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Transcript

To my super uber guber family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is fully vaccinated Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to, yet another, floating episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.

 

I just wanted to provide an update on all the shenanigans that have been happening behind the scenes. Let’s start with personal news. It was my 28th Birthday about 2 weeks ago. Let me just say this, celebrating it for the first time in a new country is strangely inspiring. I’m alone, I know, without family and my Canadian friends, but I do have my closest friend Mila, a.k.a my cat, and new friends I’ve made here, to which my experiences with them are enlightening, fun, and wholesome, especially within traditional Irish pubs. There has not been a time (yet) that I’ve felt abandoned, except for the first 4 months by my university’s Academic Registry where I wasn’t paid my stipend. Actually recording this before my birthday so unsure what I will be doing yet, likely going on a trip to Cork, the second largest city in Ireland. Additionally, I went all the way to Donabate to buy a guitar, and ended up getting two! Maybe some guitar chords will make it into the new season of Metaphorigins… Stay tuned!

 

Moving on to academic affairs. Remember how I keep taking some time off to work on an academic paper? Well, it is now August 2021, and myself as well as members of the Baetz Lab back in Canada were still chipping away at it. And finally, the paper has been accepted and is now in press. This is my first first-author paper about my Masters work. Link will be in the description.

 

For work in Trinity, things have been grand, as they say here (I’m just going to keep saying that until it becomes second nature). Our lab recently published an article on intestinal metabolites and their impact on macrophages which you should definitely give a read (at the very least if you’re interested in the microbiome). Shoutouts to the most recent guest of the podcast, Dr. Amy O’Callaghan, for fronting a huge majority of the work during her PhD and giving me the opportunity to help out on some experiments! For my own PhD project, there’s been a few ups and downs already, such as actually creating the conditional knockout mouse model and what to focus on until this is accomplished, but thankfully my supervisor and the team have been supportive in this regard. Now, I’m working with a fellow PhD student in the lab on a review paper. I’ve also started a PhD course on the Responsibilities of Being a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and also a part-time job as a CV Reviewer for Trinity Career Services. Days on campus have been, busy, this summer, to say the least.

 

And now, the SciComm stuff, excluding this podcast. Here’s why I needed to step back a bit from writing podcast scripts. Back in May, I participated in my first Discord panel discussion about science communication. Although due to technical issues on my end, I had to type everything I wanted to say, it was really neat seeing this gaming chat platform used for another purpose. 

 

In June, my first article as a contributing writer for the University Times newspaper based at Trinity was published on the Science Communication Collective, a social media campaign sponsored by Ireland’s Department of Health that provides COVID news in ways that young adults could vibe with. I had a blast interviewing fascinating science communicators in the university community and learned a lot about how they create content.

 

In July, I was interviewed by Cassidy Swanston, Director of Communications in Dr. Andrew Pelling’s Lab at the University of Ottawa. Not only is she the host of a great podcast called SciComm School, but she is also the current executive director for her non-profit Pulsar Collective, a past Tedx Speaker and previous event planner for the refurbished Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. She is also spearheading an effort to bring more science communication training to the University of Ottawa. Super honoured to talk science and other artistic passions related to communication, so please do check out her podcast for SciComm inspiration!

 

Hoping by the time this is out, this will be true. This month, my short story Pandemonium was published in the Health Science Inquiry, a student-run journal based at the University of Toronto. The story is a reflection about how COVID has influenced cancel culture, and how, to a fictional extreme, dire things can get if left unchecked. Cancel culture is rooted in good intentions, but when certain consequences are made, particularly to those who just needed to be talked with rather than exposed for the world to see their worst side, can we all ask ourselves, what if we were in their shoes?

 

Moreover, I was selected to take part in the League of European Research Universities (LERU) annual conference, this year hosted by my university, Trinity College Dublin. Graduate students from across Europe attend this invaluable week long event, this year being virtual, with the theme of “The Role of Expert Opinions”. Often times the messages experts try to convey do not resonate in public discourse effectively, leading to the slow incorporation of policies at the government and corporate levels. A summer school of constant reflection, with splashes of Irish culture within daily social events, offered postgraduates across Europe a novel opportunity. Coming together at such a scale during the pandemic was unexpected, but permitted a conversation that will be carried by participants throughout their careers. An enormous thank you to the Graduate Studies Office at Trinity who facilitated the summer school, as well as of course, my fellow peers and experts of the future.

