Hi, Steve Mirsky here, with the Scientific American Science Talk podcast. I owe you a TOTALLY BOGUS. So here are four science stories, but only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALLY BOGUS.
Story 1, banned from import these past 21 years for fears of spongiform encephalopathy, it is now once again legal to bring Falkland Island sheep meat into the U.S.
Story 2, bats and dolphins that echolocate have the same genetic constructs that allow them to do it.
Story 3, llamas are providing proteins that could help find bioterror weapons.
And story 4, slime molds can successfully model efficient routes with multiple terminals, and proved it by doing a decent job recreating the Tokyo commuter train system.
Story 4 is true, on a scale model, a Japanese research team put food at the sites of 36 cities surrounding Tokyo and introduced a slime mold in the middle. To get at the food the mold created a network that looked shockingly like the existing rail system. Or maybe not so shockingly. Because both systems were solving problems of efficiency and resource allocation. So not too much of a surprise that the slime mold and the human train network designers came up with almost the same system. The research appeared in the journal Science.
Story 2 is true, bats and dolphins did independently evolve a very similar gene for a protein called prestin found in the hair cells of the cochlea in the ear. The unique protein structure makes the animal sensitive to extremely high frequency sounds. Two papers discuss this research in the journal Current Biology.
And story 3 is true, llamas have unusually flexible and hardy antibodies that could be incorporated into devices that detect botulism bioterror weapons. The work appears in the open access journal Public Library of Science One.
All of which means that story 1, about Falkland Island sheep meat being legal in the U.S. again, is TOTALLY BOGUS. But what is true is that after a 21-year ban, Americans can once again get authentic Scottish haggis. That’s according to the British paper The Guardian. The ban went into effect because of spongiform disease fears related to the main ingredient: minced sheep offal. The risk is now thought to be virtually nonexistent. The risk of spongiform encephalopathy, that is. Ya know, haggis is a mainstay of Burns’ night celebrations, which occur tonite, January 25th. So I’d like to share a discovery related to Robert Burns that I made years ago. And that is that there are three phrases that all sound exactly alike when spoken with a Scottish accent. And those are Robert Burns, rubber bands, and robber barons. Thank you.
Well, that’s it for this bogus add-on to last week’s podcast. Get your science news at www.scientificamerican.com. And check out the January 25th news article titled Buying Your First (Energy-Efficient) Home. We’ll be back with a full Science Talk episode later this week. You can follow us on Twitter, where the name is @sciam. For Scientific American, I’m Steve Mirsky, thanks for clicking on us.