Scientist Genetically Modified Yeast to Make Opium from Sugar- a bless or curse?

Scientists from University of California Berkeley recently succeeded in developing a yeast strain that can convert sugar to opiate. This genetically modified yeast tackles steps in the fundamental pathway. This yeast also carries a potential to make S-reticuline, building block for morphine, and in turn, it could be developed to make heroin, as well as other types of drugs. This would mean that in the future, anyone could become a drug cartel in his private house.

It is mentioned that this technology will have traumatic effect on black market. With supply variability reduced and price falling, drug traffickers would probably be very upset, However what’s exciting for them is, rather than engaging in dangerous poppy plant trafficking from a foreign country, they can now make opium under their own rooftop. In addition, experts of biological backgrounds have raised concerns over this type of “back-yard brewing” technology, as well as recommendation to the public sector that regulations of this yeast strain have to be studied and outlined early.

Opium traditionally is harvested from poppy, a flowering plant that is banned now in most countries except India, Turkey and Australia. Demand for opium from these legal sources come from pharmaceutics industries to manufacture medicinal drugs such as narcotics, while illegal trade often targets more lucrative heroin, which is easily produced by adding two acetyl groups to a morphine molecule. Drug trafficking has stirred up much of the social and political unrest in countries like Afghanistan and Colombia. In many cases, it has led to formation of military groups taking control of strategic production areas against the civil government, and the result of this, is often bloodshed. Problems on corruption, crimes and extremely low human development index (HDI) can be somewhat blamed on drug cartels in those countries. Thus I agree with what the professor from MIT said in the podcast, that this technology could be more a fancy for drug cartels than pharmaceutical companies, if the law surrounding this topic has not been properly laid out and leave a gray area for crazy greedy minds.

Nevertheless, I am particularly thrilled by this technology, which could help smaller developing countries gain flexibility in manufacturing its own small-scale medicinal drugs, rather than replying on expensive pharmaceutical imports from the giants. Currently it is far from an isolated case that a patient from those countries who just undergoes a major surgery, suffers from the pain due to the lack of medical supplies.

Yeah, It is easier to be said than done. Over a sensitive topic like this, one can raise ten reasons for objection while only five in favor of it. However what I would like to say is, that there is no one, except the scientists themselves who discovered the yeast, has the say to deny the potential of this technology. In the end, they are the one putting in efforts and sweat, which deserves respect than despise.


Kamikochi and its animals

We arrived at Kamikochi around 6 pm, but the sun was still up. Officers working at the bus terminal spoke really good English. He told us to head to WEST until we see a big river. The Kappa Bridge is a few hundred meters up the river. That's where our hotel are located: Alphine Hotel.
The night before heading out to Kamikochi, I watched a movie called Kappa no Natsu (Summer Days with Coo). Interested people please check out its wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Days_with_Coo
Japanese animes often pick malevolent mythological monsters and turn them into lovely innocent, sometimes super-powerful animals that are especially amenable to kids. 

Kappa in old drawing
Another good example is My Neighbor Totoro:
However Totoro in Japanese stories is a destructive monster.

Alpine hotel's dinner was an absolute artifact.
Shown is called IWANA(岩鱼), the fish that is native here. The water comes from the melting snow on top of the mountains, so pristine that the fish living in it had awesome texture. Especially the brain parts,  tastes magical.
Putting beef, mushroom, onions on a pottery plate and put that plate directly on fire to cook the beef. No cooking oil or salt was used. In the end, spray some spice and all ready to eat! Alphine hotel's food is so stylish!
However, it seemed that the water pumping system was always at work during the night, we could not fall asleep, so the second day, after we enjoyed another awesome breakfast that has tofu soup in a paper cooked on fire (again, very stylish!), we changed to the hotel right next door called Nishi-itoya sanso.

Settling down we eventually got to explore the ambience. River is so beautiful, its a diamond in the valley. I don't suggest you buy bottled water from vending machine in kamikochi, the precious thing comes from every branch of river, perfect to take a handful and drink on site!

Saturday's sunshine is a good scene:

Hotaka Mountain Range. 2500 km average:

 Myojin-pond, you can also find small IWANA fish:

From Myojin-pond to Tokusawa area, first time ever in my life seeing wild monkeys. They were relaxedly picking ticks for each other, or sometimes solo pick their feet like this (扒脚大汉):

They especially enjoy eating the stem of this vegetation. we also tried, but doesn't taste anything, just watery. If you know what is this plantation called, please tell me :)
There was also a great number of butterfly on the way, maybe 60 different kinds all in the single Kamikochi area.


