Vitamin and mineral supplements are big business. So although the manufacturers make a lot of claims, can you really believe what they say?
For that matter, how do you know whether to believe any claims about medical products? With the amount of money involved in the health industry, there’s, well, a bit of a temptation to shape the truth.
In mid-2009, an entire scientific journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine – put out by the prestigious publisher Elsevier – was found to be basically an advertising brochure for the pharmaceutical company Merck. It claimed to cover reviews of research, but all the reviews were all suspiciously favourable to Merck’s products.
The answer seems to be “maybe”. But if we are attracted by scent, it may have more to do with finding our immune systems than anything else.
Studies have shown that we are more likely to be attracted to someone with different immunity to ourselves, presumably to give the broadest benefit to our potential offspring.
To find out more about why some people smell more attractive then others, and potentially how to test you and and your partner’s “olfactory compatibility”, read “The Smell of Love” in Psychology Today.
Pheremones and falling in love
A certain day in February tends to prompt an awful lot of people to wear their heart on their sleeve, so to speak, and declare their true feelings for someone. But what makes that one individual stand out from the crowd to become the object of such a response? Poets and philosophers have pondered this question through the ages, and in recent times, scientists have set their sights on the issue, too.
The project leader, Associate Professor Ron Johnstone, said:
“We have already observed the death of algae and bivalves and the sensors will be able to record accurate and real time measurements of other changes in the marine environment as a result of the floods.
“This information will help us understand how the floods are impacting on life in the bay and what it is that is causing some of the plants and animals to die.”
I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been shocked by yesterday’s tragedy in New Zealand. Christchurch is a beautiful city, which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit twice in the past year – my thoughts are with all those affected, especially those who’ve lost loved ones or are still trapped in the rubble.
Unfortunately, science still can’t predict when earthquakes are going to strike. But we do know why they happen, and we learn more each time.
Specifically, what happens to you when you die and are cremated? Well, cremation uses furnaces that reach temperatures of around 760–1150 °C. Fire this hot vapourises almost all the tissue in the body, and what remains is mostly former bones.
The mineral in bone is hydroxylapatite, a type of calcium phosphate with the formula Ca5(PO4)3(OH). But in the heat of cremation, it’s at least partly transformed into tricalcium phosphate, or Ca3(PO4)2.
There isn’t a lot of tricalcium phosphate left in cremated human remains (or “cremains”, if you prefer), only about 3.5% of the body’s original mass. And it isn’t really harmful to the environment; if anything, calcium phosphate makes a good fertiliser.
It also occurs naturally in cow milk and is used as food additive E341(iii) in table salt, sugar and baking powder, to stop it clumping together. But don’t worry: the food additive isn’t normally made from bones. That would be gross.
First of all, a NASA astrobiologist, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, and her team found some bacteria in Lake Mono, in California.
This lake has very high salinity, high alkalinity and high levels of arsenic. Dr Wolfe-Simon’s team extracted a strain of Gammaproteobacteria, which they cultivated in a laboratory and called GFAJ-1 (short for “Give Felisa a job”).
When they cut off the bacteria’s supply of phosphorous – essential for DNA, cell membranes and other metabolic processes – it continued to grow. This led them to conclude that arsenic – which, although usually poisonous, is chemically similar to phosphorous – had taken its place.
Always one to sniff out a good story, this week Stuart let us in on the facts behind plant pollen allergies and hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis. Not to mention the horror that is rhinorrhea (that’s actually just the technical term for a runny nose, but it sounds pretty horrific).
Although there’s a tendency to blame wattles and other showy flowers for our pain, those are unlikely to be responsible because they’re pollinated by insects. It’s much more likely to be due to the less obvious, wind-pollinated plants like grasses, that cast their pollen on the air.
To find out which plants cause hay fever and what time of year to avoid them, see the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’s Guide to common allergic pollen.
And for further information on hay fever symptoms and treatment options, check out the Better Health Channel.
John, who always likes to seek out extremes, this week dug up the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole ever drilled at 12.262 km beneath the Earth.
Although they reached this depth in 1989, drilling actually began 19 years earlier in 1970, when Russia was part of the Soviet Union.
The borehole sits on and under the Kola Peninsula, in Lapland at the very north-west of Russia, and part of Murmansk Oblast (word of the day: oblast, an administrative division or province of Russia and other Slavic countries like Ukraine and Belarus. Present-day Russia has 46 oblasts, as well as various republics and krais, or territories).
You can read more about this Russian marvel at Wikipedia.
This study was a collaboration between Japanese researchers and Australian scientists from the CSIRO. The paper’s Australian co-author, Dr David Topping from CSIRO Food Futures and Preventative Health Flagships, said of the research:
“While protection was shown with probiotic Bifidobacteria, the study showed also that a CSIRO technology being developed in Preventative Health Flagship was also highly effective. This product is a modified starch which delivers specific SCFA to the large bowel and the data confirm that acetic acid was critical for survival of infected animals. The studies offer promise for the development of more effective prebiotic and probiotic foods to assist in infection control.