Archive for May, 2011

Gyoza are a Japanese rendition of an old Chinese recipe for pork dumplings. This is one of the more ubiquitous things Japanese families serve and are generally found in most restaurants, especially ramen stops and donburi places.  Some restaurants, like “Gyoza no Oo” (‘king of gyoza’), specialize in them.  These are so ubiquitous that grocery stores usually stock a manufactured freeze dried version.  Generally, they are served as a side dish or even a main course where a family will eat off of a large hot plate in a similar fashion to yakiniku.

The recipe is fairly easy and most of the ingredients can be found in a standard Asian foods grocery store.  The general ingredients are round gyoza wrappers, ground pork, garlic, nira (similar to chives or green onion), shredded cabbage, soy sauce, sake, ground fresh ginger and some black pepper for basic flavoring.  Additionally, we like to add some red miso paste, a little yellow onion and ground beef

This is the meat mix.

so that the meat is a 30/70 mix.  The miso paste is also something that we just like; it gives them an earthier, sweet taste.  Some recipes also add sesame oil to the mix, but I’m not really fond of it personally.  There are many locally accepted additions to this framework that are typically regionally famous.  For example, I’ve had crunchy renkon (lotus root) gyoza before, which was interesting as a local oddity.

Lets get down to it. Boil all vegetables until soft then cut and drain most of the excess water. Mix the pork, spices and a heaping spoon of miso paste.  Add a spoon of soy sauce and a spoon of sake.  These two ingredients and the pepper are generally to personal taste.  Cover the meat and let it stand for 10 minutes or so.

Next comes the tedious wrapping process:

The first thing you need to know is how to work with dumpling wrappers.  Dumpling wrappers work best when they are cold and usually people buy them in the store’s freezer section.  Let these thaw either in a fridge or outside to near room temperature. The key is to not let them get too warm or they’ll melt and stick together.  Once that happens there’s nothing you can really do with them.  Usually, they’re coated in starch to aid in the wrapping process by removing that extra moisture that’s always around in these climates.  The biggest point is to not let them get them wet before using them.  Take a small ball of meat and put it on the center of the wrapper then while in the palm of your hand line the edge of the wrapper with a little bit of water.  This will make it stick when you fold the wrapper up. Folding it is hard to describe, but pinch the outside edge and fold it over about 1 cm and repeat this 4-5 times. Set aside somewhere dry and wait to cook. Repeat this process several hundred times and you’re set for dinner.

To cook them place them in a fry pan and sear the bottom until golden brown.  This will help them release from the pan and give them a crispy skin once their done.  Once they’re browned, add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cover with a lid and listen to the sound.  When they’re done, you’ll hear the sound of the water boiling change to a higher note.  This means that most of the water should be boiled off and the gyoza should be ready to eat.  Cut the heat and enjoy.  We eat them right off the hot plate.  Another option aside from frying them would be to use them in soups, in a similar way to wonton soup in Chinese restaurants in the states.

One more thing, I almost forgot the sauce. People usually dip them in some kind of sauce, variations of which are almost endless.  You can buy them or make them from stuff in you kitchen.  Most of these sauces have a soy sauce base, with something else to give it a little spice.  I’ve used ponzu (a kind of citrus soy sauce), raiyu (red chill oil) or just delicious sriracha.  Some people also add sesame oil to the mix, but I’m not a fan.

Lonely prey, stalked, waits to be eaten


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Polyethers are made by the anionic polymerization of an epoxide and a strong base like an alkoxide ion. This reaction polymerizes the two compounds and creates repeating ether (R-O-R) links between them making long chain compounds from 300 g/mol to 10,000,000 g/mol. This kind of reaction is ended when an alcohol like methanol deactivates the end chain anion by donating a hydrogen atom. As for physical properties, they have a high solubility in water because of their ability to make hydrogen bonds. Industrially they are marketed under many names, but a carbowax (varied types) seems to be the most popular name.

