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The Whippet #74: The world’s worst, most incompetent enzyme

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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I love you all very much but I'm too sleepy to write an intro tonight x

Normally when I'm too sleepy to write The Whippet, I just... drink a bunch of coffee and stay up till 5am. But I'm working full-time at an office this month so I need to keep up a decent sleep schedule.

A frustrating aspect of writing-as-work is that you can't just power through in whatever state. You need to be mentally switched-on the whole time. Which means you need to be eating/sleeping/etc half-decently the rest of the time. (For me anyway. I know there's people who write under the most harrowing and exhausting of conditions, but I am a soft summer child.)

I mention this because sometimes people who have full-time jobs and/or kids try to write a regular newsletter (or blog) and get frustrated when they miss issues and it becomes less and less frequent.

And the answer to how I manage it, at least, is by occasionally staying up all night, which is not an option that's available to most people (and that they probably shouldn't do even if it is available, it's terrible for you).

I'm absolutely not trying to be like "oh look how hard I work" (it's just a weird personal choice I've made, to commit to writing it each fortnight no matter what - there's clearly a million more noble causes a person could commit to), but so that if you're like, "how do people manage it AND work AND look after their health AND maintain relationships", you understand that... they're probably not managing it. Something you're not seeing is being left undone.

oh god unless it's just me

Scientists insulting an enzyme, just a real piece of garbage enzyme

Rubisco is an enzyme involved in photosynthesis (how plants turn sunlight+water+carbon dioxide into sugar+oxygen):

Alas, rubisco is, by biological standards, a sluggard, a lazybones, a couch potato. Whereas typical enzyme molecules catalyze thousands of reactions a second, rubisco molecules deign to involve themselves with just two or three a second. Worse, rubisco is inept. As many as two out of every five times, rubisco fumblingly picks up oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, causing the chain of reactions in photosynthesis to break down and have to restart, wasting energy and water.

Years ago I talked with biologists about photosynthesis for a magazine article. Not one had a good word to say about rubisco. “Nearly the world’s worst, most incompetent enzyme,” said one researcher. “Not one of evolution’s finest efforts,” said another.

I love you rubisco, I'll be your friend. Who among us does not have pretty regular rubisco days?

This is from a larger article about how to feed the world's increasing population that I wouldn't normally share, if not for this excerpt.

Dolly Parton's skincare tip

This is hilarious. Normally when celebrities get asked for a skincare tip, they say something like "drink plenty of water" or namedrop a product.

Dolly Parton's is "don't wash your face at night, so if you have to leave your accommodation in the middle of the night, you'll still be wearing make-up". This is terrible advice and I love it and I love her.

from this NYT interview

Some toe profiles it's normal to have

I thought I was a freak (I'm on the far left) but it turns out many toe situations are normal.

Image is from an ad for toe separators - if your toes are kind of smooshed together or curled over from years of wearing narrow shoes, toe separators help stretch and re-align them. I don't like linking to specific products - you can google if interested, I do recommend them. They're also just nice if you like to stretch out your feet at the end of the day.

Why drugs are measured in half-lives

I found some images of blood mascots online

As in, "caffeine has a half life of 6 hours" (or, fun fact, about 10.5 hours in women on the contraceptive pill).

It means that, if you consume 100mg of caffeine, in 6 hours you'll still have 50mg in your blood stream. In 12 hours, 25mg. In 18 hours, 12.5mg. And so on.

But why does your body break substances down less and less as it goes on, instead of, say, a steady rate of 10mg an hour or whatever?

Basically, imagine all of your 5 litres of blood in a bucket. You pour it slowly through a filter into a second bucket. (The filter is your liver & kidneys, but imagine a tray of charcoal and sand or something if you like.) Then you pick up the second bucket, now full of blood, and pour it slowly over the filter back into the first bucket. With each pass, the filter catches, say, 10% of the caffeine molecules.

The first pour-over, there's heaps of caffeine and the filter catches a lot of it. 10% of 100mg is 10.
But the second time, the caffeine is more diluted by blood. 10% of 90 is 9. Now it's even more diluted, there's only 81mg of caffeine left. (It lost 10mg at the first pass, and 9mg at the second). 10% of 81 is 8.1. Now we're at 72.9mg. 10% of that is 7.29. Three passes and we're only catching 3/4 of what we were catching at the start.

The numbers and the % are made up (and the biological process is much more complex) but you get the gist, hopefully.

Biological half-life extras: water and protein

Water has a half-life of a week or two in the body. That's because your body grabs it and uses it, instead of trying to break it down like a poison. People think, because they feel like they have to pee shortly after drinking water, that it just goes straight through you, but in fact drinking water just lets your body know, "okay, we have more water, it's safe to let go of some of the old stuff". It's not the same water.

Amazingly (to me), protein that you eat becomes part of your muscles within two hours. (They tested this basically by irradiating a cow and then feeding the beef to people. They could track the progress of the irradiated bits.) Protein is really easy and quick to digest.

