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Tomato history and other notes

• Tomatoes have a remarkable history. They apparently originated in the Andes Mountains, made their way north to Mexico, and were discovered by Spanish explorers who sent seeds back to Europe. Italians considered them aphrodisiacs. To the French they were “love apples,” and even the Germans cherished them as “apples of paradise.” In reality, a tomato is a fruit, but in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court decreed them to be a vegetable. In 1965 tomato juice was declared Ohio’s official state beverage by its General Assembly. The tomato contains the most concentrated source in nature of an anti-oxidant called lycopene, which has anti-cancer properties. A report from the American Cancer Society describes studies that confirm the value of tomatoes in preventing many kinds of cancers. (www.hort.wis.edu/mastergardner; http://www.cancer.org)

• Scientists are beginning to study genetic mutations that affect sleep, for it’s known that there are families whose members can get by on as little as six hours of sleep while members of other families need at least nine. As we sleep our brain calculates how much intense (slow brain wave) sleep we need as contrasted to less intense “rapid eye movement sleep.” If you are from a family of six-hour sleepers, then you will be ready for the day after only six hours of slow brain wave activity. On the other hand, if you need your 8-9 hours of rest, then you may not be at your best until your longer sleep requirement is met. (Science, Aug. 14, 2009)

• Wonder what happened to the old computer you threw away? Up to 80 percent of the computers, monitors, and other e-waste discarded in the U.S. illegally ends up in China. In some coastal cities there are vast landfills of such waste where poor Chinese move in and pick through the debris. They use primitive smelters to salvage metals, such as gold, lead, and mercury. These dump sites are among the most contaminated in the world, and known toxins and carcinogens, such as dioxins, lead, and polybrominated compounds, are released into the soil and atmosphere and contaminate the bodies of adults and children. In one area, the level of polybrominated compounds in the soil is thousands of times higher than in a “control” site in the province, and blood analyses for people near the site showed that they have the highest levels of these chemicals on earth. A river running along another site has been turned blue by contamination. Both the U.S. and Chinese governments have been lax in addressing the problem. (Science, Aug. 28, 2009)

• An imported form of the common reed, Phragmites, which is invasive in Door County, seems to become more aggressive when its flowers are pollinated by less-invasive indigenous varieties of this reed. A researcher at Utah State discovered that flowers of imported reeds fertilized with a mix of pollen from three genetically different “local” reeds yielded 10 times as many viable seeds as did self-fertilized plants. This appears to mean that, in competition with native reeds, the imported variety has an evolutionary advantage.

(Science News, Aug. 29, 2009)