These chemicals have a surprising amount of uses as surfactants in industry, including foods (filler: probably McD’s), cosmetics and pharmaceutics; in biomedicine, as dispersing agents (timed release medicines), solvents, ointment (the lube, dude: KY) and suppository bases (GoLYTELY, GlycoLax), vehicles (car waxes), new types of body armor (liquid sheer thinking fluid body armors), cloth and fabrics (think spandex), tablet excipients (inactive ingredients in vitamins medicines). They have a low toxicity (1) and are finding new use in the repair of damaged nerve cells in animal trials (2), as well as use as a colo-rectal cancer preventative.

Unfortunately, the human trials are too late for Christopher Reeve and others who suffer a similar fate, but perhaps they will happen sooner than we think and hopefully (if we’re lucky the research is applicable to humans) many will reap the rewards of this research. Trials have been conducted with guinea pigs, dogs and such with fairly encouraging results (2), but the effect on human damage is unknown. One thing is certain: its definitely not an ordinary laxative.

1. Toxicology


2. Animal tests:

though not applicable to humans, this link talks about its use as a colorectal cancer preventative:

3. Nerve guides help regeneration


4. general interest news


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As I was running yesterday a thought occurred to me as the steady, percussive hum of wings buzzed by me several times: one giant Asian hornet (an osuzumebachi) is startling, but several dozen is pretty scary. Apparently, I had run too close to a nest and had to hot foot it out; I was lucky.

These things are pretty amazing creatures, with an average body length of 2 inches and a wing span of 3, you will stand up and take notice when they fly past. As with many bee and hornet stings single stings can be deadly as a result of anaphylactic shock, but this is fortunately a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, the hornets are nothing to take lightly as the venom contains an interesting mix of nastiness, as well as a barbless stinger, which it can use repeatedly unlike regular honey bees. The venom contains neurotransmitters like serotonin and acetylcholine, which is responsible for pain transmission, a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin, tissue dissolving enzymes such as phospholipase-B, a mast cell degranulating peptide called mastoparan and a pheromone that instigates other hornets to swarm and attack. Aside from pain, the stings usually leave a dime-sized scar not unlike those of certain poisonous spiders in the southwestern US.

The hornets terrorize smaller, weaker prey like praying mantii and Japanese honey bees. The bee’s stingers are too small to penetrate the hornet’s tough, armored exoskeleton and thus have little defense from a full on attack. They reputably work with ruthless efficiency, a single hornet able to kill as many as 40 bees per minute and a few hornets only a few hours to slaughter a 30,000 bee colony. Interestingly, the bees have a small defense against them in their greater tolerance for heat. Typically, the bees will entice a scout inside the hive, where they will attempt to smother him in a bull rush. Once he is covered, the bees will vibrate their flight muscles increasing the heat in the area to around 47C. The hornets can’t survive past 45C, preventing the scout from calling reinforcements.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDSf3Kshq1M
Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpcHH1EpTZM

Even though, these may seem like kings of the forest, human initiative has once again found ways to make use of nature. The Japanese love energy drinks, one of the more famous products, VAAM is of particular note. As advertising shows it has been the favorite of many a marathon runner and endurance athlete. Yet a little less advertised fact is that it’s a chemical copy of the stomach contents of these hornets. More specifically, it is a copy of the secretions of the colony’s larvae, which the adults feed upon as they lack the ability to digest raw protein themselves. How’s that for wild? This mixture of predigested amino acids and sugars supposedly allows them to fly distances of 60 miles per day at rates of 25-40 miles per hour.

Sounds perfect for runners, now lets have a toast!

As gross as that sounds many professional athletes here swear by its supposed benefits and from personal experience it tastes pretty good. The question of the day, though, is one of efficacy: Does it work? Dr. Takashi Abe of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Japan seems to think so. “VAAM works by helping the body burn the energy it stores more efficiently”…”[It] expedites the metabolism of fat and promotes better hydration,” said Dr. Abe. Animal studies conducted by Abe concluded that mice that were fed VAAM could swim twice as long as those that were fed only water and 25% longer than those fed casein, a protein found in milk. Their blood also contained fewer fatty acids than those of the other groups, an indication of how efficiently the mice were burning their fat reserves. Details are sketchy as to how it might actually accomplish these feats. One possible route may be through the branched chain amino acids in it, which increase the effect of insulin in the body. The product contains a mixture of leucine, isoleucine and valine, of which leucine is considered the most effective at this. Leucine reportedly “increases insulin output by 221%,” if taken with carbohydrates after exercise.