 

Excluding my tasks as policy coordinator for Science Slam Canada and reviewer for the University of Ottawa’s Journal of Medicine, which have been pretty laid back this summer, that’s about it. I have a few more projects planned that you may hear about via my Twitter or Instagram. There will also be more articles via the University Times, as well as more pieces on my other writing project, Scalene Writing. For the podcast, the new season will premier on Monday, September 27th! Stay tuned for updates on this season’s topics and guests, and looking forward to hearing from you on what you think!

 

Oh, one final thing. At the end of June, I participated in FameLab, the world’s largest science communication competition. How it works is that you have three minutes to communicate a scientific topic without powerpoint slides. This is sort of an equivalent to what Science Slam Canada does. Regional heats are conducted in large cities within Ireland, where two winners move on to the Ireland Finals, and the winner from there goes onto the World Finals. All of this is done virtually now of course, where we submit unedited 3 minute videos. Now, I participated in the second Dublin Heat, but did not make the cut (beat by two fantastic talks on circadian rhythm by Tammy Strickland as well as sickle cell anemia and its impact on Nigerian relationships by Tembi Fashina). However, those who were not selected in the regional heats were placed into a national video pool, and my video was one of two selected to progress! I’m in the national finals y’all!

 

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to include the audio here for this update. My piece is called, You are more responsible of your hangover than your drink, which is about how we metabolize alcohol. Since it’s meant to be for a visual medium, just picture me, with crazy quarantine hair, finally heading into my first Irish bar since they’ve now reopened, with a can of Guinness in my hand. And I hope you enjoy it.

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Hey bartender, yeah you behind the screen, how do people get drunk, y’kno? I mean, you see drunk people come and go, right?

 

I myself am Guinness man. Oh, cheers mate. But where does this alcohol go after I drink it, and why do we get those bloody hangovers the next day?

 

Really, using me as an example, let’s think about where alcohol goes, and more specifically, the alcohol in our most favourite drinks from beers to spirits, ethanol.

 

This might be a surprise to you, but I’ve already downed a few drinks tonight. And all that ethanol has been sitting in my very empty stomach. 20% of that ethanol is getting absorbed directly into my bloodstream. But the majority, now reaching my small intestine much faster due to not eating, gets absorbed into my bloodstream and journeys to my liver!

 

You can think of the liver as your blood’s favourite instagram filter. Proteins in the liver, called enzymes, pick out undesired attributes leaving your blood nice and clean like Maybelline. In this case, ethanol undergoes first pass metabolism in my liver, where enzymes convert ethanol into other by-products. I’ll get to those in a minute, because since I drank more than your Irish Uncle Joey tonight, ethanol has passed through my liver unfazed and travels throughout my body.

 

One such location is my brain. Now the brain is just a mass collection of neurons, communicating with each other via release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals contribute to how we think and act, some giving us excitation while others giving us inhibition. Although ethanol causes release of feel good hormones like dopamine, it also lowers the excitatory chemical glutamate while increasing the inhibitory chemical GABA, leading to experiences like slurrrrrrrrrring my words and losing my train of… train of… As my body drifts into blissful melancholy.

 

Until the next morning, when my head will feel like it got hit by that train I just lost. The hangover is nature’s response to you screaming “I’m the king of the world!” while dancing on top of the bar table. Now, there are a couple of reasons this may occur, each contributing in different ways. One is that drinking alcohol is dehydrating me, as I retain less water leading to more frequent trips to your restroom. Physiologically, this will activate pain signals in my head.

 

Another reason are those by-products I mentioned earlier. During first pass metabolism, one enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts ethanol into acetaldehyde, a toxic compound. Yes, the body converts a toxin into another toxin. It does get converted to a more body-friendly compound by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, like acetate, but depending on how much ethanol is consumed, this may leave more acetaldehyde in my blood and affect my body in disastrous ways.

 

And therefore, even at the molecular level, YOU are more responsible of your hangover than your drink (shake can and open).

 

Wait, you’re kicking me out?! Noooo, I want to talk to you more about biochemistry!!!!!

 

 

And with that, stay skeptical but curious!

 

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