Baby Cry Competition 心泣き相撲

Winner is raised higher

On May 5th, Kodomo No Hi (Kids' Day), there was a sumo baby crying competition held in Shitodo-maekawa Shrine (横浜青葉田園場所
神鳥前川神社) near Tana Station (田奈).  Whichever kid cries the most is the winner. Host mother Hiromi-chan's youngest kid Hotapi is going to compete. So we, take advantage of the opportunity, snapped some really funny photos of the event.
You can find more information about how to apply and future event on: http://www.nakisumo.jp/

Unexpected blindness

Each participating kid will pay for 13000 yen, which is about 130 dollars. This include costume, name tag, souvenirs and photo chances. Sumo wrestlers wearing mawashi (the diaper-looking belt) held each kid from the armpit, so kids do not have anyway to fight back except kicking their legs into the air and crying. When the game starts, both the judge and the wrestlers will start to make faces and loud noise to scare the baby, to induce them cry. The whole process continues for about 2 min, until one baby who had the loudest cry wins.
Sumo wrestlers teasing a kid

Sumo wrestlers are very funny and gentle

little Hotapi won the game!

This cute little baby just had his first tooth grown!

video of the event

At the end of the game, I saw on Hotapi's arm, there's two 9-dots pink mark. At first I thought it was the same kind on the top of the head of a Buddhist monk, which is the burnt mark of "Ai Cao"to show his status in the temple. Siddhartha has 10 dots.

Then Hiromi-chan told me every japanese has that mark, it was due to vaccination. I couldn't find online the reason why they use this shape of vaccination tool rather than a normal syringe needle, doesn't that multiply the painful feeling by 9 times? So I brought this question to herbalist Masuda Takayuki-sensei. He replied me in the email :

"The nine needles are surrounded by a circle part. Due to this part, when a docter press the tool to a kid, needles do not stick deeply. So, it's less painful.
But why it have to be nine needles, not one? 
If the vactination liquid is injected at one place of skin, it may cause inflammation.
To avoid it, we inject the vactination at nine spread places."

This might be a better way to vaccinate a baby because it's fast and on the epithelium. Since baby cry and move a lot, the common long deep needles used in US and China will probably cause tissue damage inside.

So smart!


三浦半岛和5.5东京地震 Miura Peninsula and May 5th Tokyo Earthquake

Yesterday around 6:10, I was waked up by a 10-sec long earthquake shaking. First thing coming up into mind is what Masuda-sensei told us, to sleep side way, and cover myself with blankets and soft pillows. Fortunately it stopped and we are able to sleep another two more hours.
Later the center of this earthquake was found to be near Ito (伊豆大岛),Sagamiwan(相模湾), neighbor with Miura Peninsula.

Trip to Miura was on May 2nd, following the book "Day Walks Near Tokyo" first chapter by Gary D'A. Walters, was an amazing experience. This book is written in 1988 so you would expect a lot of information has changed, but since Japanese trains and buses sticks to their already-assigned routes, the info is unlikely to be outdated.

Maguro(金枪鱼,tuna) Stick is yummy, especially with some cheese on. Deep fried in oil.

Cliff on the sea shore is absolutely amazing

Graveyard of sea shells. Nature gives, also takes away.

Mollusk creature on the shore. It seemed to be dead, but the body is still rubbery. On its bottom, there were many "bugs". Don't know if they were devouring the creature. Please tell me if you know what is it.

Ballonfish(河豚)also grows in Miura, this kind does not have stunning needles on its body. As you know, the blood and liver of ballonfish can kill a person. Some japanese fishermen have bred unpoisonous ballonfish by changing its diet. These ones seem to be wild.

There's a flower shop right in front of the Miura-Kaigan Station(三浦海岸) where a lot of people bought Chrysanthemum, a mourning flower given to the dead people in asian culture. Maybe somewhere in Miura there's a cemetery that holds many souls.


Hokkaido Marimo(毯藻) and spherical shape in fruits and seeds

Hokkaido is a place that I have to go in Japan, not necessarily for the fauna, but the Marimo ball. It grows on the base of river, 10m deep, where it's pretty cold and dark. The spherical shape of the ball ensures the lowest surface area to volume ratio. Thus photosynthesis does not work flourishingly like it does on a flat plant leave.