If you’re thinking: “At last the perfect supplement to my admittedly weak dietary habits, that will propel me to epic heights of fame and fortune,” then you’re most likely going to be disappointed (mostly in yourself). I’ll save you the trouble and clue you in to something important: the supplement industry is mostly a joke played on the lazy for the fun of a few bored chemists. Though there might be a slight benefit to some supplementation, there is no substitute for hard work, but we delight in trying to make you think there is. (Next year’s big craze will be whale sperm marketed under the name SPEaRM—->.) On the other hand, if you’re looking to try something that tastes good to replenish your vital fluids during or after a workout, then this might be up your alley.

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In 1913, a Swiss chemist named Alfred Werner was awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry for his work on what would be called

Vanadium rainbow.

coordination chemistry, which would lead to a new understanding of how chemicals bond together. Coordination theory describes the nature of bonding in transitional metals and the formation of complexes, which at the time seemed to follow bizarre and unpredictable patterns. Atoms in groups 1-7A followed somewhat predictable patterns in their bonding as shown by classical experiments. For example, atoms in group I took on +1 charges and bonded once to other more negatively charged atoms like the group 7A halogens, but it remained a mystery how the transition metals bonded and why they had so many oxidation states.  Vanadium, for example, produces a wonderful rainbow of oxidation states when potassium permanganate is added to a Vanadium II solution.  Over time it separates into different states: V +2 is violet, V +3 is green, VO +2 is blue, VO2 +1 is pale yellow, MnO2 is brown and MnO4 –1 is pink.  In Werner’s time, the shape of salts like (CoCl3 * 6 NH3) were still undetermined and throughout much of the 1800’s one popular theory emerged: chain theory. It was supported by some of the most powerful chemist-sorcerers at the time, including Werner’s chief rival: S.M. Jorgensen.

Jorgensen believed that the ligands in compounds like (CoCl3 * 4 NH3) were arranged in chains, that is, bonded to each other in some fashion. The main point being that the atoms would follow known valence rules at the time, especially Kekule’s principle, which abstracted the number of times a compound could bond from known chemical reactions. Though useful, it ran into problems when trying to describe why atoms with larger electronic configurations bonded in so many different arrangements. Transitional metals in particular confounded these rule sets.

Werner, however, proposed a different theory that relied on the concept that cobalt (in the above compound) could have more than the three bonds predicted by Kekule’s theory and that the ligands would be centered around cobalt in an octahedrally arrangement, rather than in chains. According to his theory, a compound like the above due to its structure would have two possible conformations: a cis isomer (with chlorine atoms on adjacent vertices) and a more stability favored trans isomer (with the chlorine atoms on opposite side of one another). Interestingly, the two are identifiable by their color with the trans compound being green and cis being a delightful purple color

Naturally, this caused controversy amongst chemists and the debate began. At the time only the structurally favored green trans compound had been synthesized, while the more difficult cis compound was thought to be non-existent.  Cis compounds are generally less stable and in this case it is due to repulsions between the electronegative chlorine atoms positioned close to each other.  Whenever Werner published results that seemingly confirmed his theory, Jorgensen was there to propose a counter theory in favor of the more popular chain theory.   Chain theory had strength in the fact that there are many possibilities in the way ligands can be arranged in that manner.  Eventually, Werner was able to prove his case conclusively through a variety of methods like optical resolution of the compounds and electrical conductivity measurements. The capstone, as the story goes, was his synthesis of the elusive purple cis isomer of [Co (NH3)4 Cl3] and sending a sample through the mail to Jorgensen.  The flurry of high fives and  chest bumps went unabated for three months afterward and was actually seismically measured in Sweden.

Werner used this clever method to synthesize his purple cis isomer. By adding HCL at 0C, carbon dioxide is released and chlorine atoms in solution replace the oxygen atoms lost. (Note: picture does not show positive charge on Cobalt atom)

Transition metal like many of the blue colored above are used in a variety of reactions ranging from biological (Zn, Co, Cu, etc) to industrial (Os, V, Pb, Pt, etc).

