associated with Neanderthal DNA

Teaching during COVID

As we return to the classroom, keep in mind that teachers have a higher rate of COVID than most of the population. One reason we don’t know more is that not enough data has been taken. Most states and the federal government have turned their backs on teachers.

How safe is it to open schools? That depends on how fast the cases in the area are rising. K-12 schools do not spread the virus more than any other place in the community, but they are not safe once the virus has gotten a foothold.“Once you get to a certain point of community infection rates, it does look like being in-person … is associated with COVID spread in the community,” said Katharine Strunk, an author of the study and professor at Michigan State University

It goes without saying that teachers are frightened. They will stand in line overnight if they have to to get the vaccine. Additionally, teacher morale has declined.

It also is important to note the importance of having a teacher who is dedicated to learning and knowledge, is kind and sensitive to different learning styles, and who understands the learning environment of the students. Interestingly enough, it is the teacher, and not the classroom, that helps students learn. Being morally fair and respectful is important in helping students learn. Teachers need to feel as if they want to be in the classroom. Teacher engagement and autonomy is at the core of an effective classroom. Keeping teachers safe should be of utmost importance and can be a learning experience in itself. If we want students to value other people and to care about society, we must keep teachers safe.

What are ways to keep teachers and schools safe?

According to the Mayo clinic, things such as outdoor classrooms, sanitizing, wearing masks, one way patterns in classrooms and halls, providing plexiglass barriers, and allowing for flexibility (some classes held remotely if needed), and keeping class sizes small are all ways to cut down on covid spread in classrooms and schools.

One wrinkle to this picture comes from colleges and universities. Colleges and universities HAVE been associated with increased cases locally. Those which isolated students when they returned to campus, tested them upon return and frequently after, and held on-line classes for the first two weeks of return to campus, were less likely to be spreaders than those that took a less stringent approach. Another thing successful colleges did was to switch everyone to on-line instruction when cases rose over 10%. College sports, especially with fans in the stands, are another vector associated with community spread. If sports themselves contribute to spread is not clear, but not all sports are equal. It comes as no surprise that football, wrestling, lacrosse, cheer, and dance are among the riskiest sports.

Many students do as well or better when college courses are on-line, but not all feel this way. However, switching to remote learning when cases rise and keeping students on-campus is safest for the community.

Teachers feel thrown to the wolves, in the lion’s den, and at the mercy of decisions made by those who are not and never have been teachers. They are tired of being “the giving tree.” On a personal level, I’ve had a hard time sleeping, which can manifest into a hard time thinking. I even did a little sleepwalking during which I changed a lightbulb. Hopefully, a vaccine will make this a thing of the past, but schools need to be better prepared for the next time.

I get ready to enter my building to teach chemistry lab.

A Film You Never Want to See

When it comes to lurking dangers in your home, have you considered your rubber duckies lately? A 2018 study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois published in the Journal Biofilms and Microbiomes says you should. Scientists cut open toys used at bathtime, cultured them, and found almost all of them contained fungi and bacteria, included Legionella (which can cause a fatal pneumonia-like illness) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which can cause a host of problems, including skin rash and sores with sweet-smelling pus). The toys were so contaminated with a living film of germs, they could not be cleaned, except by boiling them. The scientists concluded that although children might benefit from a little challenge to the immune system, squirting bath toys into their faces should be discouraged because it’s too germy. Only toys that completely dry should be used in the tub! The filthy film can be found in places beyond the rubber duckies.

Cheap plastic such as PVC+ dirty water + soap grows a biofilm. Biofilms are easily detected as a slimy surface. According to Food Poisoning Bulletin, “Biofilm is a kind of slime made of protein that surround the bacteria, allow them to communicate with each other, and protect them from disinfectants. Biofilms are common in Reusable Plastic Containers (RPC). “What was striking about this study, the bacteria “not only attached to the RPC but could not be dislodged by either sanitizers or physical scrubbing.”

Plastic is not an easy to clean material. Biofilms can explain bacterial antibiotic resistance. They are gangs of bacteria. They are why you need to take your full dose of antibiotics. They are on slippery rocks. They are in your mouth as dental plaque. Yup, pretty much everywhere. Bacteria are pretty darn social.

Medical devices such as catheters pacemakers, IUDs, breast implants, and plastic heart valves can harbor biofilms. (Fortunately, antimicrobial plastics are now being used in these devices.) They can lurk under shampoo bottles left in the shower, and at the bottom of shower curtains, in your toilet bowl, in your humidifier, appearing as a pink ring or stain. What other household item regularly sits with water inside? Your garden hose! If soap dispensers are not cleaned regularly, yes, they will grow biofilms inside. The best way to avoid a biofilm in the house is to keep things dry and clean your sinks, showers, and toilets weekly. Keep bottles out of the shower when not in use. Regularly clean soap dispensers.

