Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Speaking of Science: A taste of DNA and flatworms

Speaking of Science
Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino on Science

Until this week, I had no idea what foot-long invasive worms tasted like, but I have an answer, and that is the worst, according to biologist Jean-Lou Justine. Justine, who determined France is now home to predatory flatworms from Asia, said his colleague was compelled to try one. That researcher has not stopped talking about how he regrets the decision.

His experience did, however, get me thinking about other people who have put their taste buds to use in the pursuit of knowledge. In that spirit, here's A Brief List of People Who Have Tasted Things for Reasons, Scientific and Quasi-:

  1. The French researcher who tasted the flatworm, as stated above, said it was one of the worst experiences of his life. (The worms produce noxious chemicals to discourage would-be predators from consuming them.)
  2. Pure DNA tastes like the prehistoric ocean, according to journalist Richard Preston. "I found out you can order DNA in the mail, so I ordered some and it came in a little bottle of dried fluff ... it tasted like the earth's early ocean — a mildly salty taste and a little tiny hint of sweetness," he said in a 2008 interview.
  3. Fossil hunters sometimes use a lick test to distinguish rocks from bones. "The porous nature of some fossil bones will cause it to slightly stick to your tongue if you lick it," Brian Switek writes at the Smithsonian, "though you might want to have a glass of water handy if you feel compelled to try this."
  4. This one's a bit of a cheat, because no one has licked the center of the Milky Way galaxy, but if we could, astronomers suspect it would have a raspberry tang. In 2009, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy detected the chemical signature of a molecule called ethyl formate at the galactic center. Ethyl formate, one astronomer told the Guardian, is the chemical that gives raspberries part of their flavor.
  5. The planet's very old water is very gross. University of Toronto earth scientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar, who studied a pocket of 2.6-billion-year-old water discovered more than a mile below the surface, said to the Los Angeles Times it was "much saltier than seawater" and more viscous than what comes from a tap.
  6. In 1984, paleontologists put the neck meat of a bison carcass, found frozen in Alaskan mud and possibly 36,000 to 50,000 years old, into a stew. It wasn't bad, they decided, if a bit earthy.


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"You have heard of paleo dieting," one scientist said. "We were trying to get a sense of what paleo bedding was like," said one author of the new research.
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