The last one for this year. This week’s curiosity box covers the following topics.

1 – How and why does a virus mutate?
2 – How to fight sugar cravings?
3 – Why did the Dalai Lama go into exile?

1 – How and why does a virus mutate?

The big talk of the week is the spread of B.1.1.7 – the new coronavirus variant. A few countries have shut their borders to passengers from the UK, which feels like season 2 of a never-ending series. However, the latest turn in events intrigued me to know how and why a virus mutates.

Any species’ intention is to ensure its survival and continuity of its kind. In the case of a virus, the cell needs to attach itself to a host and then use the very same cell to replicate itself. Replication allows a virus to multiply and pass its gene to the copies it produces. And the process repeats. 

But why does it mutate and change its nature?

Viruses are not well-developed organisations like us; however, they are smart. They replicate in millions and are quick in doing so by making copies of their gene code stored in either RNA or DNA. The primary difference between the two is that viruses that hold its gene code in RNA do not have an in-built self-checking mechanism to ensure that the replicas are similar to itself. Replicas that do not resemble the original virus is called a mutant, aka, a variant.

These variants spring up to ensure the virus can survive for longer or in a different host. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is an RNA virus. Therefore, the longer the virus is attached to a host, there is a high probability for mutations. There is a silver lining to this grim story. COVID-19 is bigger than other RNA viruses, which means that it takes longer to mutate into something more harmful. Hopefully, this window will help us fend-off a bigger headache. 

There are hundreds of coronaviruses and trillions of possible viruses around the world. Although not all are harmful, the most dangerous ones leave their mark not just in the world’s history but also in our genome. 

A fun fact for you all – 8% of the human genome consists of retrovirus fragments. Scientists now can uncover our gene, a sort of fossil, to find answers on how to make our bodies immune to such virus attacks.

2 – Why do we crave for sugar?

The sugar craving and subsequent grudge I hold on myself for breaking my diet follow each other often during the winter months. The back and forth was too much to take, so I got down to understand why this happens. 

The body derives energy from macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) to function. Even though all three nutrients give energy, each has its own specific function. When compared to the other organs, the brain requires a lot more carbs to function.  Thinking, memory, and learning require glucose, and without it, we all go into a slump. Without enough of it, the brain can not function well. You can not concentrate, and your cognitive ability is low (one symptom is a headache).

As soon as you put something sweet in your mouth, your taste buds send the signal to the brain stem, and from there, the signals fork off into different regions. One such place is the cerebral cortex where the “sweet” signal is recognised. The caudate nucleus, which is responsible for memory, reward, motivation, emotion, and romantic interaction, gets activated. So the combined activation of the sweet sensory signals and the reward centre releases dopamine.

But the problem does not stop there. 

The body likes to get dopamine and does not shy away from requiring it often. In simpler terms, this is what happens when you are addicted to something. The body has this underlying necessity to keep itself rewarded with dopamine. It soon learns that sweet food is the way to achieve that. Alcohol and drugs give similar effects.

As we consume more and more sweets, our tolerance also increases. So if you are someone with a sweet tooth, you will need more sugar in your body before the reward system gets activated. The unintended side effects in the quest for dopamine is not a more active brain, but rather the exact opposite with an added dose of diabetes and fat.

How to fight the craving when it is not right?

One way to offset the sugar craving is to have a fruit. Although there is some form of natural sugars in fruit, you get the added bonus nutrients that come with the fruit. Also having sugar cravings could be an indication of not having enough protein in your diet. The protein molecules help moderate and regulate the flow of sugar in the blood. With protein and healthy fats, your body will not get attuned to the need for quick outbursts of energy. Studies have shown that by ensuring 25% of your calorie intake is from protein, your sugar cravings can drop by 60%. 

I do cave in even though I have a better understood why my body craves for sugar. Do you have other tips?

3 – Why did the Dalai Lama go into exile?

I took particular interest to know more about the China Tibet relationship when I found out that the Dalai Lama, the chief political and religious leader of Tibet, is living in exile for the last 61 years. 

In short, the Dalai Lama, along with thousands of followers, had to flee their own countries in fear of their life and oppression from China. The events from his birth to exile to present are filled with fascinating incidents, including the world’s most significant controversies. 

The problem stems from the strained relationship between China and Tibet. The two countries have opposing views on who should rule Tibet and how the relationship between them should be set. Without solving the issue through debate and mutual agreements, China forced its upper hand to control Tibet. 

Right from early 1900s China has been spreading its communist regime and has an anti-religious point of view. China was hellbent to oppress religious freedom and break the Tibetan spirit. Fearing for the life and the sustainability of the religion, the Dalai Lama and hundreds of Buddhist followers fled the country and sought refuge in India.

However, from his new base, Dalai Lama has been fighting to restore Tibet’s freedom. To ensure the continuity of the religion, he teaches and also carries out his duties. One of his duties is to appoint the next Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is the second most important person in Tibetan Buddhism and is solely responsible for finding the Dalai Lama’s next reincarnation.

The Dalai Lama appointed the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 who was then 6 years old. 3 days later, China abducted him no one knows his location till date. Another case of China forcing its upper hand. Without him, will there be a next Dalai Lama? What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Nice….Nice…..hopefully you will continue …..

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