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Geeky Christmas presents

by Eva Amsen

I had to wait with this post until everyone received and opened their gifts, but I’ve been meaning to write about it as soon as I bought them. I gave two people incredibly geeky Christmas presents this year. Last year. You know what I mean.

1. A brain cell!

“Now I have two!” my sister commented when she found out that I had given her a brain cell for Christmas. The one she already had, and the plush one she just unwrapped.

I had actually been meaning to get her a Darwin keychain or puppet, because we had been laughing about these cuddly Darwin toys earlier this year. They’re so weird. Who wants to have a doll with a beard? But they didn’t have Darwin dolls (or the mini version) in the science gift shop, and then I saw the brain cell, which was much better…

2. A cookbook with science in it!

My friend is a fan of all things healthy and natural, and their whole family (where I spent Christmas) is very aware of which foods are good for what, etc. Of course, me being a weird scientist, I often want to know how things work. Sometimes I ask out of curiosity, and sometimes because I’m skeptical. So when I found a cookbook that explains the science behind cancer, and why some foods help to prevent it, I knew I had to give her this as a gift. The first third of the book is pretty much a biology textbook, and the rest contains recipes based on ingredients you can learn the chemistry of elsewhere in the book.

Woo, chemical structure in a cookbook!

I was most excited about the page with the Western Blot on it:
“This is the kind of stuff I did in the lab! Except with pigmentation things, not with food.”
“I know! I saw pictures like this at your thesis defence!”

So the cookbook can also explain what those weird black blobs on grey background actually mean =)

A blot in a cookbook! It’s a western blot, looking at the expression of a marker of inflammation. The healthiest berries suppress the levels of the marker the most. The cranberries we had at Christmas dinner were very anti-inflammatory. And in case you can’t read it, the last lane is marked “resveratrol”, so the wine did pretty well, too…

(YES, I know, there’s no loading control and the amounts of berries needed to achieve the effect are unclear. It’s for the general public – I don’t think they know what a loading control is, and in this case I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a groundbreaking publication; this blot is just to show people how you can compare how effective berries are at being anti-inflammatory. How do we know what we know, etc.)

What geeky Christmas presents have you given your friends and family?

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Richard P. Grant January 6, 2010 - 10:34 AM

Oh, I *heart* that brain cell.

Samantha Alsbury January 6, 2010 - 12:34 PM

Great christmas presents :0)
I’m curious about the foods – does it say whether there is any evidence (and what the evidence is) that when you consume the foods the various chemicals get into your cells and are still active.
I’m impressed that they even tried to include a western blot so fairly understandable that there were no controls.

Alyssa Gilbert January 6, 2010 - 1:37 PM

Love these gifts. I gave my husband a brain cell about a year ago too.
The best geeky gift I’ve received was a Einstein bobble head doll. How cool is that?

Elizabeth Moritz January 6, 2010 - 1:50 PM

I’m a big fan of the Giant Microbes line. I have about ten of the different plush single cell creatures on my shelf at work right now 🙂 And I frequently give them to fellow scientists for Christmas gifts too!

Ken Doyle January 6, 2010 - 3:06 PM

Very cool…I could use a brain cell or two 🙂

Eva Amsen January 6, 2010 - 4:27 PM

_”does it say whether there is any evidence (and what the evidence is) that when you consume the foods the various chemicals get into your cells and are still active.”_
Don’t remember, and of course I don’t have the book anymore (I took the photos before wrapping it) but it seems like in general most of the information about what foods are “healthy” originally comes from “people who eat X have less chance of Y”-type studies, and then they take that food and do the individual molecular studies to find out if it’s real and how it works. (For example: people knew to eat citrus fruit to combat scurvy before they knew that vitamin C was what made it work.) So I guess they’re not running westerns of random foods and work from there, but start with what people actually eat as part of a healthy diet, and try to do some comparisons.

Richard Wintle January 6, 2010 - 4:34 PM

Heh. The Junior Wintles got a bunch of Giant Microbes for Christmas, including one of those excellent neurons.
Which you can see dancing on the page Eva links to, by the way.

Åsa Karlström January 6, 2010 - 4:51 PM

haha, I love the Giant microbes and give them to friends, family and former co-workers (the mini ones are great if you don’t want to get ruined and if you are not sure they actually like the plush gooddies).
Although, if you give the flesh eating streptococci (SUPER cute with a fork and knife on the front of it) to a child, make sure they aren’t having strep throat at the time … since their parents might get a bit upset and thinking of the scaring factor 😉
Have you seen the geekiest site ever for silly things? I got a tube of snow two years ago from thinkgeek. Had a blast for a while. They also have chemical structures on t-shirts in case anyone is intersted in that 🙂

Samantha Alsbury January 6, 2010 - 5:16 PM

Thanks Eva that’s interesting, sounds like a pretty good book.
I was talking to my sister about foods that can reduce the risk of cancer over christmas and didn’t really know much about what those kind of books claim – of course I could have done the homework myself but since you were kind enough to blog the subject just when I was wondering about it… I thought I would pick your brains instead!

Joanna Scott January 6, 2010 - 5:41 PM

That brain cell is brilliant, Eva! I’m racking my brains for a neuroscientist with a birthday coming up soon.
It reminds me of the “Evolvems”:http://www.evolvems.com/ which I think someone mentioned here recently. My evolution tutorial partner at university did a dissertation on whale evolution and I really wanted to get him a Pakicetus/Squaladon, but typically it flew out of my mind along with all my other ideas when it was time to get started Christmas shopping. Next year.

Joanna Scott January 6, 2010 - 5:45 PM

PS: Maybe next year we should have a science-themed NN Secret Santa with prizes for the best geeky present found! Anyone who gets a cookbook could send cancer-busting brownies to the Nature offices for taste testing…

Cath Ennis January 6, 2010 - 7:31 PM

The giant microbes are ace. I have the white blood cell (Xmas gift from my husband in, um, 2006 I think) on my desk at work, next to: a teabag in a frame with a hammer attached and a sign saying “in case of emergency, break glass” (gift from a former labmate to remind me of the two weeks when I couldn’t drink tea because I was on antibiotics and I almost drove everyone crazy); a mini kettle ornament (gift this year from a colleague who lets me use the illegal kettle that’s hidden in her office), and a moose wearing a mountie uniform (citizenship gift from two colleagues. I took the Canadian flags down, but they might come back out for the Olympics).
Joanna, I love the NN Secret Santa idea! Count me in for next year!

Eva Amsen January 6, 2010 - 7:42 PM

Asa, I used to have a caffeine shirt from Think Geek (and completely wore it out. I think I probably still have it, but it’s full of holes).

Åsa Karlström January 6, 2010 - 8:27 PM

Eva> somehow that doesn’t really surprise me 😉 /the girl with the meh tshirt (i know, it’s not science, but it’s geeky :D)

Eric-Wubbo Lameijer January 8, 2010 - 10:29 PM

On the topic of healthy-food-books “Eat, Drink and be Healthy” by Walter Willett is also quite good in my opinion, and quite thoroughly based on science as far as I can judge… It also includes information on heart disease prevention; only downside is that as far as I know it was published in 2001, which is an eternity in science. For example, currently scientists are looking at the suspicious properties of fructose, and we may have enough data to make more definite recommendations on soy than Willett does…

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