Biofilms can form on pool toys. If water puddles or soaks into anything plastic, the resulting bacteria can cause a rash or ear infections. Plastics used for pool fun should not be stacked but dried in the sun and disinfected with chlorine or other cleaners periodically. Biofilms can also be formed on decks if they don’t dry out!

Biofilms form on discarded plastic and microparticles of plastic in aqueous environments such as lakes and oceans. Tiny bits of plastic that harbor bacteria on the surface, the plastisphere, has been studied extensively. The particles can transmit disease, especially to aqueous animals, and encourage algae growth, although most of the plastisphere bacteria is not harmful.This is, however, another reason why plastic waste is such a problem in the oceans.

I’m tossing out old plastic bath toys and getting my bottles out of the shower. Hopefully, I will never see the dreaded “pink ring” of biofilm again.

First men in the moon: 100 + years of lessons not learned

First encounter with Selenites living inside of the moon

One of my favorite classic sci-fi novels is HG Wells’s First Men in the Moon. Written in 1900 and published as a novel in 1901, it tells the story of a businessman and a scientist who take a trip to the moon, thanks to the invention of a new substance that acts as an anti-gravity shield. Not only do I find the premise of an anti-gravity shield delightful, the reactions of the two characters, stereotyped although they may be, rings true, especially now as we see the pandemic play out. The pair encounters a new civilization on the moon and while the scientist promotes cautious study, the businessman can think of nothing but exploitation. As I contemplate coerced returning to work, as a teacher, even though scientists warn against it, I am struck by the lack of moral leadership in education these days. The reason for this is simple: schools are expected to be run as businesses. And some of that push, from the outgoing secretary of education, who never went to a public school in her life, is that they must remain open, pandemic be damned.

The trouble with education as a business is that education is not a business. It’s meant to be a form of philanthropy for the good of society. As we move away from that ideal, into perversions such as public-private partnerships, we burden our education system with private agendas. Some of these agendas are simple things such as workforce development and career academies teaching things like welding, culinary arts, and nursing assistant skills. My college even got a grant for some of this, called Talent Pipeline, meant to aid coronavirus relief. Ironically, you can click the link and see our “only business matters” governor smiling at young people. There is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned careers. The problem comes when college and universities are hamstrung by them to the point where they cannot afford to provide any moral leadership. The money could have been used to improve ventilation in classrooms or help those with no access to the technology needed for remote learning. Instead, we teach welding because local companies want welders. Your tax dollars will do this for them.

Currently, doctors and hospitals have seen a surge in cases and have urged people to shelter this holiday season. We know that young people (not little kids) are spreading the virus. They are the main spreaders. Many people now filling the hospitals have been traced to young people congregating. Some colleges are doing the right thing. Extreme testing has kept rates nar 0.1 % at some colleges. Yet many secondary schools and colleges, especially in the grain belt, have not taken steps to do anything because they are run like businesses and abdicate their moral responsibility to be leaders. Even worse, many religious organizations have also abdicated this responsibility. Instead of modeling selflessness, selfishness abounds. Scientists have had to take on the role of telling people what they should do morally to protect other people. Not schools, not churches–scientists. Guess what–that very scenario played out in First Men in The Moon. And, not to spoil it for you, but the businessman learns nothing from it. Nothing.

Learn or exploit?

Curious Rebels

Science is a new endeavor, being around 400 years old. It’s assumptions are simple, but limited.

1. Nature can be understood. 2. Science can be verified.  Under the same circumstances, nature can be perceived in the same way by all observers. Repeatability is important to science. Measurement allows for duplication of results. 3. Human reason is adequate to understand nature. 4. Every effect has a natural cause.

The word “science” is based on the Latin word for “knowledge”. Science searches for order in nature.Science is a body of knowledge based on OBSERVATION. It’s dynamic, meaning that it is ever changing in content. It is a quest for understanding requiring Curiosity—asking questions, Creativity—ability to solve new problems, reasoning ability, and more recently Team work.

It’s certainly changed the world and killed superstition. However, Stripped of its glamor, day to day science can be routine and even boring. Or perhaps, at the best of days, familiar. Why does a person undertake being a scientist? Scientists are often driven by having outsider status.

In the book The Scientist as Rebel (2006) Freeman Dyson makes this statement.  “There is no such thing as a unique scientific vision.  Science is a mosaic of partial and conflicting visions.  But there is one common element in these visions.  The common element is rebellion against the restrictions imposed by the locally prevailing culture.”

