What makes chocolate so deliciously melty in your mouth?

By Seriously Science | May 22, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Jackie

Image: Flickr/Jackie

Mmmmm…. chocolate! It’s not just the flavor that makes is so delicious, it’s also the rich texture in your mouth. But what factors lead to that smooth film that coats your mouth when you eat chocolate? If you think it’s simply melted cocoa butter, think again! According to this study, properties of both the chocolate and your saliva contribute to the “lubrication” of the chocolate as you chew it. These scientists measured the physical properties of molten chocolate mixed with either saliva or salty water (PBS) as well as “chocolate expectorated after chewing till the point of swallow” (yum!). They report that the cocoa butter, sugar particles, and saliva also play a role in developing the texture of chewed chocolate. We just hope the poor souls who were asked to spit out chocolate before swallowing were well compensated!

Lubrication of chocolate during oral processing.

“The structure of chocolate is drastically transformed during oral processing from a composite solid to an oil/water fluid emulsion. Using two commercial dark chocolates varying in cocoa solids content, this study develops a method to identify the factors that govern lubrication in molten chocolate and saliva’s contribution to lubrication following oral processing. Read More

Flashback Friday: Pop quiz: which animal communicates by farting?

By Seriously Science | May 19, 2017 6:00 am

2458624643_2fd9768eda_zAnswer: Herring! It’s been known for quite some time that these fish make unusual sounds, but it wasn’t until these scientists captured wild herring and observed them in captivity that they realized these fish produce the sounds by expelling air through their anuses. Herring are more likely to make these “Fast Repetitive Tick Sounds” (abbreviated FRTs… we assume the pun is intended) when other fish are present, suggesting that FRTs are used for social communication. Now if only I could use my farts for communicating anything else besides “Retreat!”

Pacific and Atlantic herring produce burst pulse sounds.

“The commercial importance of Pacific and Atlantic herring (Clupea pallasii and Clupea harengus) has ensured that much of their biology has received attention. However, their sound production remains poorly studied. We describe the sounds made by captive wild-caught herring. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ha ha poop

Study reveals that women date men who look like their brothers.

By Seriously Science | May 18, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Eleazar

Image: Flickr/Eleazar

Incest is generally not a good idea because children born of closely related parents can end up with genetic diseases. But some amount of genetic similarity between parents can actually be evolutionarily advantageous, as genes that evolve together tend to work best with each other in a given environment. So how do people select “optimally similar” mates? Well, these scientists hypothesized that mating with a distant relative might satisfy both ends: the relationship would be distant enough to make genetic diseases unlikely, but would be close enough to keep the offspring’s genes compatible. To test this idea, they had volunteers submit photos of their brothers and boyfriends, and had participants judge how similar the two photos were, among other random photos. The scientists found that the participants judged the woman’s boyfriend to be more similar to the brother than 3 random people, by a small but statistically significant amount (27% versus 25% by chance). This doesn’t mean that the women were attracted to their brothers, but that they chose partners that looked like their brothers. Perhaps this is the impetus behind “kissing cousins”…?

Facial resemblance between women’s partners and brothers.

“Research on optimal outbreeding describes the greater reproductive success experienced on average by couples who are neither too closely related, nor too genetically dissimilar. How is optimal outbreeding achieved? Faces that subtly resemble family members could present useful cues to a potential reproductive partner with an optimal level of genetic dissimilarity. Here, we present the first empirical data that heterosexual women select partners who resemble their brothers. Read More

Drinking makes you feel less pain: proven fact or old wives’ tale?

