What I learnt this week part 1 (Guest blog by Elinor Bridges)

Elinor BridgesHello everyone – I think introductions are in order. My name is Elinor and I am a first year undergraduate on the Biology with Science and Society degree. The only first year undergraduate, in fact – so hopefully I will be able to impart a different perspective on the life sciences. I will be writing a short series of weekly posts based on what I’ve learnt in the previous week. Now the formalities are out of the way, prepare to find out what I have discovered this week…

Students have varying standards of hygiene

While unsurprising, there is some interesting scientific and historical debate surrounding that statement. During my Bodies in History: An Introduction to the History of Medicine seminar, we were discussing a lecture given by the infamous Sigmund Freud.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Freud changed the field of psychology entirely with the development of psychoanalysis. But how, I hear you ask, does this relate to student cleanliness?

Well, Freud treated patients of hysteria. He believed that repressed memories could manifest themselves into the physical Sigmend Freud courtesy of Max Halberstadtsymptoms shown by hysterical patients, and these memories could be drawn out by hypnosis. One woman treated with this technique, Anna O, was a hysterical patient who suffered extreme thirst yet was unable to drink.

Under hypnosis, she revealed that when she was younger, she witnessed a companion let a dog drink out of a glass of water. Anna was disgusted by this, yet repressed her anger for fear of upsetting her friend.  Freud and his colleague believed that this was the cause of the symptoms she experienced. The focus of our discussion rested with one word: why?

Some believed that it was because letting a dog drink out of a human’s glass is unhygienic. At that time, Anna would have been recipient of new information claiming that germs were everywhere and spread disease. Increasing emphasis on the importance of cleanliness may have caused her to feel such a great level of disgust.

Others took a different angle. They believed the Freudian approach was simply wrong, because a dog drinking out of a glass isn’t such a terrible thing. This, of course, begged another important question: is letting a dog drink out of a glass unhygienic? The resulting vote was inconclusive.

I thought of another joke, but it was a bit cheesy…

It’s a pretty standard viewpoint that letting bacteria and fungus into our food is a bad thing. However, many things we eat and drink actually require these microorganisms to turn the raw materials into delicious consumables. As lectured about in the Microbes, Man and the Environment module, microbes are particularly important in cheese making. Hopefully you haven’t got any nearby, because this actually sounds pretty disgusting….

Camembert of Normandy - image courtesy of NJGJCamembert is a popular French cheese with a soft, creamy interior, but how does the inside come to be that way? This is where it gets a little icky. After being cut into rounds, a mould called Penicillium camemberti is added to the surface of the cheese. This grows over the surface into a large structure of fungal branches called a mycelium. As the fungus spreads, it releases enzymes which break down the proteins and fats in the cheese. This partially liquefies the inside of the camembert, giving a soft texture.

While this is rather interesting, I would not recommend mentioning this if served camembert at a dinner party. It’s not very polite to tell the host that they’ve served partially digested fat surrounded by a nice coating of mould!

 

On that note, this concludes the most interesting things I have learnt this week. Hopefully you have learnt something new too, whether it be that Freudian psychology was rather odd, or that some mould is actually delicious. See you next week!