Michael Strevens, a philosopher at New York University, supports this notion. He aimed to identify that special something that drives people to collect data. The something special, he says, is that they want to produce new evidence to argue with. He maintains, it is “the key to science’s success,” because it “channels hope, anger, envy, ambition, resentment—all the fires fuming in the human heart—to one end: the production of empirical evidence.”

I was a curious little girl, always asking why and what if. And science suits me. The routine is a comfort and the new is a thrill.But I might not have become a scientist at all if I hadn’t been told I couldn’t do it.

Thus,it should come as no surprise that the most recent winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry are two women. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. The two are noted for their development of a bacteria based gene editing technique known as CRISPR.

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs, are repeating sequences found in the genetic code of bacteria. Bacteria use specific CRISPR associated genes as a defense mechanism against viruses. Viruses are as dangerous to bacteria as they are to us. In the CRISPR process, a protein is produced. It cuts viral genetic material, and the bacteria pockets it as a mug shot to use to identify the virus. Thus, the technique can cut and store bits of DNA in a cell’s strand.

For more information, watch this.

Fanciful Illustration of crispr gene engineering

Scientists are curious rebels. They don’t accept the limitations of society and those with something to prove are among the most successful. It can be argued that to teach conformity and acceptance is to snuff out the scientific spirit.

Freeman Dyson warns, “If science ceases to be a rebellion against authority, then it does not deserve the talents of our brightest children…We should try to introduce our children to science today as rebellion against poverty and ugliness and militarism and injustice.”

Scientists are inherently skeptical and require a lot of proof for a new idea.  They are also curious and like new ideas. This creates a tension. Most scientists enjoy and celebrate this tension.

And with this new Nobel, I have something to celebrate, since the CRISPR technique is used in my latest novel Lost in Waste. Catch the Crispr fever! For a copy click here, or comment.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And thanks to Curious Rebels forty years ago, the default for scientist is no longer a man.

A COVID treatment for the powerful

The president’s COVID treatment seems to have worked, or so he claims.

At its heart, it was made from Designer antibodies from humans who have recovered from Covid and from mice who have been designed to have a human immune system.

What are antibodies? To understand them we need to review how viruses work.

Viruses are bits of genetic material that come in coatings that are covered with protein bits with a unique shape. These protein bits are called antigens. Antigens are how scientists identify viruses. They are like the calling card of a virus. Each one is unique to that type of virus. Technically anything that produces an immune response is an antigen. In COVID-19, the “spike protein” sticking out all over like a crown is considered the antigen. Proteins elicit an immune response, unlike the fatty lipid blob that contains the rest of the virus. The spike protein allows the virus to interact with our cells, penetrate them, and inject the viral material into our cells where it uses our cell mechanisms to reproduce itself. Yes, the viral infection is a lot like our cells getting raped and impregnated with a virus.

Antibodies may also be able to treat cancer. Image from cancer.gov

White blood cells recognize a virus as dangerous and cover the anitigens with antibodies to neutralize them. Other white blood cells can then eat the virus. Antibodies have to be tailored for each virus. Vaccines work by teaching white cells how to make the right antibody so they can leap into action without the learning curve. Keeping away from the virus and wearing a mask is like an abstinence only class while a vaccine is more like sex education with a pregnancy prevention compoenent.

In general, antibodies look like Ys under a microscope and you can buy antibody pins, lanyards, phone grips and facemasks. In the latter, the antibodies are shown with weapons–an axe, an arrow, and magic.

The president got a dose of these antibodies equal to three to four times the amount a human needs. Should the rest of us expect such treatment to be available soon? In a word, NO.

Supplies are limited because, in part, because Operation Warp Speed is more show than go when it comes to investment. Yes, it is a cheaply funded program which means most of us won’t able to afford this treatment.

The cost of monoclonals, especially for the higher doses needed for treatment, could split the world into the haves and have-nots. “It’s unlikely that that treatment will get down to a price point in the near future that it would be easily affordable globally,” says Seth Berkley, who leads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and also heads an international COVID-19 vaccine effort.

A deadly virus which may cause sterility in males and a cure only available to some. Doctors are stuck saving the very person who got us into this mess, a man they condemn. I guess for most of us, it’s going to be abstinence only.

Labor’s unappreciated benefits

I was surprised that a friend recently didn’t know what the UAW sticker on my car meant. Sadly, there are many people who probably don’t appreciate what organized labor has done for us. The UAW, or United Auto Workers, has been around since 1915. Its president had this to say in a recent statement :

“Labor Day is the day that we celebrate and recognize the spirit, strength and life-changing contributions of working men and women across this nation. It is the voice, the sacrifice and the unwillingness to give up that defines our labor movement and our union.

