The Chatterbox Gene

“Kerry is a delight to have in class, but she is a bit of a chatterbox”

“Kerry enjoys socializing with the other children a bit too much”

“Kerry gets all of her work done and then distracts the other children”

-Actual excerpts from report cards and teachers notes my parents have received.

Good news for all of us who are blessed with the “Gift of Gab”, or more accurately, whose big mouths tend to get us into trouble regularly. It may not be our fault*! Researchers at the University of Bristol have linked a single nucleotide polymorphism near the ROBO2 gene to early expressive language acquisition in infants. It has been assumed until recently by many that language development was almost entirely attributable to the involvement of parents and caregivers. However, this set of studies show that although sociological factors and learned behaviors do impact the development and use of language, some children advance from the “one-word” and “two-word” phases of language acquisition to the “expressive” phase more easily and earlier than others. By using twin studies, it was determined that this early “chatterbox-ism” was not due to differential educational opportunities. This early acquisition has now been linked to a novel gene locus near the ROBO2 gene on chromosome 3. Babies who possess this sequence develop verbiage and expression through speech at a much higher rate than their non-gene counterparts. The ROBO2 gene is known to play a role in speech and learning and the deletion or alteration of this gene is linked to issues with reading, language acquisition and storage of speech sounds. So it is no surprise that this nearby gene sequence (rs7642482) may very well be responsible for those chatterbox babies (and the loudmouths that they become)!

*The excessive swearing however, is not likely to be genetically linked.

Source: Pourcain et. al. (2014). Common variation near ROBO is associated with expressive vocabulary in infancy. Nature Communications 5:4831.

Book Cooking Thursday: James and the Giant…Peach-Brie Quesadilla!

*Suggested soundtrack for reading this post: “Peaches” by The Presidents of the Unites States of America*

..oh and “Hook” by Blues Traveller, for no real reason.

It’s August in Ontario and that means one thing: Fresh Produce. Also enjoying the last days of a short summer…and of course the CNE, back to school and Sunflowers are EVERYWHERE, which is great.

Let’s try that again. It’s August in Ontario and that means many things. Among them, Fresh Ontario Produce. Everything is fresh and all of my favorite things are in season. Therefore it is of the utmost priority to EAT ALL OF THE GROWING THINGS! Because in a few short months we are back to that miserable hell wherein everything shrivels and dies and all of our fruits and vegetables are from tins or frozen or flown in from Chile at the low low cost of 6$/Kg.

My favorite August treat is a fresh peach…or strawberries..or garden fresh salsa, yellow wax beans or sweet summer corn with garlic-basil butter.

Let’s try that again. One of my favorite treats are fresh peaches. Peaches alone or in cakes, pies, tarts, salads, pancakes or smoothies. If given half the chance, I would live inside a peach. Which brings me to this Book-Cooking Thursdays’ Recipe: James and the Giant Peach and Brie Quesadilla (with honey lime dipping sauce).

 

I hope that everyone is familiar with the Roald Dahl classic “James and the Giant Peach”. If not, be sure to pick up a copy. A classic heart-warmer from the man who brought us other pander-free childrens classics such as Matilda and The BFG. James and the Giant Peach is the story of a young boy whose parents were eaten by an escaped rhinoceros. He was then sent to live with his spinster Aunts who, naturally, subjected him to mental and physical abuse. One day, young James finds himself the owner of a magic potion, but then spills it- all over a peach tree. The tree then sprouts a house-sized peach along with human-sized insect inhabitants. Eventually (Spoiler Alert!), this peach is used as both an escape vehicle for James and his friends and a home in which to live happily ever after. A fantastic read-aloud chapter book for kids or a nostalgic re-read for you! So, give it another (or a first) read, and then make yourself up some delicious:

James and the Giant Peach-and-Brie Quesadillas (with honey-lime dipping sauce)-Yields about 4-6 servings

Ingredients

Sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice (note: if you mis-read this as “2 tbsp”, you’re still okay)
  • 1/2 tsp lime zest

Quesadillas:

  • 1 cup of thinly sliced, peeled, firm peaches.(Preferably slices that come from a house-sized, but uninhabited, peach.)
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 oz. Brie cheese, thinly sliced (In theory, I should have used half of this, as I am only making 2 servings. In theory. But in theory, communism works. So 3oz of Brie it is.)
  • 4 (8 inch) flour tortillas
  • Cooking spray
  • chives for garnish
  1. Whisk together the first 3 ingredients and set aside for the dipping sauce
  2. Combine peaches, chopped chives and sugar, toss gently to coat.
  3. Heat a large, non stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray.
  4. Working quickly, place 1 tortilla in the pan, arrange 1/4 of the peach mixture and brie on half, and fold the other half over with tongs.
  5. Let cook about 2 mins, then flip and cook the other side 1-2 mins. Remove and keep warm.
  6. Repeat with the other tortillas.
  7. Garnish with chive strips and serve with dipping sauce

Enjoy!

