One of these pockets must have Tabasco.
Does this zero gravity make me look fat? Yup. It’s called the Charlie Brown effect, according to Michele Perchonok, NASA’s shuttle food system manager, and it’s not because she’s fattening them up with shrimp cocktail and chicken consommé. Without the benefit of gravity, bodily fluids accumulate in the head, giving the astronauts rounder, cartoon-like faces.
As anyone who’s had a cold knows, more fluid in our facial cavities also means congestion and weakening our sense of smell. But is lack of gravity actually responsible to for all this? There’s only one way to find out: “Perchonok has asked [food engineer Jean Hunter] and her crew at Cornell to test the stuffy nose theory. To do that on Earth, volunteers will spend several weeks in a bed where their heads are lower than their feet to try to re-create that Charlie Brown effect.” This might not be what people had in mind when they volunteered for astronaut simulations.
It’s almost Thanksgiving here the US. Before you tuck into your stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce, save a little room for a big helping of science. Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving science stories from around the Internet, detailing the research behind fattening turkeys, giving thanks, post-holiday shopping, and more: Read More
Have you ever eaten a single potato chip or French fry that sent you spiraling into nearly uncontrollable gluttony? Scientists are now saying that these sober binges are actually quite similar to pot smokers’ notorious bouts of the munchies: fatty foods cause your body to release marijuana-like chemicals called endocannabinoids, and this likely compels you to continue stuffing your face.
Is this milkshake better than yours?
Congratulating yourself on that calorie-conscious salad might just make you feel hungrier, scientists are now finding—better to close your eyes, take a bite, and pretend you’re eating ice cream.
We’ve already heard in recent years that eating imaginary M&Ms or cheese cubes can give you some of the satiety of the real thing: In a 2010 paper, researchers found that contrary to popular belief, imagining eating such foods in vivid detail actually made subjects eat fewer M&Ms, cheese chunks, and so on. Now, scientists have found that if you believe a shake is low in calories, you’ll feel less satisfied than people who think the shake was an indulgence, even when you’re both drinking the same shake. What gives?
The tiny device, called abiliti and made by Intrapace, attaches to the vagus nerve, which sends status updates about the body’s organs to the brain. The pacemaker then hacks the nervous system’s normal communication, according to the company’s website:
The abiliti system is designed to support these good habits by making the patient feel full sooner when eating. The abiliti system may also help in keeping them satisfied longer and helping them to eat less frequently.
Intrapace reports that the 65 study participants in the initial trials have lost on average 22 percent of their body weight; the biggest loser dropped 38 percent. (These results haven’t been published or peer-reviewed.)
Microscopy often yields striking snapshots, but these colorful compositions have a less-than-glamorous subject: fruit fly intestines.
The insides of these humble critters may help researchers understand the human digestive system. Each of us has something like 500 million intestinal nerve cells, yet little is known about what they’re up to. According to a recent Wellcome Trust press release, fruit fly feces (seen in image 3 above) have helped researchers at the University of Cambridge understand how the gut’s nerve cells affect metabolism.
“We reasoned that what comes out of the gut may be able to tell us about what is going on inside,” says Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who headed the study. “So, we devised a method to extract information about several metabolic features from the flies’ fecal deposits–which are actually rather pretty and don’t smell bad. Then we turned specific neurons on and off and examined what came out.”
Examining fruit fly poo allowed the scientists to assign different functions to different intestinal neurons. Some regulate appetite, for example, while others adjust intestinal water balance during reproduction.
Sick of invasive snakes eating through your wiring and biting your babies? Don’t have any tylenol-doped mice to lob at them? You might be in luck, we have a few ideas of what to invasive species that insist on making pests of themselves.
Idea #1: Make Them Into Dinner
Become a part of the “invasivore” movement by ingesting some tasty lionfish (pictured) or asian carp, and by nomming on some kudzu or Japanese knotweed. One “almost serious” invasivore, Rachel Kesel, blogged on the subject and talked to The New York Times:
She said in an interview that she was studying in London when she wrote the post, which grew out of conversations about diet and ecology. “If you really want to get down on conservation you should eat weeds,” she decided. And so she blogged. She now works for the parks department of San Francisco and said she did indeed pursue the vegetable side of the diet she proposed. “I’m really looking forward to some of our spring weeds here,” she said, notably Brassica rapa, also known as field mustard or turnip mustard.