So, I would like to remind all of us that it is labor that built America and America’s middle class. It is labor that has brought us fair wages, health care benefits, retirement, health and safety standards, a voice in the workplace and so much more. It is labor that stands up to social and civil injustice and it was the working men and women of this nation that stepped up when our country was in need of critical life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Our brothers and sisters were among the first to go to work to make PPE, to make ventilators, to staff food banks and help out in countless ways in communities from coast to coast. But then, that is what we do — and what we have always done.”

Organized labor has always been there for the working class.

In 1961, the UAW at GM, union won the” first fully paid hospitalization and sick benefits, and agreement for no discrimination on basis of race, creed, color or national origin.”

The UAW has lobbied for a Civil Rights Law, formation of OSHA, an Election Day paid holiday for auto workers, and to protect workers in numerous industries.

Before the labor movement gained steam in the 1800s, workers were overworked, underpaid, and not protected from workplace dangers. Children labored beside adults and were often victims of workplace safety lapses.

Strikes, protests, and riots were effective in getting organized labor some concessions from the rich overlords. Wealthy women such as Jane Addams supported the labor movement in its infancy. Child labor was ended in 1881, although not for farm workers. In 1938, the work week was dropped from 100 hours to 40 and a minimum wage was established.

President Reagan was a notorious union-buster and closed down OSHA offices to make conditions less safe. Since his election in 1980, wages have remained stagnant except for the wealthy. The decline of unions has been cited as a contributing factor for flat wages. Inequality and deregualtion, especially in other countries, also take a share of the blame for our huge wage gap, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more progressive tax structure would help solve the problem of income inequality.

Meanwhile, “labor unions have proven to be the only consistently effective mechanism for enabling workers to express their concerns and exert significant influence in the workplace..unions have benefited not only members, but the workforce as a whole.”

Labor Unions and workers have been significantly beaten up by politicians as of late. Even if, like most of us, you aren’t in a labor union, it’s time to give them, and workers, respect and to pay attention to the damaging policies enacted over the past few years by politicans who claim to represent the working class but favor the wealthy instead. President Trump even indicted Ronald Reagan into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame. We workers have paid the price for one bad president long ago. Let’s hope there isn’t more price to be paid.

Meanwhile, we can thank the UAW for providing protective equipment such as masks and gowns and equipment such as ventillators for healthcare professionals and workers during the pandemic when our elected officals couldn’t seem to get it done because, they didn’t want to.

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What’s the spread?

The pandemic brought out the urge for comfort foods and panic eating in many people, including me. One thing I indulged in was butter on homemade bread. But with all of the discussion on the relationships between fat, covid complications and obesity, I grow concerned about my new eating habits. I asked myself, how bad is butter?

Some studies have said that butter isn’t all that bad for you.

The alternative, margerine, is syntheic and at one time was made from laboratory created trans fats. Trans fats, along wih their identical twin saturated fats, in simple terms, are solid at room temperature as opposed to unsaturated fats, which are liquid. Trans fats are hard on blood vessels and can damage the inner lining.

We all need some fat. Fat is needed for brain function. It’s needed for hormones and reproduction. (although too much is detriental to fertility). In fact, fat and cholesterol are important starting materials in making sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. However, too much of some fats can increase the damaging LDL (Low-density lipoproteins ) form of cholesterol. This type of cholesterol packs a choleresterol punch and provides an excess and even worse, it doesn’t move around in your body easily. It plugs up your arteries instead of doing much good. HDL, however, contains more protein, which is used to help move cholesterol to the proper spots.

With this in mind, I read an interesting study from the Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine published in March 2018. Men and women between 50-75 years old were divided into three groups and given 50 g of one source of fat to eat as a suppliment or use instead of other fat in their normal diets. Their blood serum chloresterol, weight, and body measurements were taken before the study and after four weeks.

The three fats were

butter- an animal derived saturated fat (solid at room temperature)

coconut oil -a plant derived saturated fat (solid at room temperature)

olive oil -a plant derived unsaturated fat liquid (although it also is high in saturated fats as well).

All of the fats were organic.

After the results were reviewed four weeks later, the participants had not gained weight or body mass. All groups had slightly higher total cholesterol, with olive oil showing the least change. However, the butter group had the highest increase in cholesterol and less good cholesterol and much higher bad cholesterol. The other groups, coconut and olive oil, had mostly increased good chloresterol, with coconut oil increasing the most.

