Parkinson’s Alley, Lake Superior & Egypt’s Western Desert

• The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unclear, although it is known that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Fifteen to twenty percent of people with Parkinson’s have a close relative with the disease, and if one parent is affected the offspring has a slightly higher risk of developing the disorder. Environmental factors also play a role. A 300-mile-long stretch of farmland in California between Bakersfield and Sacramento has been named “Parkinson’s Alley” by neurologists. The disease rate is about five times higher than among people living in the surrounding area. The 46-year-old police chief in Parkinson’s Alley retired after winning his last election. At the swearing-in ceremony, his hand shook so badly when he tried to place his hand on the Bible that onlookers thought he was waving hello.

What causes this spike in the disease? The evidence points to exposure to herbicides and pesticides used in farming the rich valley soil, which produces about seven percent of the nation’s crops. Paraquat, a weed killer, and Rotenone, an insecticide, are implicated, along with the fungicides Maneb and Ziram. Paraquat was banned in Europe in 2007 but the U.S. still permits its use.

This does not mean a person occasionally using such chemicals will develop Parkinson’s. Usually long-term exposure is required, and even then the disease might not appear. However, if you are genetically susceptible, then your chances increase. Different individuals differ in their resistance or susceptibility to disease states. (Science Daily, April 21, 2009; National Institutes of Health, immediate release Feb. 11, 2011; Sierra, Jan./Feb. 2012)

• By surface area, which of the Great Lakes is the largest in the world? Which contains ten percent of all the fresh water on the planet? Which lake has a shoreline that, if stretched out in a straight line, would reach from Duluth to the Bahamas? Or has enough water to cover all of North and South America with water one foot deep? Answer: Lake Superior. (; and thanks to Bill Casey)

• In 1902, a group of geologists exploring a valley in Egypt’s Western Desert discovered bones of ancient sea creatures, some 50-feet long. The desert wind had scoured the sandy valley and exposed the bones. In 1989 paleontologists from the University of Michigan conducted detailed studies of these bones and concluded that the skeletons were those of whales. Then they made a startling discovery: the whales had tiny hind legs and a pelvic girdle to support the legs.

The scientists speculated that these ancient whales evolved about 55 million years ago from pig-like scavengers living at the edge of the sea. One paleontologist theorized, “They started spending more time in the water, first eating dead fish along the shore, and then chasing prey in the shallows, and then wading deeper. As they did, some evolved traits that facilitated hunting in water.” And over time, those better at hunting in water got bigger, more streamlined, lost their legs, and evolved into the whales of today (which do have vestigial pelvic girdles under all that blubber). If this is too difficult to comprehend, keep in mind that in 55 million years of adaptation and natural selection, a lot of evolution can occur. But if you just can’t believe all this, you won’t believe that early human embryos have gill arches – but it’s a fact. (Smithsonian, Jan., 2012)

• Scientists have isolated an anti-bacterial protein from honey called “defensin-1.” It appears to be part of the bees’ immune system and they add the protein to the honey they produce. Defensin-1 is effective against certain antibiotic resistant bacteria, including the MRSA (staph) bacterium. (Science Daily, June 30, 2010; FASEB Journal, July 10, 2010)