Sam Westreich, PhD

That thing you do in meetings? It’s time to stop it — here’s why.

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Lady, the magnifying glass may have worked for Holmes, but it’s not doing it for you. And you’re getting lemon juice all over your book! Seriously, what are you even trying to do? Photo by Houcine Ncib on Unsplash

Let me assure you, dear reader, that I know quite a bit about feeling incredibly nervous as I stand in front of people who are certainly far smarter and more put-together than me.

I’ve stood there, quaking in my ill-fitting dress shoes, attempting to lead a presentation about a topic where I feel under-qualified and not nearly educated enough. …

Dams change how the Earth rotates. Are we going faster or slower?

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Too much work in your workday? If we just build a few more dams, we could extend the day to get enough hours to get everything done! Photo by T L on Unsplash

Allow me to provide the perfect excuse for why you don’t get everything done each day at work: a day is not, actually, 24 full hours.

It explains so much! According to Scientific American, one rotation of the Earth, in relation to a point on its central axis, is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.09 seconds. This means that each day, we’re planning for nearly four more minutes of accomplishment than what we actually are able to squeeze in!

In all seriousness, most of us probably have more than 4 minutes’ worth of work to accomplish. And I’m willing to admit that, at least for me personally, procrastination and internet-based distractions account for far more time wasted than the Earth’s rotation. …

The truth behind the Internet’s current debate. Also, say “moist” five times out loud

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This girl is undeniably wet. What she may not be, however, is okay. Should someone go check on her? Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

Good morning! Here’s a quick brain-teaser for you to think about, and maybe ask your colleagues in the first minutes of Zoom calls for the day:

Is water wet?

If you were to ask the popular YouTuber Chaz Smith, he’d tell you that the answer is an unequivocal no. Water is definitely not wet, he says:

Of course, he’s presenting this as a funny meme, but the question has persisted. Is water actually wet?

It’s probably a question of philosophy above all else, but let’s see what science says about it!

The Definition of Wetness

According to most scientific texts, wetness is a quality that can be measured. It is the ability of a liquid to adhere to the surface of a solid. When we say that something is wet, we mean that liquid is sticking to its surface. …

Here’s how different those supposedly “identical” twins really are

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Look at them! Those tattoos are totally different, and on different sides! “Identical twins”, my foot. Photo by Tiffany Combs on Unsplash

Growing up, we had a pair of identical twins in my school, and it was very unusual.

I could tell them apart… but only when both of them were standing together. They had slightly different personalities, but I didn’t doubt that one of them could easily pass for the other in a class or when hanging out with casual acquaintances.

They really looked as they’d both come from the same mold, and, in learning about them, I got my first taste of the wonders of genetics.

When it comes to twins, there are two types: identical twins, where both individuals came from the same zygote (fertilized egg), or fraternal twins, where each twin forms from a different egg but they both develop at the same time. …

Biotech has two worlds — and most newcomers aren’t prepared for the second

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I can tell from her face — this young woman just finished her first two weeks in a biotechnology lab, and she’s regretting her entire career path. “I should have been a model!” Photo by Marco Testi on Unsplash

I’ll admit: when I was younger, as an idealistic undergrad, I got sold on the flashy “new world” hype of biotechnology as a career path.

The whole industry is a combination of the cutting-edge advances in cyberpunk, combined with “first-thirty-minutes-of-Jurassic-Park” idealism about how we can master our world, become the creators and controllers of biology.

From the outside, looking in, there’s a ton of world-changing stuff going on in the field of biotechnology. Consider:

  • artificial limbs and advanced prosthetics that can be controlled by direct thought
  • new drugs to cure previously deadly and unstoppable diseases
  • genetic and genomic sequencing to understand how life works from the most basic building…

Jello shots aside, it’s not just drinks that ferment. These foods can contain alcohol.

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Good lord, that is a suggestive picture. Why would she take a picture like this… unless she was drunk! Drunk on those bananas! This is why people who eat fruit shouldn’t be allowed to drive, or use photography equipment. #banbananas Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

During my days in college, I seemed perfectly set to be a habitual consumer of alcohol. Member of a fraternity, invited out to parties, in a state where booze laws were pretty lax and with plenty of older friends.

Despite these “ideal conditions”, I never really enjoyed getting too drunk. I has a fairly low alcohol tolerance, and it went straight to my head; aside from a couple of wild nights, I generally quit after a drink or two.

Since those halcyon days of undergrad, I’ve further cut back on the drinking. Most of the alcohol I consume these days is in the form of tasting home-brewed concoctions, or the occasional glass of wine. …

How the “extinction burst” means we’ll see more bad behavior, not less

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I suppose a megaphone is less scary than a gun, at least. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Although I live out on the west coast of California, I have a close friend who lives in Washington, D.C., and is part of the United States political apparatus.

On Wednesday, when protests by Trump supporters turned into riots and anarchy as the protesters fought their way into government buildings, I reached out to him to make sure he was safe. Thankfully, he was well away from the streets.

There are many articles and discussion around why the protest turned violent, how it became a mass of people who stormed the Capitol building, whether the police were complicit or if they merely underestimated the potential for violence, whether the individuals who lost their lives were committing crimes deserving of the outcome. …

Yes, you can have “too much of a good thing” — and it can have consequences

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Look at that pretty girl, that apple just chock-full of vitamins. Could it contain… too many vitamins? Could it kill her, like poor Sleeping Beauty? The tragedy, the horror! Photo by Kira Kira on Unsplash

When I was in college, I went through a brief but intense “vitamin phase,” perhaps better labeled as a vitamin craze.

It’s true that I was on the college diet, which meant that I mostly lived off of ramen noodles, instant macaroni and cheese bowls, pizza, and any free meals that I could scrounge from clubs or events. My primary focus for my diet was less on complete nutrition, and more on paying for a full week’s worth of meals without running out of money.

Suddenly, I realized, I knew what my problem was. …

And other shocking facts about these incredible, enduring fish

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This salmon did not get to swim upstream. Instead, it will become an overpriced entree at a restaurant. Tragedy. Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

It’s a classic wildlife scene, showing the strength and brutality of nature: a salmon swims through a rushing stream, fighting its way against the current to ascend, leaping out of the water to climb over obstacles — only to be snagged by a waiting bear who is hungry for a meal.

Salmon are one of the most well-known examples of anadromous fish — that is, fish that migrate from the sea to rivers in order to spawn. …

Trump’s update left out a critical recommendation, against the advice of experts

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“Ah, three tiny tomatoes. That fulfills my vegetable recommendation. Now, I can eat an entire tub of ice cream!” Photo by Davies Designs Studio on Unsplash

Back in elementary school, I remember gazing with mingled interest and boredom at the food pyramid, the recommendation of a healthy diet as issued by the FDA.

About

Sam Westreich, PhD

PhD in genetics, bioinformatician, scientist at a Silicon Valley startup. Microbiome is the secret of biology that we’ve overlooked.

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