ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside April 2010

Wonders of Life

Various items that have come across my desk and did not roll off



Matt Collins

Cheetos Lip Balm. That’s right, you can purchase lip balm imbued with the delicate flavor of Cheetos. Somehow I lived in blissful ignorance of that fact until quite recently, when I discovered that chemists had pulled off this minor miracle back in 2005. As I pondered the idea of a cheese-puffy lip protector, a flood of memories of never having read Proust rose up within me, and I thought of what marvelous recollections he might have come up with had he ever tasted a crunchy curl of faux cheese delicately lifted from a greasy plastic bag, the junkified morsel staining thumb and forefinger a sickly, artificial orange. But I couldn’t think about that for long because I was soon busy thinking about other stuff, stuff I’ll now ask you, dear reader, to think about, too.

Here’s something else I just learned about: in a 2007 poll respondents on average estimated NASA’s funding to be 24 percent of the federal budget. Fixing those busted space toilets is expensive, but not that expensive: NASA has in fact been getting about $18 billion annually in recent years, less than 1 percent of the budget. NASA would get about $1 billion more each year under the draft budget President Barack Obama announced in early February, although that money would go to scientific research and robotic missions rather than sending guys back to the moon to look for Alan B. Shepard’s golf balls. (There are two up there: he shanked his first shot and took the rare moon mulligan.)

Chew on this: animal-rights group PETA says life in captivity is too stressful for groundhogs, which should thus be excused from Groundhog Day festivities. In an interview with blogger Rusty Pritchard, Texas Tech University climatologist Katharine Hayhoe noted that human “climate scientists are often subject to stressful conditions as well, as everything from their sanity to their integrity is attacked on a regular basis.”

Here’s another idea that’s really been vexing me. Human embryonic stem cells are bad, I’ve been told, because they come from aborted embryos or from surplus embryos created for in vitro fertilization. And using these cells in potentially lifesaving research is morally wrong because even if that embryo was only a few cells or just one cell, it has the potential to be a human being. To some people’s thinking, it already is a human being. On the other completely gestated hand, what are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are allegedly good because no embryos are involved. An iPSC is a tissue-specific adult cell that, with special treatment, has reverted to a fully pluripotent form capable of producing any other kind of cell in the body. In fact, it’s theoretically capable of being implanted into a welcoming womb and developing into a human being. Oh, the result would be a clone and therefore pure evil, but it would definitely be a human. So what I don’t get is why aren’t people who are against using embryonic stem cells in research just as against using iPSCs? Is it because of the evil clone thing?

By the way, freezers in fertility clinics all over the country are filled with those surplus embryos, which some consider to be human beings with all the rights and privileges thereof. And there’s a thought experiment in which a fully developed human baby-type person (that detailed description is meant to ward off semantic issues about who’s a human or what’s a baby) is in the clinic sitting on one of those freezers when a fire breaks out—whom do you save, the crying baby or as many of the frozen embryos as you can? (Hint: if you leave the baby, you don’t get invited to the spaghetti dinner at the thought-experiment firehouse.)

Let’s move on to this item: the first movie filmed entirely by chimps aired in the U.K. in January, the brainchild of a primatology doctoral candidate who gave cameras to said chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo. Inside sources say that an uncredited William Goldman was brought in to fix script problems and that the Weinsteins plugged gaping holes in the funding after initial filming went way over budget on, here it comes, hair and makeup.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article



This function is currently unavailable

X