This study only examined three fats and only for a short amount of time. It was enough to jolt me back into healthier eating habits. Only four weeks of butter eating made a big impact, adding 30% more bad cholesterol. As for margarine, most no longer contains trans fats, which have been banned. However, I don’t like the taste. I for one am going switch to olive oil and when it comes to fat, I’ll read the label with an eye towards less saturated fat and no trans fat.

Which one will it be?

Is it the hand sanitizer?

You go through your day in a fog. You’re tired all day but jazzed at night. You get in the car and can barely drive. You have a headache and congestion and maybe a cough due to post nasal drip but no fever. You ask yourself, is it covid? Ask a second question: how much hand sanitizer did I use today?

In these times, I find myself drifting between normalcy and hypochondria. If I have a period of time when I can isolate, I am at peace, but if I have to go out, I might not be able to sleep afterwards. Yes, it could be anxiety. Or is it the hand sanitizer? Today, I got in the car for a grocery pick up. A delivery driver pulled up. I didn’t want to leave the package sitting on the porch. I put on a mask, got out, retrieved the package, got back into the car, and generously used hand sanitizer.

The grocery pick up involved popping the trunk for the grocery delivery, closing it, and driving away. But I felt bad, like I had stumbled in a hole. In fact, I got out of the car in the garage and I almost did stumble. Worried, I took my temperature. It was normal. Then, I thought through the chain of events and took a moment to review the hazards of the active ingredient in my hand sanitizer, ethanol. Here it is:

Do not breathe mist, spray, vapors
Wash exposed skin thoroughly after handling
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product

I had the sanitizer in my hot car even though another hazard reads: Store in a well-ventilated place. Keep cool.

From another site:

Inhalation: Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. Causes respiratory tract irritation. May cause narcotic effects in high concentration. Vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation. 

As a chemist, I should have known better than to use hand sanitizer in a hot car with the windows rolled up. It’s basically booze.

From a study in 2017 “Inhaled alcohol may be associated with enhanced behavioral effects including increased risk of addiction. “:

The study includes this chart:

From Alcohol Clin Exp Res
 2017 Feb;41(2):238-250.
 doi: 10.1111/acer.13291. Yale based reserch group

In other words, not much is known about inhalation of alcohol, but it does get into your blood more quickly and at a higher concentration than if you drink it. Alcohol can cause covid-like symptoms such as a headache and stuffy nose. Alcohol can make anxiety worse and cause sleep problems.

The bottom line is NOT that you should not use hand sanitizer. COVID is a dangerous virus. You must protect yourself. However: USE SPARINGLY AND IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA!

And of course, the best protection is quarantine, followed by masking. Hand sanitizer should not be used as an excuse to allow gatherings or to force workers into dangerous situations. It’s not a panacea, only a caution, and it has its own drawbacks. A better alternative to school situations is probably to have hand washing stations with soap and water in classrooms, similar to what you find at outdoor concerts and music festivals.


How important is natural hair?

The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, is one year old. The social implications of being able to wear your hair as you please are enormous but from a scientific standpoint, there’s even more reason to support going all natural. Some hair products, especially black dye and hair straightener, have recently been linked to breast cancer.

Eighty per cent of all women dye their hair. Dyes can be permeant or semi-permeant (last for 6 washes or so). Semipermanent dyes coat the hair and most are harmless. However, a few such as Grecian Formula, may contain lead based products and should be avoided.

Permanent dyeing opens and swells the cuticle, knocks out any color, and adds a large dye molecule. The first permanent dyes were made from coal tar in 1907. Hair dye has been around for a while and studied extensively. It’s known that only 1% of the dye gets into your scalp and if you get highlights or low lights, it’s even less since the dyes are applied away from the scalp in most cases. The dyes are not thought to be toxic or cancer causing, and yet, epidemiological studies have associated their use with breast cancer –a 7% rise in white women and 45% to 50% rise in black women who used dark hair dye. The risk was greater for those who dyed their hair at home. A chemical abbreviated PPD is found in greater amount in black hair dye. Dyes marketed to black women contain more endocrine disrupting chemicals as well.

Hair straighteners, used by 80% of black women to get a “European” look, are associated with an 18% rise in breast cancer by women of all colors.

Adana Llanos, a pioneer in this study, points out that the correlation does not prove that any type of hair dye or straighter causes cancer, only that there was previously no data looking at black women.

Researchers at Northwestern University have been looking at ways to make hair products safer, including developing dyes using pigments from black currents. In any case, hair style should not be one more arena where people have to fight for their lives. Celebrate natural hair!

From a display at the Charles H. Wright museum

This article is the basis for today’s blog.