Happy 2014 World Literacy Day!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Happy World Literacy Day Everyone! It has been long established that a higher literacy rate leads to a reduced poverty rate, increased lifespan and better quality of life, and today is devoted to the discussion of literacy strategies worldwide. The organization responsible for literacy day,  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), was formed as a joint venture by 37 countries at the end of WW2 with the mission to “establish the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind”. Since then , the organization has gone on to achieve many milestones in the areas of literacy, education, poverty reduction and research. Their mission statement has developed over the years, but their focus on education for the betterment of mankind as a whole has not.  This years’ World Literacy Day theme is “Literacy and Sustainable Development”, and will have special focus on education for women and girls globally as a mechanism for sustainable change.

So, with world leaders meeting today to talk about reading, what can we do? First of all, visit www.unesco.org to learn more about this amazing organization and the programs they run. But also take a moment today to realize how lucky we are to live in a place where reading is a right, a given, even a chore to some. This is not the case around the world, where literacy rates dip below 50% in many countries. Pick up a book, a magazine, the back of a cereal box. Read to a kid (or a cat), donate to a reading charity. Cherish what you have been given.

As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova so eloquently puts it today is “an opportunity to remember a simple truth: literacy not only changes lives, it saves them”.

 

 

Running while Reading: an Experiment in 3 Parts. Part 1

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There’s just something about running. Perhaps it is because it is an accomplishment so easily put into number-based goals (5 miles! Finish Line! 1 hour 15!). Or that it is the one time of day that I spend totally alone, where no one can get a hold of me and ask me a question (I get asked A LOT of questions these days…).

More specifically, I love distance running (not because I can run a long way, but because I run slowly. You need to run fast or you need to run far). This Fall, I’ll be training for my second half marathon, which I feel gives me the right to call myself “A Runner“. Which is awesome, because it comes with a community, and I LOVE being a part of a group (teams playing sports I’m no good at, Clubs fundraising for a cause I know little about, Herd Immunity, etc.) Part of being “A Runner“, is that you get to weigh in on “Runners’ Issues”. Thats right, runners have issues, fractions within the group, and it can get a little heated. For example:

  • The Barefoot running debate: Some suggest that running barefoot, like our ancestors, is better for form, posture, and prevents injuries. Apparently,it will make you a better runner. Kerry says: The only thing that running barefoot will make you is an unwilling participant in a game I like to call “HIV or HEP? A needle-based guessing game”.
  • The GPS watch debate: wearing a watch that tracks your whereabouts, sweat production, pace, calories burned and heart rate will make you go faster. If you don’t know where you are, turn around and go back where you came from. And unless you’re training for the olympics, you do not need to know that your last mile was a smidge over 9 minutes, you put out 3 oz of sweat, burned 96 calories and your heart rate was about 102% of the ideal for maximum cardio efficiency. Get over yourself and just go run. Spend your money on funny t-shirts.
  • Running nutrition: Blocks? Bars? Gel? Juice? Candy? It doesn’t matter. If you’re running over an hour, get some sugar in you. J ran the half marathon last year with a pocket full of sugar cubes, like a thoroughbred. I like Cliff chocolate gels, because it reminds me of eating an envelope full of frosting…not that I’ve ever done that.
  • Entertainment while running?

This one, I thought  had all figured out. I thought that my options were music or no music. I find that on short runs music is great. But on the long runs it messes with my pace, and I get frustrated, So I go with nothing but the sound of my own thoughts and belaboured breathing. This still isn’t fool-proof, because on those really challenging days, sometimes you get tired of your own monologue, and you can’t think of anything besides “I wish I was at home…I wish I brought more water…I’m going to eat so many hot dogs when I get home…Man, this proactive blemish treatment stings when it runs into your eyes!” 

Recently, a third option was brought to my attention: Audio books! Finally, a way to combine two things I love! But would this lead to the same non-productive distraction as music? Are audio books really as entertaining as paper/e-books? This calls for:

A (half-assed) Scientific Experiment!

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1. Ask a Question/ Define the bounds of your experiment:

Question: Are audio books a good way to entertain myself on those long runs? Will it matter if the book is familiar to me or a previously unread book?

2. Do some background research:

…No.

3. Construct a Hypothesis

Honestly, I have the attention span of a gnat, especially while I am running. I would say I listen to about a third of any given song, and then I’m ready something new. I don’t think that the audiobooks are going to hold my attention. I think there is going to be a lot of “Wait..what? What did I miss?” *rewind*, which will be worse with an unfamiliar book. So, assuming 3 conditions (Current (no sound), New audiobook and Familiar audiobook), my hypothesis is this:

No Sound> Familiar Audiobook> New Audiobook

4. Design an experiment

3 conditions, 3 weeks of running. The following will be held as constant as possible:

  • Length of runs (12-16 km)
  • Time of day
  • Weather
  • Pre and during-run nutrition

The conditions:

0- No sound

A-Familiar. “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (a must read, if you have yet to do so!)

B- New. a New Release Audiobook, TBD.

Measurement:

Unfortunately, all measurement must be self-reported. Measures will include perceived levels of enjoyment, number of times frustration was experienced, perceived length of run and attention draw (positive and negative) as well as pace.

5. Results:

…To be continued!