Snippets From Science


• Many nutritionists and researchers feel that a “Mediterranean Diet” (rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, legumes, and moderate amounts of wine) is a heart-healthy way to eat. Now there’s evidence that this kind of diet is also good for the brain. In a seven-year study at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, 4,000 adults age 65 or older were studied over a period of seven years. Comparisons were made between those who followed a “Mediterranean Diet” and individuals who ate their usual foods. Those who followed a “Mediterranean Diet” performed much better on tests that measured cognitive ability and they showed less mental decline. (WebMD, July/August, 2010)


• The Sperm Whale (Physter macrocephalus) may reach 67 feet in length and weigh 50 – 60 tons. It can dive to depths approaching 9,000 feet by doing a surface flip with its huge flukes sticking up out of the water and then plunging straight down. In the darkness, deep under the surface, it feeds on squid, octopus, and skate. This whale can hold its breath for over an hour – the longest recorded dive was 1 hour and 52 minutes.


Three physiological features equip sperm whales for deep dives. First, its red blood cells are much larger than ours and more are packed into a given volume of blood. Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, the molecule that captures oxygen in the lungs and permits its release deep in tissues. Another factor is that when we exhale before taking a deep breath, we blow out only 15 percent of the volume of air in the lungs. A sperm whale blows out 85 – 90 percent of the residual air in its lungs. Finally, its muscles contain molecules (called “myoglobin”) that can store oxygen until most needed. (various sources, including


• In 1950 the world’s population was about 2.5 billion, and few people worried about the planet’s supply of freshwater. Certainly there were drought and hunger, but most people managed to survive without irrigation farming. Today much more land is under cultivation, and 93 percent of available water is used for agricultural purposes. Partly as a result of intense farming and partly as a result of more available food, from 1950 to 2000 world population increased to 7 billion. By 2050 it is predicted that the population will hit 9 billion. Before the turn of the century, about 8 percent of the earth’s countries had chronic water shortages, but it is predicted that by 2050 this percentage will rise to 45 percent. What does this mean for the future? The conflicts between nations will be over water. (The Economist, May 22, 2010)


• How can birds sleep at night while perched on twigs? Even if a wind comes up, and the branches are blown around, why don’t they fall off? It has to do with thigh muscles that have a long tendon that extends down each leg, around the ankle, under the toes, and attaches to the claws. When a bird perches and squats onto a twig or branch, its knees bend and in the bent position the tendons tighten the claws over the twig. The result, strong winds fail to dislodge the sleeping bird. (J. Dennis, 1992, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes, Harper)


• Good news for grumpy people: studies have shown that people in a bad mood usually perform tasks better than those in a good mood. “Grumpy people paid closer attention to details, showed less gullibility, and formed higher-quality, persuasive arguments than their happy counterparts,” wrote E.K. Humphrey. (Scientific American Mind, Jan./Feb. 2010) Based in part on the work of Joseph Forgas at the University of New South Wales.