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Once you get past learning the kana, the daunting task of learning kanji rears its ugly head. Even for the Japanese this task is troublesome, considering that businessmen pay premium dollar to pass the kanji kentei. Supposedly, fewer than 10% of the people taking the highest level test pass it. However, for most basic reading quite a few less than 6,000 are needed and most of them have a logical system to understand the meaning. In fact, the system is quite a lot like English prefixes with the prefix applying a general meaning to another word. This means it doesn’t have to be just rote memorization. This also means you can learn from your past mistakes:

(yes, I know its a Chinese reading)

For example, the kanji (か) means “able” or “ible”. Take for instance: 可燃物 (かねんぶつ;flammable) or 可溶性 (かようせい; soluble). The first kanji modifies the meaning of the last two in a standard way according to its meaning.

Top Ten (or so) list:
1)  (ぎゃく; reverse, counter): 逆効果 (ぎゃくこうか;counterproductive), 逆コース (reverse course)
2) (ぜん; last, former,ex-): 前首相 (ぜんしゅしょう; ex-prime minister), 前世紀 (ぜんせいき; last century)
3) (ぜん; all, whole, entire, full):  全国民 (ぜんこくみん; whole nation), 全人口 (ぜんじんこう; entire population)
4)  (そう; entire, full, grand): 総選挙 (そうせんきょ; general election), 総合計 (そうごうけい; grand total), 総攻撃 (そうこうげき; full scale attack)
5)  (たい; to, with, anti): 対米輸出(たいべいゆしゅつ; exports to America), 対日貿易(たいにちぼうえき, trade with Japan), 対空ミサイル(たいくう; anti-aircraft missile)
6)  (たい; -proof): 耐火(たいか; fireproof), 耐熱 (たいねつ; heat resistant)
7)  (ちょう; super, ultra): 超特急(ちょうとっきゅう; super express (train)), 超音波 (ちょうおんぱ; ultra sonic waves)
8)  (どう; same): 同世代 (どうせいたい; same generation), 同年配 (どうねんぱい; same age)
9)  (はん; anti, counter): 反社会的 (はんしゃかいてき; anti-social), 反作用(はんさよう; counter action)
10) (ひ; un, non): 非金属 (ひきんぞく; non-metal), 非科学的 (ひかがくてき; unscientific), 非核 (ひかく; non-nuclear)
11)  (ふ; un, in, dis): 不自然 (ふしぜん; unnatural), 不正確 (ふせいかく; inaccurate, incorrect), 不満足 (ふまんぞく, discontent)

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If you’re looking for a small bit of techno-nostalgia, then the Yamaguchi SL line might be right up your alley. Starting from Shin-Yamaguchi station and ending in the castle town of Tsuwano, the line hosts a steam locomotive tour of the local area and an examination of Japanese train history. The train is one of, I think, 10 working steam locomotives in Japan and is run by a C571, built in 1937 by Kawasaki. The tour leaves at 10:30 am and arrives 12:30pm giving tourists about 3 hours to see Tsuwano’s famous castle and carp infested waterways (Sorry, no fishing permitted before dark). The train is popular, so it would be wise to buy tickets ahead of time by calling SL-Yamaguchi-Go at 0570 002 486. The train runs from March to October, throughout the summer.

As the whistle toots a commanding bellow, the train crawls to a start with each punch of the steel engine in front. Like a day after the shooting range, the cordite-esque smell drifts through the air, streams of soot trail behind as you ride. The rhythmic swinging crawl gradually lessens as the train accelerates to its cruising speed and the velvet seats become comfortable. Each of its 5 cars conforms to a different era of train travel in Japan adding a historic mystique to the 2 hour journey: The Meiji era with its leather buttoned seats, the Western with its velvet seats and stained glass boxes, the Taisho and the long-running Showa (the fifth car was apparently too famous to name).

Like the shinkansen, the cars are tended by a snack salesperson selling beer, candy and bento boxes. If you behave, the ticketmaster will give you cool SL stickers during the ride. Beware the tunnels if you ride on the patio deck, the soot and ash will cover you, but passing by the towns on the way is also fun. Many of the farmers along the track will wave and say hello as you pass by. It’s worth a visit, I think. Stop on by.

