Pathologists must get bored staring at tumors all day, so they start imagining little friends in their samples. There are numerous papers in PubMed highlighting their “discoveries” (or perhaps the results of self-imposed Rorschach tests?).
Here are five of our favorites:
“A 46-year-old woman had an excisional breast biopsy that revealed nonproliferative fibrocystic changes as the only histopathologic abnormality. Although it was not Easter at the time of diagnosis, an Easter bunny was found hiding in one of the dilated ducts, which also contained amorphous eosinophilic secretions. A benign diagnosis in a breast biopsy (or any other biopsy) is good news for the patient at any time of the year, but even more special when accompanied by this little fellow.”
I bet that deep down inside, most of us know that our superstitions aren’t real. But even so, you’ll sometimes see even the most logic-driven scientists crossing their fingers when clicking “submit” to send off their slaved-over manuscripts to journals. So why do some situations bring out the superstition more than others? To investigate this question, these researchers tested which types of goals drove participants to superstitious behaviors. Turns out that people are more likely to turn to luck when trying to achieve performance-based goals rather than learning goals, particularly when they had little confidence in the outcome… like whether or not an editor is going to bounce your article back in less than 24 hours.
“People often resort to superstitious behavior to facilitate goal achievement. We examined whether the specific type of achievement goal pursued influences the propensity to engage in superstitious behavior. Read More
It’s well known that people like to eat when they’re bored. But why? Is it because eating food is actively pleasurable, or does it simply break the monotony (which studies have shown people can’t tolerate for even 15 minutes)? To answer this question, these scientists bored participants by having them watch a loop of the same 85-second clip of a game of indoor tennis for an hour. During this time, some subjects were given M&Ms to munch on, and others received a device they could use to self-administer painful electric shocks. Because both types of stimulation were popular, the scientists conclude that people eat when bored to break the monotony, rather than for the pleasure of food itself. So the next time you are feeling bored, remember this study! Maybe it will help you reach for something stimulating other than the cookie jar, even if it’s painful (taxes, anyone?).
Eating and inflicting pain out of boredom.
“In the present study it was investigated whether boredom promotes eating and if so, whether this effect likely reflects an increased drive for rewarding stimulation (positive reinforcement) or more plainly the drive to escape boredom (negative reinforcement). Read More
You may have noticed that frogs close their eyes when swallowing. But here’s a twist: according to this study that has been making the rounds on teh interwebs, they are doing more than just blinking. Here, scientists used X-rays to film frogs while they were chowing down on crickets. It turns out that while swallowing, a frog’s eyes actually retract down towards its esophagus. Not only that, but eliminating the ability of the frog to retract its eyes nearly doubles the number of swallows it takes to choke down a single cricket. We’re still not quite sure why Kermit never broke out this party trick: it might just have been weird enough to scare off Miss Piggy!
“Most anurans retract and close their eyes repeatedly during swallowing. Eye retraction may aid swallowing by helping to push food back toward the esophagus, but this hypothesis has never been tested. We used behavioral observations, cineradiography, electromyography and nerve transection experiments to evaluate the contribution of eye retraction to swallowing in the northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens. Read More
If you don’t know what rum is, it’s probably time you get out of that hole you’ve been living in. But not everyone is as familiar with cachaça, a related liquor popular in Brazil. Like rum, it comes in both light and dark barrel-aged varieties, but instead of being made from molasses (as are most rums), cachaça is made from whole sugarcane juice. However, because some rums are also made from sugarcane juice, and historically cachaça has been called “Brazilian rum”, there is plenty of room for confusion and mislabelling. So what is a picky cocktail weenie to do? Well, according to this study, mass spectrometry can be used to identify molecular fingerprints that can differentiate artisan barrel-aged cachaça from rum. Pirates everywhere, rejoice! (If you have a mass spectrometer, that is!)
“Rum and cachaça are sugarcane distillates produced on large scales and of similar composition, and their differentiation is currently a subject of commercial dispute and a challenging analytical task. We have investigated the ability of direct-infusion electrospray ionization mass spectrometry in the negative ion mode, i.e. ESI(-)-MS, to distinguish between samples of these distillates. Read More
Giving colonoscopies probably gets boring after a while — long stretches of intestine, maybe a polyp here or there. So these doctors were probably pretty surprised when they came upon…a cockroach! “How did it get there?”, you might be asking (after vomiting a little in your mouth)? Apparently, the patient had a cockroach infestation at home, and the doctors guessed she may have inadvertently eaten one of the creepy crawlies. Whole. Probably best not to think about it too hard. Especially since this isn’t an isolated incident.
“A 52-year-old woman with a history of depression was referred by her primary physician for colorectal cancer screening. She had no family history of colorectal cancer and a review of systems was positive for abdominal bloating. Read More
Everyone knows that pandas eat bamboo. But did you know that many of their closest relatives are carnivores? So how did the meat-eating ancestor of pandas become a vegetarian? According to this study, it may have had to do with the deactivation (technically known as “pseudogenization”) of an umami taste receptor gene. Umami is the taste that makes things like meat, soy sauce, and mushrooms extra yummy. Apparently, at some point in panda evolution, the umami receptor became non-functional. Based on how much the gene has changed, the authors calculate that this happened around the same time that pandas started eating bamboo. Whether it’s cause or effect is unclear, although the authors think the switch to bamboo may have happened before the gene was lost. Regardless, the loss of the gene reinforced the panda’s vegetarian diet because it made meat less delicious to the bears. Now if only we could make chocolate less delicious… wait, that’s a terrible idea!
“Although it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda is a vegetarian with 99% of its diet being bamboo. The draft genome sequence of the giant panda shows that its umami taste receptor gene Tas1r1 is a pseudogene, prompting the proposal that the loss of the umami perception explains why the giant panda is herbivorous. Read More
Police have been using lineups for years to help eyewitnesses identify suspects in crimes. But what if you closed your eyes or it was too dark to see what was going on?
Well, according to this study, “nosewitness identification” might be the next best thing. These researchers showed subjects videos of people committing violet crimes (or neutral videos in a control condition), while at the same time asking them to sniff a sample of body odor supposedly from the perpetrator. Read More
We’ve previously discussed how having money can make you feel less pain. So it probably makes you happy too, right? Well, not so fast. This study used census data to test whether higher income is associated with happiness or sadness. Interestingly, they found that although people with money are not happier on a daily basis, they are less sad. Sound paradoxical? According to the authors, “happiness and sadness are distinct emotional states, rather than diametric opposites” — that is, just because you’re not sad doesn’t automatically mean you’re happy. So what do you do if you have money and you want to feel happy? One suggestion supported by data is to spend your money on experiences, not purchases. You’re welcome, 1%ers.
“Although extensive previous research has explored the relationship between income and happiness, no large-scale research has ever examined the relationship between income and sadness. Yet, happiness and sadness are distinct emotional states, rather than diametric opposites, and past research points to the possibility that wealth may have a greater impact on sadness than happiness. Read More
It’s been known for some time that captive dolphins can invent new vocalizations. Although such whistles may be harder for us to pronounce than names like “Flipper” or “Willy”, they nonetheless serve many of the same purposes among porpoises. That’s because dolphins make up new whistles that other dolphins then use to signal each whistle’s inventor. But what happens when dolphins meet for the first time? And what about wild dolphins–do they use “names”? Well, according to this study, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “yes”! It turns out that when wild dolphins meet at sea, one of the first things they do is introduce themselves using their unique whistles! And so it begins…
“The bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is one of very few animals that, through vocal learning, can invent novel acoustic signals and copy whistles of conspecifics. Read More