The Light Side: Finding Out What's Behind that Itch

January 31, 2014

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Many of us know that when there's no anti-itch medication handy for a mosquito bite, the fastest way to relieve the annoyance is dousing it with either really cold or really hot water. Researchers now know why that happens, as they recently discovered that there is a definite connection between pain and itch from their studies of the molecules, cells, and neurotransmitters in the human nervous system.

Both pain and itch are nociception signals triggered by the external environment that tell us there is potential danger of bodily harm or just something physically annoying. The theory, which has been around for decades, is that itch or pain is produced by the same set of neurons; itch is merely a partial activation of these neurons -- itch is just a dull pain -- while pain occurs when they are fully activated.

Recent discoveries point to neurons containing only itch receptors and other neurons that have both pain and itch receptors. In addition, there exists receptors that mediate itches that don't involve histamines. And the nerve cells that have both pain and itch receptors, as scientists have suspected, can only send one signal at a time, with pain circuits superseding itch circuits. Scratching an itch brings temporarily relief by triggering a dull pain that blocks out the itch.

This knowledge is benefiting medical investigators looking to solve chronic itch conditions in people like psoriasis. Diana Bautista, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote an article about chronic itch and itch circuitry for the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience, said modern medicine is getting closer to treatments that target specifically itch nerve cells and silence them. "It's an exciting time, because there have been a lot of basic discoveries in the past five years," Bautista told LiveScience.

Of potential benefit to drug makers, this could lead them to produce medications that don't produce itchiness as a side effect, such as morphine, as well as drugs that can alleviate chronic itch conditions not treatable with anti-histamines. "I think we're going to be able to treat chronic itch more effectively," Bautista said.

Now that is a sigh of relief.

  Dress Pants with Boardroom Style ... & Bedroom Comfort

We've all had that George Costanza moment of hitting the proverbial wall at the office and wanting to retreat under our desks to get a little bit of shut-eye, as memorably skewered in "The Nap" episode of Seinfeld. Assuming you either (1) work in Silicon Valley, where power naps in lavishly furnished break rooms are actually encouraged, or (2) don't work in Silicon Valley but are brave enough to catch a few office "zzzs" when the boss isn't around, they made dress pants for that.

San Francisco-based Betabrand has listened to the tired masses 50 miles south, who were calling for stylish trousers that are equally appropriate for pitching venture capitalists in the boardroom and falling asleep on the office couch after lunching with said venture capitalists. The crowdsourced and crowdfunded clothing maker will start shipping in late February its Gray Dress Pant Sweatpants.

The pants are made from high-end, super-soft French terry fabric and have a subtle heather texture similar to fine-suit cloth. To be available in black, gray, and pinstripe (utterly corporate), they feel "slumped-on-the-couch comfy" when not standing up, according to Betabrand. They are machine washable (rightfully so), like a pair of old sweats. Currently there is only a men's style, although ladies can order the still-inviting Gray Dress Pant Yoga Pants.

Because Betabrand is a small business, only a limited selection of lengths is being offered, though the Gray Dress Pant Sweatpants can be tailored. And the fit? Straight-leg: "They're not skinny-fitting, but definitely not baggy either," Betabrand noted.

People will think they're sophisticated charcoal wool trousers. Betabrand likes to say they're "an experiment in sartorial subterfuge."

From Engineering.com: Why Is All Sand the Same?

Right up there with "Why is the sky blue?" "Why is all sand the same?" is one of those fundamental curiosity questions in life. If not for self-knowledge, it's still practical to know the answer because you will inevitably be asked by your kids. The question also gets asked in other forms: "What is sand made of?" "Why is the beach made of sand?" and "Where does sand come from?"

Engineering.com's "Everyday Engineering" video channel decided to tackle this. You may already know that sand is made up of crystals of the mineral quartz (silica and oxygen), which are formed from cooling magma underneath the Earth's surface. But there's a reason why all quartz grains are roughly the same size, as well as why sand ends up at the edges of oceans to form beaches.

The video below explains more.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pxmHHoTPSKI[/youtube]

Check out more Engineering.com videos:

Finally: A Visual Puzzle

Liar visual puzzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top photo credit: arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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