These sponges go to 14

Friend of barfblog, and frequent contributor (and modeler extraordinaire), Don Schaffner writes,

I’m always interested in the way microbiology is perceived in the popular culture. When peer reviewed research articles get wide pick up, I’m especially interested. This happened recently with an article on kitchen sponges. Rob Mancini has already blogged about this right here on barfblog, but I’d like to share my thoughts and perspectives.

The fact the kitchen sponges can be massively contaminated by high levels of microorganisms is not news. This has been shown repeatedly in the peer reviewed literature.

What was apparently new in this latest article was the application of “454–pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes and fluorescence in situ hybridization coupled with confocal laser scanning microscopy (FISH–CLSM)”. And I get it. Molecular-based methods are all the rage, and the ability to visualize the presence of microorganisms is very important.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that experimental design, and proper experimental controls are important no matter what sort of science you’re doing. When I dug a little deeper into the above article I was shocked to learn that all of their conclusions were based on a sample of 14 sponges. That’s right, 14 sponges. Furthermore, the authors make claims that “sponge sanitation methods appear not sufficient to efectively reduce the bacterial load in kitchen sponges”. How did they know this? Well when they were collecting those 14 sponges they asked the sponge owners “to specify whether they regularly apply special measures to clean their sponge. The procedures mentioned were: heating in a microwave and rinsing with hot, soapy water”. Of the 14 sponges collected, in five cases the sponge owners reported applying special measures, although the authors do not which of the five used microwaving and which used rinsing with hot, soapy water.

What’s my take away message from this? By all means, go out there and use the hot new technology. But please don’t forget that sample size is very important, and while surveying people for their opinion about what they do might be convenient, it’s no substitute for actually investigating. And if I had to predict the effect of washing sponges with hot soapy water? Probably no different than washing in cold soapy water.

And if anybody out there has access to “454–pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes and fluorescence in situ hybridization coupled with confocal laser scanning microscopy (FISH–CLSM)“ and wants to collaborate, I am available.

Bridesmaid chokes to death on her own vomit after excessive drinking session at Chinese wedding

I thought it was only drummers that did that – Keith Moon, John Bonham.

bridesmaid_chokes_to_death_on_her_own_vomit_after_excessive_drinking_session_at_chinese_wedding_1_2And Bon Scott.

A night of merriment ended in tragedy when a bridesmaid choked to death on her own vomit from drinking too much.

In a series of video clips, the 28-year-old woman is seen knocking back a glass of liquor with her male friends at a wedding banquet in Wenchang city, Hainan province.

She is then seen passed out and supported by her drinking companions.

After that, she is filmed being rolled away on a hotel baggage trolley.

The final video clip shows her in the hospital with doctors fighting to save her life by pumping on her chest but to no avail.

According to Shanghaiist, a lawyer said that revelers who encouraged her to drink bear some responsibility for her death.

Excessive drinking is common in China where the ability to out-drink peers and colleagues is seen as a marketable skill.


Atlanta woman finds ‘mammal bone’ in blue M&M

For years, stories have circulated about the outrageous demands rock stars – even Celine Dion – make for their backstage accommodations as part of concert contracts or riders.

Most famously, Van Halen included in the rider for its 1982 world tour that absolutely no brown M&Ms be found backstage (the band insists this was not rock star excess, but an easy way to check if concert promoters completely read the riders and paid attention to important things like the stage and lighting).

The satirical rockumentary  Spinal Tap contains a scene where Nigel complains about the backstage food and the little pieces of bread (below). They also insist on blue M&Ms only.

Fox News is reporting that an Atlanta woman took a bite of a blue peanut M&M and discovered what a local biologist says is a vertebra from a small mammal.

Potts is not currently pursuing a lawsuit against Mars, the global giant that owns M&Ms, but the issue kept gnawing at her, so on Tuesday she said she took the object to Professor Larry Blumer, director of environmental studies in the biology department of Morehouse College in Atlanta, for an examination.

"It’s definitely bone, and it came from some type of mammal," Blumer told "This isn’t [a] tail vertebra — it’s something higher up, and the reason I’m certain for that is because it’s hollow. The nerve cord would run through there."

On Wednesday upon learning of the incident, Mars issued a statement noting that food and product quality is of "paramount importance to Mars."