A second, meat-eating invasivore named Jackson Landers has been teaching other ecologically-minded eaters how to hunt and eat local invasive species, including feral pigs, two species of iguana, armadillos, starlings, pigeons, and resident Canada geese.
“When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly,” he said. Our taste for passenger pigeon wiped that species out, he said. What if we developed a similar taste for starlings?
Idea #2: Make Them Into Shoes (or Other Clothes)
Charges by South Korean health officials that octopus heads contain large and unhealthy amounts of the heavy medal cadmium have sparked a war with the fishermen who profit from the $35 million-a-year trade.
Octopus heads are a popular delicacy in South Korea, revered by locals for their health benefits and their supposed role as an aphrodisiac. About 12 million octopuses are sold for eating every year, says the LA Times:
Nakji, a dish featuring baby octopuses, head and all, is a popular snack at sporting events. Another dish, sannakji (“live octopus”), features squirming tentacles dipped in a sesame oil and salt sauce. Enthusiasts have been hospitalized after a wiggling tentacle lodged in the throat.
No dessert, caveman child, until you finish eating your human. Digging around in a Spanish cave called Gran Dolina, archaeologists have found butchered humans’ fossilized bones. Researchers say the bones show that cave dwellers skinned, decapitated, and enjoyed other early humans, before throwing their remains into a heap with animals bones from other meals.
The study, which appeared this month in Current Anthropology, says the 800,000-year-old Homo antecessor bones could indicate the most “ancient cultural cannibalism … known until now.” Adding to the nightmare: National Geographic reports that the hungry cavemen had a penchant for kids, since the 11 cannibalized humans uncovered were all youngsters. They speculate that the kiddos were easier to catch, and eating them was a good way to stop competitors from building their families.
Study coauthor José María Bermúdez de Castro, of the National Research Center on Human Evolution, told National Geographic that marks near the base of some skulls hint that the diners decapitated humans to get the brain goodness inside.
“Probably then they cut the skull for extracting the brain…. The brain is good for food.”
The researchers believe that eating other humans wasn’t a big deal back then, and probably wasn’t linked to religious rituals or marked by elaborate ceremonies. They draw that conclusion from the fact that butchered human bones were tossed in the scrap heap along with animal remains.
There is some debate as to how frequently human was on the menu, but these researchers note that the Sierra de Atapuerca region had a great climate and that cannibalism didn’t likely result from a lack of alternatives. I guess our ancestors were just that tasty.
Discoblog: For Early Europeans, Cannibalism Was One Perk of Victory
Discoblog: Mad Cow Fears Keep Euro Sperm Out of U.S.
Discoblog: To Fight Cancer, Ovarian Cells Eat Themselves
80beats: New Guinean Cannibals Evolved Resistance To Mad Cow-Like Disease
Image: flickr / joanna8555
Tired of gum-plastered streets, Anna Bullus decided to design and install chewing gum receptacles made, naturally, from recycled chewing gum. Her pink “Gumdrops” now appear in five UK locations and Six Flags Theme Park in New Jersey.
Though she won’t reveal the gum rubber’s exact contents, Bullus told The Guardian that eight months in a lab allowed her to perfect her technique, making gum first into a foam and then a used-gum pellet, before extracting a polymer modestly called BRGP (Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer). Perhaps it’s not surprising that you could turn gum into plastic, since the “nonnutritive masticatory substance” that gives gum its chewiness can include butyl rubber, used in inner tubes.
If her Gumdrops can keep gum off the streets, such bins might save British taxpayers an estimated £150 ($300) million per year–that’s what the government spends now on steam hoses, freezing machines, and corrosive chemical street cleanings. Plus Bullus says the Gumdrops, once full, can provide fodder for more Gumdrops and other plastic products. She told The Guardian:
“The amazing thing is you can use it for any plastic product…. I’d love to do some Wellington boots, for example. Gum boots, in fact.”
Discoblog: Britain’s War On Chewing Gum Terror
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: A moment on your lips, forever in your intestine.
Discoblog: Can the Texas BoE walk and deny evolution at the same time? (when chewing gum meets evolution)
DISCOVER: Oh, Rubbish (archaeologists dig up some old trash, including gum)