Your muscles are constantly breaking down and being rebuilt, so, similar to the water, eating protein is a trigger to your body that it can afford to go and put some extra protein in your muscles, because you have more coming in for your everyday energy usage. (You don't need to eat an irradiated cow for this, veggie protein is fine.)

A mushroom* that covers itself in (microscopic amounts of) gold

Found in Western Australia.

"The strain of the Fusarium oxysporum fungus attaches gold to its strands by dissolving and precipitating particles from the environment." It is gold-encrusted!

"There may be a biological advantage in doing so, as the gold-coated fungus was found to grow larger and spread faster than those that don’t interact with the precious metal."

"Gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual and surprising – it had to be seen to be believed.” [Full article]

(Gold being incredibly chemically inactive is one of the reasons it's traditionally been admired - it's seen as pure and unchanging because it doesn't react to much the way other metals do.)

* Please note that, to me, all fungi are mushrooms (even the ones that are just moulds) in the same way that all dogs are puppies.

current phone lockscreen

by Shan Murphy, I love this cat so goddamn much

Solicited Advice: "If it is rude to interrupt, how do you politely interrupt someone who (rudely) interrupts/talks over you?"

This is a good question! It's part of a bigger question of, "when someone breaks the social contract, how do you operate in the new, broken environment?"

Firstly, there are different kinds of interrupters:

1. People who are extremely interested and excited about what you have to say, and are interrupting because they want to engage and aren't good at impulse control.

2. People who are not interested in what you're saying, and are talking over you either as a dominance move or because they didn't really notice they were doing it and don't care.

And kind of in-between, people who are interrupting you because they stopped paying attention and drifted off and then started talking about their own thing without realising you were still talking. They're not intentionally being rude but I'm gonna group then under 2 because it's still rude, even if the intention isn't as bad.

Basically, it's important to know that some people who interrupt you are genuinely interested in what you're saying, and it's only because of their high interest level that they interrupt. I think you should be nice to these people. You don't have to let them talk over you, but just, don't read anything negative into it. People like this are usually pretty aware that they do it, and are either happy enough to be reminded (you're helping them get better at something they would like to get better at - the social skill of not interrupting), or embarrassed that they've made a faux pas, but either way it shouldn't be a big deal just to say "hang on, let me finish my bit".

You will probably get something like "oh gosh I'm so sorry, please continue". Or I guess if they don't handle embarrassment well, they might get defensive. But, I don't know, you're not doing anything wrong, and they can process their defensive reaction on their own time, I reckon. Just move the conversation along, like you would if they had lipstick on their teeth and you'd pointed it out and they got embarrassed.

After you've finished, if you want to be gracious, you can then turn to them actively and ask what their thing was that they wanted to say.

The second group, ah look, you're kind of out of luck here!

By which I mean: they have already broken the social agreement of politeness, and so there's no way to get back to it without doing something rude yourself. Just accept that rudeness has become necessary, and it's not your fault.

A strategy (not always conscious) of bullies is to break the agreements of politeness and rely on everyone else continuing to uphold those agreements, giving them free licence to operate. It's similar to creepers who creep just within the bounds of plausible deniability, so that if you were to make a fuss about it, you would seem like the one being weird.

So your options are "allow bullies to operate freely" or "be a bit rude". I recommend the second, although you will have to make your own decisions about when that's safe for you (i.e. if it's your boss and you really need the job, it's your family and you have nowhere else to stay, etc etc). That is, you have to interrupt and say "sorry, I wasn't finished" and then keep saying your thing.

What I STRONGLY recommend and support is doing this for other people. It's very hard to interrupt for yourself, and so if you see someone else being talked over, a difficult but very important thing you can do is interrupt and say "Sorry, [Person Name] was still talking - what were you saying, Person Name?". At the very least, wait till the interruptor has finished, don't respond to them, turn back to the original speaker and say "What were you saying about [Topic], [Person Name]?"

This is especially important because women and people of colour get interrupted way more than white dudes (generally even by quite nice white dudes who don't realise they're doing it - it's just culturally ingrained). A couple of years ago, on a TV panel, a female guest was torn apart on twitter for being rude and repeatedly interrupting one of the other (male) guests. When someone did an analysis after the fact, they found she interrupted no more than any of the other guests, and overall spoke half as many total words as the male guest. But interruptions by the male guest went unnoticed, while hers really stood out to viewers. (Link here, but it's depressing).

So, I don't think it's risk-free to counter-interrupt. If you're from a usually-talked-over group, and you interrupt a usually-interrupts group, there is a non-zero chance people will notice your rudeness and not the other person's.

And if you counter-interrupt an entitled narcissist type, there is a good chance they will throw a fucking fit. I speak from experience!

I still think you should do it, if and when you can, and especially on behalf of other people.

Until our cultural norms are 100% in line with fairness and justice, being fair and just will sometimes involve breaking cultural norms. It's basic logical inevitability. And breaking cultural norms feels uncomfortable and often makes people mad at you. So, the cost of being fair and just is sometimes people get mad at you. I hope, at least, knowing there was no possible way you could have avoided it will make you feel better when you have to do it.

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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