By Seriously Science | May 15, 2017 6:00 am

Before the advent of anesthesia, patients undergoing surgery were often given copious amounts of alcohol to help make them more comfortable. But is there any scientific proof that alcohol can actually dull pain, or is the person simply too drunk to care? Surprisingly, previous studies on this topic have been mixed, so these researchers performed a meta-analysis to get to the bottom of the matter. By systematically reviewing 18 studies on over 400 subjects, they found that yes, alcohol not only dulls pain, it also increases pain tolerance. How much alcohol does the trick? A blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% (legally drunk, 3-4 drinks) produces a statistically significant reduction in pain intensity and an increase in pain threshold, and increasing BAC augmented these levels even further. Something to consider the next time you have to perform surgery in the 18th century. Cheers!

Analgesic Effects of Alcohol: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Experimental Studies in Healthy Participants

“Despite the long-standing belief in the analgesic properties of alcohol, experimental studies have produced mixed results. This meta-analysis aimed to clarify whether alcohol produces a decrease in experimentally-induced pain and to determine the magnitude of any such effect. PubMed, PsycINFO, and Embase databases were searched from inception until April 21, 2016 for controlled studies examining the effect of quantified dosages of alcohol on pain response to noxious stimulation. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethanol, told you so

Flashback Friday: She had an extra nipple where?!?

By Seriously Science | May 5, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Lars Plougmann

Image: Flickr/Lars Plougmann

Yup, you guessed it–according to this case study, a woman was found to have an extra nipple… in her vulva! And guess what else? It produced milk! Although extra nipples aren’t all that common, they usually can be found along the “milk line” (the imaginary line on a person’s torso that correlates with the line between multiple pairs of nipples on other mammals). But extra nipples have also been reported on other places, like the foot. So this extra nipple is unusual for its location. But what makes it really special is that it actually produced milk. It turns out that most extra nipples don’t come with much breast tissue, much less the capacity for milk formation. However, because of the risk of malignancy, this extra nipple was removed after it was diagnosed.

Supernumerary nipple presenting as a vulvar mass in an adolescent: case report

“BACKGROUND: Ectopic breast tissues can be found along the embryonic mammary ridges and can occur in the vulva. While ectopic breast tissue is not uncommon, functional breast with overlying nipple located within the vulva is exceedingly rare. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Could a placebo help heal a broken heart?

By Seriously Science | May 4, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Klesta

Photo: flickr/Klesta

The placebo effect is an amazing phenomenon. As we have previously reported, placebos can help with everything from losing weight to improving your vision. And, according to this study, they may even help mend a broken heart. Here, researchers recruited participants who had been dumped in the last six months, and gave them a saline nose-spray that they claimed either was “effective in reducing emotional pain” (the placebo group) or a routine part of fMRI imaging (the control group). Next, the researchers conducted fMRI imaging of the subjects’ brains while showing them photos of their ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, and asking the subjects to recall their breakups. The result? Subjects in the placebo nose spray group experienced less social pain when remembering their exes compared with those in the control. Let’s just hope those participants were well compensated!

Frontal-brainstem pathways mediating placebo effects on social rejection

“Placebo treatments can strongly affect clinical outcomes, but research on how they shape other life experiences and emotional well-being is in its infancy. We used fMRI in humans to examine placebo effects on a particularly impactful life experience—social pain elicited by a recent romantic rejection. We compared these effects to placebo effects on physical (heat) pain, which are thought to depend on pathways connecting prefrontal cortex and periaqueductal gray (PAG). Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

Do rats have orgasms? Do you really want to know?

By Seriously Science | May 1, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Tambako The Jaguar

Image: Flickr/Tambako The Jaguar

Rats get a bum rap. Most of us find them repulsive, and we will actively persecute them if we find them in our living spaces. It’s no wonder–they harbor carriers of the plague. But, like most mammals, they are more similar to us than you might expect. Take this study, for example. Here, scientists wondered whether non-human mammals have orgasms. To answer this question, they began by coming up with a set of physiological responses associated with human orgasms. They then asked whether rats display any of these same traits after copulation. Lo and behold, both male and female rats display ALL. OF. THEM., indicating that both sexes do have orgasms. Maybe being a rat isn’t so bad after all–at least they get the big O!