This creature can survive low temperatures, but it does not mean the lower the better. Optimal growth happens on 20 deg C. I want to get one from Hokkaido and cut it in half to see if it's truly like a earthworm that can still survive after that detrimental harm.

tamarillo tree (type of a tomato)
A spherical shape can also be seen in most of other fruits and seeds, like apples, peers, peaches. Fruits are the very nutritious storage room full of water, dissolved minerals and Vitamins. A sphere shape ensures minimum evaporation thus efficient in helping the plant body retain water.

As for some tropical fruits such as Starfruit(carambola), it has a very high surface area to volume ratio, exactly opposite to Marimo and other fruits. This fruit tree grows in rich, moisture soil with full sun. When the fruit is still green, the chlorophyll on the fruit body can take advantage of the high Area to Volume Ratio, to undergo photosynthesis and eventually turning the fruit body to matured yellow.


A rainy afternoon's Enoshima

On the way in Chuorinkan Station, saw my favorite restaurant KFC. KFC grandpa dressed in samurai suit, such a perfect merge of the east and west lol

Surfers enjoying the ocean.
Colorful "fan"sometimes features anime character.

The very traditional train track running from Enoshima(江之岛) to Kamakura(镰仓).
When the train comes, nearby signal stations always sends out jinglebells sound, really light and pleasing to hear, to signal walkers trains are coming. as for the actual sound of the train moving on the track, yeah sometimes it can get really loud. Here the ambulance and sometimes police car also `speak`with female voice, like when traffic light is red but they have to surpass, to tell other nearby cars to stop. Its really pleasing because in China those special priviledge car often make sharp alarming noise while squeezing through a lot of traffic and scare the heck out of people
Pretty flowers in the yard of local rescidents.

The Enoshima station is also constructed like a shrine.


Waking up in Utsunomiya

Host mother Kimiko-san is already 73 years old, but looks just like 50. I didn’t understand how until I saw her house, also fortunate enough, to be able to sleep in it for one night.

Kimiko-san’s house is completely made of wood: walls, rooftop, and furniture. Everything has a warm texture that gives out golden glow. It is such a beautiful place! I later found out, Kimiko-san and her ottosan(husband) Moriyama-san were girl and boy scout leader. Under this mutual interest in kids and outdoor activities, they furnish their house with ropes and knots falling down from the roof for kids to climb up and down like Tazan from the Disney movie.

Later in the afternoon that day, four teenage girls showed up in front of Kimiko’s door. They asked if they could come in to play. Kimiko-san joyfully let them in and showed them the way, even though she had never known them before, only thing she knew was that they live nearby. I was so impressed by the trust and understanding they had given to each other. For Kimiko, she does not take it as a burden, that those kids might make a mess in her house. For those kids and their parents, they must know about Kimiko either themselves or heard from other people, and they trust her a great deal!

Japanese are really pioneers in human ergonomics. From the butt-warming toilet seat, feet-warming wooden floor, temperature-preserving Ofuro, to intelligent baking matrix, technology is integrated into every detail in life, making it enjoyable and pleasant.

The next day in the morning, Kimiko-san took me to the ichigo field nearby. The strawberry of Tochigi is big and red. Bite it, it’s very “amai”(sweet) and mitsu-mitsu-shi(watery). It was until later when I realized that almost all the strawberries sold both in Yokohama (where I live) and near Tokyo Tech Ookayama campus are from Tochigi. Then it becomes really interesting just to imagine those strawberries arriving at Tokyo after a relaxing three-hour-bus-ride from Tochigi, just like what I did!

It was really chilly after picking strawberry, so Kimiko invited me to an ofuro nearby. The hot spring is around 45-50 degrees, warmer than a lot of hot spring in China. Everyone took off her clothes in the changing room, facing each other without secret at all. It’s in the Ofuro that different shapes of body, types of personality and levels of literacy blurred the boundary. This reminds me of a Buddhist saying, “we were born into this world naked, and will leave this world naked too”. The possession we obtain, during the meantime, is just a process, not a result. Remember this, then there isn’t really too much to be burdened in life.

At the lunch with Sato-sensei after the ofuro, we did some tempura soba (freshman level) and tororo(yam) soba (intermediate level). Taste very different from the soba I made at home. I told Sato-sensei I had been worrying of being rejected by this YSEP program because when I was applying, there was Senkaku Island conflict that put a lot of tension on China-Japan relationship. Sato-sensei then spoke, “Na, we don’t really care about it. It’s not going to affect your application.” I don’t know why, but this short comment stirred up quite a bit of emotion in me. I want to say a lot of thanks to them.

Hard to explain, but warm inside.