Food to die for, or not

I don’t consider myself particularly brave, but neither very cowardly. I am generally up for new things, even when they have a clear risk factor involved. At least as long as I can have a personal impact on this risk.

Yesterday I was visiting some friends for a board game evening, and we were all invited to have dinner at their neighbors’ place. Nice and all good, until I heard that my flatmates were discussing one of the main ingredients rather worryingly.

My flatmates told me that he neighbors were about to serve a pesto made from a plant called ramsons (bärlauch in German and ramslök in Swedish). They also told me that the only problem with this plant (which is picked before it flowers can be rather easily confused with two other plants.

One of them is the lily of the valley (German: maiglöckchen; Swedish: liljekonvalj), well known for being poisonous, with pretty painful symptoms. But small amounts are unlikely to kill you.

The second of them is the autumn crocus or naked lady (German: herbstzeitlose; Swedish: tidlösa). This one is also poisonous, but in contrast to the lily of the valley, the autumn crocus kills you even after consuming only very small quantities. Symptoms appear only 2-6 hours after consumption, are very similar to those of cholera, and no antidote is known. Nice!

After having researched this for over an hour together and even sent one of us downstairs to have a look at these plants the neighbors had picked, we were all getting more and more paranoid about this dinner. And especially I, who barely know their neighbors, wasn’t exactly sure how good these guys are at selecting their harvests.

Although we did prepare our own sauce to bring to the dinner, we all ended up trying a bit from the pesto in the end, but I think most of us decided to stay below the four grams that were stated as the deadly dose. Now, about 14 hours later, I still don’t have any cholera-like symptoms, so I suppose it would have been safe to dig in much deeper into that bowl of ramsons pesto—which indeed was very delicious!

But it was an interesting feeling to be truly worried over such a simple thing as food, and to realize that my braveness is rather limited to situations where (I feel like) I have some control.

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Beautiful Baselbiet

One thing I will surely miss from Basel—especially if I end up in Buenos Aires—is the surrounding nature. Get on the bike in the city center, head for any direction, and you won’t have to ride longer than 15 minutes until you’ve reached the country side. Not that I’ve been making use of this fact on a very regular basis, but the times that I have I have highly appreciated it.

Yesterday was one of those days. With spring slowly but surely arriving I decided to make the most out of the beautiful Saturday weather with a long bicycle trip. I literally just picked a nearby village from the map (Reigoldwil) and set out. After 2h30min, 30 km, and quite a bit more climbing than expected I was awarded with this nice view, followed by a 5 min high-speed downhill ride taking me to my final destination:

Heading for Reigoldswil.

Heading for Reigoldswil.

All-in-all I ended up doing around 70 km, which is not much for a regular rider, but was quite an exercise for me—since I usually don’t bike more than the 15 plus 15 minutes it takes me to go to and from work every day.

Hip science

I have less than three weeks remaining here in Basel before I return back home to Sweden—an adventure in itself, since I have decided to go home by train. More about that to come.

In contrast to my last two stays here in Basel, this time I have been given a pretty fun project to lead and work on in the lab. It also makes me feel very hip and cool, since it is one of the hottest topics in biology right now—namely CRISPR/Cas.

Without getting too deep into details, CRISPR/Cas is a DNA editing system that uses components of an immune system from bacteria to introduce specific modifications in the genome of other organisms. This has potential applications for everything from basic research (genetics, molecular biology) and biotechnology (genetic engineering) to clinical science (gene therapy).

My contribution will obviously be very modest, but what mostly makes me happy is to feel that I have reached a knowledge level where I can actually understand and start contributing to leading science.