Do rats have orgasms?

“BACKGROUND: Although humans experience orgasms with a degree of statistical regularity, they remain among the most enigmatic of sexual responses; difficult to define and even more difficult to study empirically. The question of whether animals experience orgasms is hampered by similar lack of definition and the additional necessity of making inferences from behavioral responses. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, Sex & Mating

Flashback Friday: What the shape of your nose says about your quality as a mate.

By Seriously Science | April 28, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/jbcurio

Photo: flickr/jbcurio

Compared to the noses of most other primates, the human nose is quite large and easily broken. Why have we evolved such a risky appendage? According to this study, it might be because of sexual selection — in other words, a nice nose acts as an indicator of an individual’s fitness as a mate. To test this hypothesis, the authors photoshopped either a man’s nose or mouth so that it looked slightly asymmetrical in some photos (see figure below) and then asked subjects to rate the photos for attractiveness. They found that only the nose manipulations made the faces more or less attractive, with centered nose tips being the most preferred. How this relates to fitness remains unclear, but you should probably get one of the devices shown to the left…you know, just in case.

The spectacular human nose: an amplifier of individual quality?

“Amplifiers are signals that improve the perception of underlying differences in quality. They are cost free and advantageous to high quality individuals, but disadvantageous to low quality individuals, as poor quality is easier perceived because of the amplifier. For an amplifier to evolve, the average fitness benefit to the high quality individuals should be higher than the average cost for the low quality individuals. The human nose is, compared to the nose of most other primates, extraordinary large, fragile and easily broken—especially in male–male interactions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: smell you later

All mammals take ~12 seconds to poop.

By Seriously Science | April 26, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Paul Stevenson

Image: Flickr/Paul Stevenson

If the above image disturbs you, move along; this post is not for you! In this study, published this week in the journal Soft Matter (yes, seriously), scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology report their detailed studies of the pooping habits of a wide variety of mammals. Using video recordings of the fecal extrusions and measuring the resulting turds, they deduce that “Despite the length of rectum ranging from 4 to 40 cm, mammals from cats to elephants defecate within a nearly constant duration of 12 ± 7 seconds (N=23). We rationalize this surprising trend by the model, which shows that feces slide along the large intestine by a layer of mucus, similar to a sled sliding through a chute. Larger animals have not only more feces but also thicker mucus layers, which facilitate their ejection.” If you are interested in pooping, be sure to check out the Supplementary Movies — we had no idea that Panda poop is green!

Hydrodynamics of defecation.

“Animals discharge feces within a range of sizes and shapes. Such variation has long been used to track animals as well as to diagnose illnesses in both humans and animals. However, the physics by which feces are discharged remain poorly understood. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we investigate the defecation of mammals from cats to elephants using the dimensions of large intestines and feces, videography at Zoo Atlanta, cone-on-plate rheological measurements of feces and mucus, and a mathematical model of defecation. Read More

Flashback Friday: Want to learn Chinese? Read this first!

By Seriously Science | April 21, 2017 6:00 am

3952984450_953c33c096_zIf you have ever struggled to learn a tonal language like Cantonese, you are probably (painfully) aware of how difficult it can be. In tonal languages, the same syllables can have different meanings if spoken with an increasing, neutral, or decreasing pitch. But xenoglossophobes, fear not — these researchers are here to help! They guessed that learning words in Cantonese would be easier and faster if students were first taught to distinguish different tones. To test this idea, they compared students (both musicians and non-musicians) who were first trained to hear tonal differences. Guess what? It worked! Both musicians and non-musicians learned new words faster when first taught to distinguish the different tones. Now all we need is something to make learning all those Chinese characters easy…

Effects of tone training on Cantonese tone-word learning.

“The present study examined the effect of improving lexical tone identification abilities on Cantonese tone-word learning. Native English non-musicians received training on Cantonese tones before learning the meanings of words distinguished by these tones. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: told you so
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Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
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