Want to Feel Full? Skip the Steak and Opt for Peas (or Beans)

Although a lot of so-called manly men will insist that a meal of vegetables and plants just doesn’t fill them up, new science from the University of Copenhagen may be proving them wrong. A recent study summary said, “Meals based on legumes such as beans and peas are more satiating than pork and veal-based meals according to a recent study. Results suggest that sustainable eating may also help with weight loss.” This conclusion came after studying 43 young men who ate an average of 12% fewer calories following a protein-rich meal of beans and peas.

This is great news for those concerned about sustainability, since it’s generally accepted that plant-based meals are considerably more eco-friendly. More study is, of course, needed to determine exactly what it is that’s causing these results. Could it be the increase in fiber? Fiber has been shown to correlate with better gut health and improved weight – something that might be partially explained by the ability to eat less of them and still get full. Given that the study was done in Denmark, it will also be interesting to see if those results hold up in other cultures, nationalities, and climates. Other meats could also be studied to see if the results hold up against poultry or seafood (since the original study dealt with veal and pork).

You can read more about this study over at Science Daily, or by seeking out the original study at Food and Nutrition Research.


Burger Straight from the Lab

As the world population continues to grow and food becomes more and more limited, we as humans are going to be searching for novel ways to combat food shortages. Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht, spent the past 2 years and $325,000 to solve this issue. Post has created the first ever lab cultured beef patty which was fried up and shared on the 5th of this month.

By acquiring stem cells from the shoulder muscle of a cow, Post was able to grow the cells in a nutrient rich media that signaled the differentiation to muscle cells. The cells soon formed muscle fibers of which about 20,000 were “knitted” together to form the completed beef patty shown below.

310_Cultured Beef 2

This patty was pan-fried and served on bun with lettuce and tomato to Post himself, Josh Schonwald and Hanni Rutzler. Schonwald stated that biting into the burger felt like biting into a conventional burger however, the patty tasted “like an animal protein cake”. This may have something to do with the absence of adipose tissue, which most notably gives a conventional burger its taste. The upside is that without the presence of fat in the burger it is much healthier for the customer and can even eliminate the possibility of contamination by harmful bacteria via production in a sterile facility.


MP3 Players Help Dementia Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease with little to no hope for improvement or recovery. At best, most people can hope for minimal suffering and confusion as they fade away. That’s why it’s so great to hear of anything that can help to ease the discomfort associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have been working with long-term care facilities to put MP3 players in the hands of those suffering from dementia, as it’s been found that familiar music can stimulate the part of the brain that’s responsible for autobiographical memories – meaning that sufferers can relive happier times through music. It helps to alleviate depression, and in some cases it can increase the patient’s abilities at least temporarily. It certainly won’t fix everything, but it’s another good example of scientific knowledge being used to improve lives. You can read a longer article here or like Music and Memory on Facebook to learn more about the effect of music on memory in older patients.


The Miracle Fruit Works Miracles

Synsepalum dulcificum, or the miracle fruit, commonly found in parts of West Africa is capable of something that no other fruit known to man can accomplish…it can change the way your tongue perceives taste! In other words, up to 60 minutes after eating this fruit anything consumed that would normally taste sour actually tastes sweet. How does it accomplish this amazing feat? Quite simple actually. The flesh of the fruit contains a short protein to which is attached a carbohydrate chain (glycoprotein). In this case, the glycoprotein is known as miraculin. It is believed that when eaten, the protein portion of the molecule binds to our taste bud receptors responsible for perceiving sweet. Then, when sour foods such as lemons, limes or anything containing vinegar are eaten, the low pH that causes these foods to taste sour causes the protein to change folding structure. This change, in turn, activates the bound receptor which tricks our brains into believing that what we have eaten is actually sweet, not sour. This phenomenon occurs until the molecule is removed from our receptors by enzyme containing saliva.

Since its discovery, miraculin has been expressed in other fruits and vegetables by Japanese researchers and was even being considered for release as a food additive in the US in the 70’s. Too bad this fruit is only located in West Africa and to our knowledge, is not imported to the US. Just think of what fun we could play on our unsuspecting friends with these little red berries!


Hello Interstellar Space!


NASA launched it into space on September 5, 1977. It carries with it a gold-plated record on which sounds of Earth, Mozart and Chuck Berry can be heard. It houses a number of various spectrometers, a polarimeter and a magnetometer. Can you guess what it is? Give up or did the “golden record” give it away? Yes, of course we are referencing NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft and it has just become the first man-made object to travel beyond our own solar system and into interstellar space! In fact, it is an estimated 12 billion miles from our sun after 36 years of space travel. NASA has reported that it takes the crafts radio wave transmissions back to Earth a whopping 17 hours to reach us on the home planet. Despite being this far from our reach, NASA believes that the craft will be sending data transmissions back to Earth for another 13 years.


The definitive proof that Voyager 1 had indeed crossed into interstellar space was provided by a huge coronal mass ejection by our sun in March 2012 and took the solar wind about 13 months to finally reach the craft. The magnetic field given off by our sun disturbed the plasma, a medium some 40 times denser than the outskirts of our solar system, surrounding the probe. This enabled the onboard plasma wave instrument to determine the density of the surrounding media via wave-particle interactions. From this data scientists were able to definitively conclude that Voyager 1 had made it to interstellar space.


Over its 36 year journey, Voyager 1 has been critical in the study of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons. In fact, Voyager 1 is responsible for the discovery of the rings of Jupiter and the volcanic activity on Io. Voyager’s tour of the planets ceased in 1980 due to gravitational trajectory after passing by Titan for atmospheric studies. Some images of Jupiter and Io taken by the craft in 1979 and 1980 are displayed throughout the article.


