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Where can I get that squid’s makeup?

How many times have you looked at a squid and thought to yourself, man does that squid have a flare for style! I wish I could look that good! Well look no further my friend, because the scientists at the fabulous Central Institute of Fisheries Technology have heard your prayers and answered them in full by creating and safety testing lipstick made from squid chromatophores.

For those of you who don’t know, squid chromatophores (like all cephalopod chromatophores) are small sacs of pigment that cover the animal’s body. The squid can stretch these sacs to make them bigger or smaller, and in this way change the color of their skin.

Now before you ask no, this lipstick will not change colors after you put it on. However, it is apparently free of toxic metals and considered safe for human use. Since, as the study points out, a great deal of lipstick ends up getting eaten, there is a push towards more natural lipsticks free from toxic ingredients.

What this lipstick actually looks like it unknown. Chromatophores are limited in their color range (mostly yellow, brown, or red), and the lipsticks will probably also be somewhat limited though I’m betting enough mixing and matching could be done to create a pretty wide range of shades. Some names I’d like to throw out there for consideration: Sultry Squid Sienna, Calamari Crimson, and Opulent Octopus Orange.

So while we might not yet be able to match the squid in its ability to flawless change looks without having to run home and change, we’re still managing to steal a few tips from these divas of the deep-sea.


The squid and the bacteria have teamed up to doom us all

Chances are you’ve heard about antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Due to our rampant overuse of antibiotics, many bacteria (like those that cause staff infections) can no longer be killed by those antibiotics. You see, when a population of bacteria is exposed to antibiotics, it will of course kill most of them. MOST being the operative word here. Some of the bacteria will be immune to the antibiotic. Since these guys are the only one left to reproduce, pretty soon the whole population is made up of bacteria that can’t be killed with that antibiotic.

Up until now, these bacteria are most commonly contracted when people are exposed to places where antibiotics are used on a regular

Look at how smug they are. Like delicious little sleeper cells just biding their time.

Look at how smug they are. Like delicious little sleeper cells just biding their time. (Vaigimeasun)

basis. Namely, hospitals. But for the first time researchers have found antibiotic resistant bacteria in food. Most shockingly, it was found in the place I would least expect it. My wonderful little friends, the squid.

I can’t help but think that this was actually a botched attack on me. That this squid had totally intended to end up in my hands as revenge for having killed his great-great-grandfather in the course of my research, but tragically he ended up in a Chinese grocery store in Canada instead. Regardless, this is surprising to me because I would have expected the first antibiotic bacteria to be found in some sort of livestock, like beef or chicken, since factory farms treat antibiotics like they’re vitamins.

And yet the mild mannered squid has taken this trophy. The good news is that the bacteria the researchers found is unlikely to make humans sick. The bad news? Bacteria have this neat little trick where they can share their genes with each other. Unlike you, who are stuck with whatever genes you happen to get from your mother and father (love you guys!), bacteria can trade around their DNA like Pokemon cards. Now, this happens more or less randomly. A bacteria with evil world domination inclinations can’t see that another bacteria has the antibiotic resistant gene and steal it away. But it could certainly happen through random chance, and the more antibiotic resistant bacteria out there (even if they are harmless to us), the more likely it is those genes will be transferred to a more harmful bacterium.

So what do we do now that the squid and the bacteria have formed an evil alliance against us? We have to reach a temporary truce with the viruses to take these SOBs down. It may be our only hope.

Squid ink fights tooth decay

Antibiotic resistant bacteria has become a huge problem in the medical world. The overuse of antibiotics to treat infections that aren’t caused by bacteria (since antibiotics can only kill bacteria, they are helpless against illness caused by viruses like the cold) has resulted in the weeding out of all the bacteria that can be killed by antibiotics. This leaves only the resistant “super bugs” which make people sick but can’t be treated with traditional antibiotics. This means scientists are being forced to look for more creative and new options for treating these diseases.