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With over half a billion deaths attributed annually, Malaria is one of the world’s worst infectious diseases. The WHO, spurred on by previous success with small pox, has long had the dream of eradicating this disease, but has had to deal with limited success as the mosquitoes have developed resistances to the insecticides traditionally used against this primary vector. Currently, the Global Malaria Action Plan (GMAP) has had ambitious plans “to spray 172 million homes and distribute 730 million insecticide impregnated nets” by 2010, but there is a hidden danger to the plan: natural selection. More and more we are finding that the traditional insecticides (DDT, Pyrethrins, etc) are becoming less able to control populations of Anopheles mosquitoes, because the selective pressure on populations is already powerful even without intervention.

The long term benefits of using ‘quick kill’ insecticides are limited, because they add to the selective pressure already existent in the normal breeding cycle, thus quickly creating populations that are resistant to these traditional methods. The problem is one of diminishing returns. Consider the impracticality of perpetually designing an endless chain of active, weakly human toxic insecticides ad infinitum. Insecticides are toxic chemicals by their nature and very few have been found to date that have the necessarily low human toxicity and insect killing capacity. This paper suggests that using new or old pesticides in new ways might limit or all together remove this selective pressure, while at the same time accomplish the stated objective of controlling malaria.

The Big Idea: How They Work:

Malaria is caused by a eukaryotic protest called Plasmodium falciparum, which is transmitted by the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. Their life cycle is an important part of the problem. After eating, the females produce and deposit a batch of eggs in water, which in total takes 2-4 days to complete. Even without insecticides exacerbating the problem, the egg mortality rate is around 20-40% per batch. With such a turnover rate, breeding selection will always be a strong factor in mosquito populations. At some point, the mosquitoes encounter and become infected with the malarial parasites. These generally go through an incubation period of 10-14 days before becoming active in mosquito salivary glands. This is ironic considering that most mosquitoes will not live long enough to become infectious and spread the disease. Since they only spread the disease at late stages, there is a window of opportunity to curb not only the selective pressure that encourages resistances, but also dramatically control the malaria transmitting mosquitoes.

Late Life Acting insecticides (LLA) have been proposed that disproportionately kill only the older mosquitoes. A major benefit being that selective resistances would spread much slower, than as with the use of current insecticides, while at the same time cull the infective mosquitoes. Conventional insecticides reduce the mosquito reproductive success by about 85% at first, but the LLA’s, which would allow for a normal reproductive cycle would target only older mosquitoes. Selectively targeting only the older mosquitoes relieves this selective pressure. If only the older insects are killed, it allows the younger ones to proliferate and spread their genes giving little selective benefit for having a resistance to the insecticides. Furthermore, the authors point out that:

The strength of selection declines with age. Beneficial genes that act late in life can fail to spread if they are associated with fitness costs earlier in life.

Though LLA insecticides would leave a large population of mosquitoes, the key point is this is meant to be disease control, rather than insect control.

Several methods have been proposed. First, cumulative exposure to ordinarily sub-lethal doses of pesticides. The idea is that the low doses build up over time killing only the older mosquitoes before they transmit the disease. Second, micro-encapsulation techniques designed to release over a long period of time. (Think about your Imodium 24 hour extended release, except with horrible poison!!) Third, chemicals that negatively affect detoxification pathways in mosquitoes. This exploits the fact that as mosquitoes age they become less able to detoxify chemicals. Fourth, compounds or dosages of pesticides that take advantage of an infected mosquitoes weakened state (malarial parasites negatively affect them as well). By using dosages, which are lower than recommended (especially those which are non-lethal for most healthy mosquitoes), it may be possible to target only those older mosquitoes with a weakened composition. Fifth, fungal bio-pesticides, which are active against mosquitoes, killing them 7-14 days after contact. The final possibility mentioned is using Wolbachia bacteria or a densovirus to control the older populations. Wolbachia are inherited bacteria that infect many kinds of insects, in particular affecting the reproduction system of their hosts and in some species causing parthogenesis (reproducing only one sex). Densovirii are virii that are thought to only infect insects. Both of these could be applied in much the same manner as the above methods, either building up over time or causing a metabolic pitfall as they age, shortening their life spans to die before the malarial parasites become active.


Evolution Proof Insecticides for Malaria Control

Penelope A. Lynch, Andrew F. Read and Matthew B. Thomas

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