Shifting from electronics to ionics

It is common knowledge that the electronics of today function by moving electrons through a conducting material, in most cases copper or aluminum. Due to the ease of moving such a light particle through a media where no unwanted chemical reactions occur, this has been the sole design for electrical devices until now. Researchers working in a materials science laboratory at Harvard have found a way to mimic the charged ionic signaling system of our own bodies and use it to produce, and possibly replace, some electronics used today.


By incorporating a rubber layer as an insulator, the team was able to ensure no unwanted chemical reactions occurred when high voltages were applied. This rubber sheet is sandwiched between two gel layers impregnated with salt water to conduct an applied voltage. When the voltage is applied, the ions are actually passed through the gel structure making it possible to stretch and deform the structure without an increase in resistance. The team demonstrated this perfectly by using the ionic device as a loud speaker to play music from a desktop computer. Check out the video below to witness the awesomeness!

The researchers believe that ionics could be the electronics of the future, especially those used in biological systems such as implants. Some other possible uses the team have dreamed up include windows that are completely sound-proof and even sound generating tv and smartphone screens. The technology has been featured in the August 3oth issue of Science.


Brain Hacking

Researchers at the University of Washington have given very real meaning to the concept of mind control. What once was only seen in science fiction movies and television shows has become a reality. No need to be alarmed just yet though. Total mind control is still far from our grasp. In fact, Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco have just scratched the surface by being the first to “connect” two human brains non-invasively via the internet using brain recordings and a magnetic stimulator.

Rao, a professor of computer science and engineering, teamed up with Stocco, an assistant professor of psychology, to accomplish the feat after 10 years of research on the subject. By recording electronic brain signals using an electroencephalography (EEG) machine and sending them via the internet to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil located on Stocco’s scalp, he was able to convey the signal to press the spacebar key on a keyboard from clear across the Washington University campus using his mind. EEG and TMS are niether uncommon or new technologies. Both have been widely used by doctors to study and diagnose brain ailments for many years.

Referring to the experiment on August 12th Rao stated, “It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain.” while Stocco claimed the involuntary action felt more like a tic brought on by nerves. The two researchers imagine the technique could be used to assist a passenger on an airplane fly and/or land a plane if the pilot should become unresponsive or even assist disabled citizens to communicate more clearly with those around them. The technology could even break down language barriers since the signals being sent and received by the brain have no roots in language, but are universal.

This video created by the researchers at the University of Washington shows how the experiment was set up and the outcome.


Advances In Food Science: Beyond Basic Gas Chromatograph Analysis

It’s pretty common knowledge that your sense of smell affects your sense of taste. After all, we’ve all had those moments where we had a cold and we could neither smell nor taste what should have been delicious food. Unfortunately, although we understand that basic principle, it’s been difficult for food scientists and chefs to make use of it in any sophisticated way. This article on Popular Science talks about taking the analysis a bit further.

Traditionally, scientists have made use of a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer to quantify the components of an aroma, but they haven’t been able to determine the precise connection between the chemistry of something vs. what’s actually giving it the flavor we perceive. Current methods of studying the connection between flavor and smell are rooted in a combination of technology and good old-fashioned human sniffers. Granted, they’re better sniffers than the average person (most are fragrance professionals), but still, it’s always interesting to see when we hit upon the limits of technology and bring in subjective human data on topics that might seem like purely black and white issues.  What do you think?


Debt & Mental Illness are Linked – You Don’t Say…

Every once in a while, science gives us some real doozies. In this case, I’m talking about a study that tells us that people with a lot of debt are more likely to have mental illness issues, too. I’m sure that for anyone who spends more than 5 seconds thinking about it, this should be pretty obvious. It’s stressful trying to pay the mortgage, send the kids to daycare or the local preschool center, buy food, and maybe go on a little vacation every so often. If you have to go into debt to do those things, it’s even more stressful. And you know what stress does? It wears down our mental defenses and makes us more likely to succumb to problems. And of course, it works the other way, too. If you have mental health issues, you’re going to be more likely to have trouble budgeting, paying for things, and handling debt.

As obvious as it may seem, though, it IS important for scientists to verify these things with studies. That kind of rigorous examination of commonly-held beliefs is what helps us differentiate between the truth and the unverified stereotypes we may develop as a result of our environments. That’s what science is all about, right?  So, the next time you see a study like this, think about it for a bit, but if you find yourself laughing at how “obvious” the conclusion seems to be, remember that we need that quantitative data. Otherwise, we’re all just fumbling in the dark and living on stereotypes and superstitions.


Study Shows Sugar is Toxic In Mice, Even at “Safe Doses”

We all know sugar isn’t particularly good for us, but it’s only recently that scientists have begun to learn just how BAD it is for us. In years gone by, it wasn’t that big of an issue. Most people ate fairly simple meals with some vegetables and breads, and meat and dairy were used sparingly because they were quite expensive. In those days, cancer was much less common, and obesity and heart problems were relatively rare compared to the epidemic rates we have now. Sugar was a treat, but it wasn’t added to every dietary staple. Desserts were something you made for yourself on occasion – not something you could buy cheaply and easily nearly everywhere you go.

Fast forward to today. Now, we not only have plentiful cheap sugary treats in the form of Pop-Tarts, Little Debbie snacks, Hostess Cakes, Soda, and so on…but we find sugar (or worse, HFCS) as an additive to nearly everything you can imagine. Spaghetti sauce, Saltines, and soup are all items that frequently contain a significant amount of HFCS and/or sugar.

That’s why this study on mice is so important – because it’s the same “experiment” most humans are doing to themselves. In this case, the study found that female mice were twice as likely to die and less likely to have reproductive success than those on a diet without the excessive added sugar. Male mice were 25 percent less likely to exhibit normal territorial behavior and reproduce. You can read the official press release for the study here.

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