Snippets from Science

Annually, tiny sandpipers fly over 1,100 statute miles from the Canadian Arctic to the coast of South America. It’s a one-stop flight, for birds touch down only at the Bay of Fundy where they gobble up mud shrimp, a crustacean about half an inch long chocked full of omega-3 fatty acids. With energy tanks full, birds burn the fatty acids to fuel the rest of the journey. How do scientists know this? Since sandpipers weren’t available to study, they fed 40 quails omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. The efficiency of the quails’ muscles to metabolize energy molecules increased by up to 90 percent, even though the quail is a sedentary species. Could this work in humans? Not likely, since our fat metabolism differs from that of birds. (Science Magazine, April 2009)


Ever hear of a “Tickle Me” plant? How about a “Touch-Me-Not” plant? Actually, they are the same plant (Mimosa pudica), which is also known as the “sensitive” plant. Pudica is from Latin and means shy, bashful, or retiring. The name fits, for if leaves of the plant are touched, within seconds they fold inward and droop. Drag a pencil over the foliage and the entire leaf system collapses. Leaves even “sleep” at night by folding and drooping. Biology teachers and youngsters are fascinated by such antics, since most people don’t associated motility with plants. However, all plants move, just very slowly. Plants have a microscopic plumbing system filled with water, and leaves of M. pudica fold and droop when their internal water pressure is decreased. Microscopic contractile filaments in leaf cells may also play a role in such movement. Fairly easy to grow, even features a tiny greenhouse, complete with Tickle Me seeds, for $19.95. Careful, though, juices in the plant can be toxic. More info? Google “Tickle Me” plant. (


Over-the-counter supplements are not the only medications that are produced from plants. The potent anti-cancer drugs vinblastine and vincristine were derived from periwinkle plants (these drugs are now synthesized), and taxol, another anti-cancer drug, is derived from the bark of the PacificYew tree. Quinine and digitalis are plant derivatives, and scientists are testing hundreds of plant substances for their medicinal qualities. Some plants even have insecticidal value. For instance, Menominee Indians protected their potato crops with an insecticide made from boiled May Apple plants.


At the 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Chicago, Israeli researchers reported that people who tend to “ruminate” and excessively worry about their problems have a 30 – 40 percent lower incidence of dementia than the happy-go-lucky type. Go figure.


One scientist’s take on teaching intelligent design – “Simply suppressing the teaching of intelligent design (ID) sends the wrong message to students. They ought to learn that science is about understanding the world and that it proceeds in stages. The questions they should ask are:  1) Does ID make predictions? 2) Can those predictions be tested? If the answers to both are negative, they themselves can conclude that ID is ‘only a nonscientific theory.’” (Letter to Scientific American by Oscar Estevez, Emeritus Professor from the Univ. of Amsterdam Medical Center, May 2009)