Enter, my friend the squid! Fear not humans, my faithful companion is rising from the depths to save you from tooth decay. A recent study found that an ingredient in squid ink can be used to kill the bacteria that causes dental caries. Maybe some of you read that and thought, “Dude, just brush your teeth.” Tooth brushing, or as the paper calls it ‘mechanical removal,’ combined with professional dental care is by far the best method for preventing tooth decay. Unfortunately, those in less developed countries don’t always have these options. Dental care is extremely expensive (as anyone who’s ever had a tooth extracted knows all too well), and the use of antibiotics can help those without the more urban options.

And squid ink doesn’t just clean your teeth. It has also been used as a preservative, it is an anti-oxidant, and apparently even has anti-retroviral activity (some retroviruses can cause cancer, and perhaps the most famous retrovirus is HIV*). So next time you order calamari, make sure to ask for the ink sac to use as a post-meal mouth wash (but not really though).

Soon to be the number 1 ingredient in Scope mouthwash

Soon to be the number 1 ingredient in Scope mouthwash

*Note, I am NOT saying the squid ink can cure cancer or HIV. At least not yet…

You can’t always catch what you want

The mark of the day beginning and the ending of my morning attempts at nabbing squid.

The mark of the day beginning and the ending of my morning attempts at nabbing squid.

The sun is an orange beach ball floating on the ocean’s surface as I go outside to throw the squid tentacle back into the sea. One sad, lonely little tentacle. That’s all I have to show for my morning’s work. Well it’s like my mother always said, there’s a reason why they call it fishing (or in this case, jigging) and not catching. But I still can’t help but think about how this tentacle, a tentacle from a species I don’t even want, represents the truth about science.

I am out on the Western Flyer, a research vessel owned by MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute). Though they specialize in ROV (remotely operated vehicle) deployments, I have hitched a ride with them in my last bid of the year to catch some Humboldt squid, a squid that has proved rather elusive this year and is, unfortunately, crucial for my research.

Nobody ever said science was easy, but when I first started doing research I certainly didn’t expect that the hard thing about science would be the monotonous details that derail you from the start. Such as, what do you do if the thing you’re studying is nowhere to be found?

Science in the movies is always portrayed as a group of brilliant nerds getting together in the lab, white coats clipboards. They think for a while, come up with ideas, test those ideas, and then find the solution. It’s neat, it’s clean, and it’s exciting. Field work, well that’s even more glamorous. Traveling to exotic places, exploring uncharted territory, a grand adventure.

But, as always, television can be misleading. That’s because despite the romantic title, field work is often tedious and uncomfortable. Many of my friends and family express envy when I tell them I am leaving for field work. Days, sometimes week aboard a vessel in often glamorous sounding places. They surely envision thrilling work and adventure with a little vacation

Lonely squid tentacle caught in the wee hours of the AM by yours truly. (For any squid nerds out there, I believe it either came from a small Moroteuthis or a Onychoteuthis)

Lonely squid tentacle caught in the wee hours of the AM by yours truly. (For any squid nerds out there, I believe it either came from a small Moroteuthis or a Onychoteuthis)

thrown in, and in some ways they aren’t wrong. Most of the time, I thoroughly enjoy being in the field, or else I wouldn’t be doing this.

But what they don’t understand is the getting up at 4am to catch squid, sitting there in the cold with your line in the water for hours and then coming up empty only to try again when the sun goes down. Everyone wants to help jig for squid at first, but unless you are lucky enough to drop your line straight into a school of squid interest fades as the realization hits that most of jigging is just waiting, and it’s waiting for something that sometimes never comes. And if it does come you need to scramble and do as much as you can because it might be a year before you get to try this again.

And yet I cannot deny that it has its rewards. No, I did not catch a squid today. I did not get to do the work I had wanted to do. But as I sit at the table lamenting the difficulties of an often frustrating existence in pursuit of the elusive PhD, I am called to the window. There I watch for my first time as the bottom of the ship folds open, revealing startling blue water beneath, and the ROV drops into the depths.

For everyone else on this ship this practice is common place, perhaps even tedious. But for me, it is new. It is an adventure.