Livin' on the MDedge

Early bird gets the worm, night owl gets the diabetes


Metabolism a player in circadian rhythm section

Are you an early bird, or do you wake up and stare at your phone, wondering why you were up watching “The Crown” until 3 a.m.? Recent research suggests that people who wake up earlier tend to be more active during the day and burn more fat than those who sleep in. Fat builds up in the night owls, putting them at higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The study gives physicians something to think about when assessing a patient’s risk factors. “This could help medical professionals consider another behavioral factor contributing to disease risk,” Steven Malin, PhD, lead author of the study and expert in metabolism at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said in The Guardian.

A woman having trouble waking up, phone in hand Geber86/E+

For the research, 51 participants were divided into night owls and early birds, depending on their answers to a questionnaire. They were examined, monitored for a week, and assessed while doing various activities. Those who woke up early tended to be more sensitive to insulin and burned off fat faster than those who woke up late, the researchers explained.

“Night owls are reported to have a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease when compared with early birds,” Dr. Malin said. “A potential explanation is they become misaligned with their circadian rhythm for various reasons, but most notably among adults would be work.”

We all know that we may not be at our best when we throw off our internal clocks by going to sleep late and waking up early. Think about that next time you start another episode on Netflix at 2:57 a.m.

Mosquitoes, chemical cocktails, and glass sock beads

We all know that mosquitoes are annoying little disease vectors with a taste for human blood. One of the less-known things about mosquitoes is what attracts them to humans in the first place. It’s so less known that, until now, it was unknown. Oh sure, we knew that odor was involved, and that lactic acid was part of the odor equation, but what are the specific chemicals? Well, there’s carbon dioxide … and ammonia. Those were already known.

Ring Cardé, PhD, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, wasn’t convinced. “I suspected there was something undiscovered about the chemistry of odors luring the yellow fever mosquito. I wanted to nail down the exact blend,” he said in a statement from the university.

Dr. Cardé and his associates eventually figured out that the exact chemical cocktail attracting female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes was a combination of carbon dioxide plus two chemicals, 2-ketoglutaric acid and lactic acid. The odor from these chemicals enables mosquitoes to locate and land on their victim and “also encourages probing, the use of piercing mouthparts to find blood,” the university said.

This amazing destination of science is important, but we have to acknowledge the journey as well. To do that we turn to one of Dr. Cardé’s associates, Jan Bello, PhD, formerly of Cal-Riverside and now with insect pest control company Provivi. Turns out that 2-ketoglutaric acid is tricky stuff because the methods typically used to identify chemicals don’t work on it.

Dr. Bello employed a somewhat unorthodox chemical extraction method: He filled his socks with glass beads and walked around with the beads in his socks.

A sock and a beaker of glass beads used in mosquito study Jan Bello/UCR

“Wearing the beads felt almost like a massage, like squeezing stress balls full of sand, but with your feet,” Dr. Bello said. “The most frustrating part of doing it for a long time is that they would get stuck in between your toes, so it would be uncomfortable after a while.”

We hate when science gets stuck between our toes, but we love it when scientists write their own punchlines.


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