Toys for Healthy Food and Life’s Common Ancester (plus more)

Healthy Options Boosted by Toy Power

Santa Clara County in California recently banned the sale of toys with food in restaurants. The thinking was along the lines of whether or not McDonalds really needs to put a nice toy along with its crap food in order to turn a profit. But what if that same tactic was used to promote healthy options? Could apples and chicken soup ever compete with hamburgers and French fries?

According to a recent study from the University of Wisconsin’s Anna McAlister, the answer is yes.

When asked to predict how good a certain meal was going to taste, it turned out that toys could make up the difference between healthy and unhealthy meals. Sometimes the kids were asked to evaluate their choices one at a time, other times it was a side-by-side comparison. But either way, cutting toys from unhealthy meals and adding them to healthy options may help kids choose better options.

Also, the effect was especially pronounced when that specific toy was going to complete a set. Even kids love collectibles.

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Live By

According to a new study from Northwestern University, it’s not so much who you hang out with at school as where you live that affects your personal choices.

A case in point is a school in one of the rougher neighborhoods south of Chicago. Kids formed mixed cliques full of budding stars and probably delinquents. Some were high academic achievers and others low. But just the presence of a group didn’t necessarily indicate that any one student was abusing drugs, drinking or participating in gang violence.

Where they lived did.

After school hours, the danger of the streets and the inability to cross certain boundaries trapped kids together into new circles. And those circles were shown to play a much more important role on what they did after school.

In short, people need to stop worrying about telling kids what is and isn’t cool and start concentrating on keeping them around good role models or – I don’t know – say cleaning up the streets a bit.

 Not So Fast, Inster-stellar Medium!

The vast emptiness of space isn’t so empty. Besides the planets, nebula, stars and other pheonomena we see in the astounding pictures from around the globe, there is also a whole bunch of gas and material floating about between it all.

The interstellar medium is a churning, dynamic system filled with ionized gas, cold solid particles and a bunch of other random building blocks of the cosmos. The way that it all behaves and interacts is a key component in understanding how stars are formed, as well as the rest of the universe.

A recent study helped understand and measure the dynamics of this gas, and was helped on the theory side by a couple of University of Wisconsin theorists. In this particular study, the turbulence was found to be much greater than previous believed, with the warm ionized gas flowing at about the speed of sound, which is much slower than the cold molecular gas that forms tars and generally moves faster than sound.

“While the result may seem esoteric, it will help rewrite astrophysics textbooks,” says Alexander Lazarian, University of Wisconsin astronomy professor, “because the work reveals the key role of turbulence in the various phases of the interstellar medium. This is a very different picture from that still in most textbooks on astrophysics where the interstellar medium in galaxies can be treated mostly like a static one.”

LUCA More Complex than Primordial Soup

One of the biggest mysteries to modern biologists and geneticists is how life arose on Earth in the first place. Going from a mix of chemicals to something capable of self-replicating and evolving is no small matter. But beyond this initial leap, another question also pesters the minds of scientists around the globe: what was the last universal common ancestor (LUCA)?

Some maintain that LUCA was in the primordial soup; that life arose into the three main branches almost immediately after it started. But new evidence from the University of Illinois shows that LUCA may be much more complicated than originally thought.

The team found an organelle that is present in every modern living organism. In case you forgot your 8th grade biology, an organelle is a tiny structure within a cell that does a specific job. Now, some of you may remember your biology much better and are screaming, “But bacteria don’t have organelles!”

Au contraire.

The study found that the polyphosphate storage structure in bacteria was physically, chemically and functionally the same as an organelle called an acidocalcisome found in many single-celled eukaryotes. Yes, that’s mostly gibberish to me too, but you get the picture. They found something common to everything living on Earth. And when they stitched together the slight differences in the organelle into an evolutionary family tree, it looked a lot like what modern geneticists come up with.

So there you have it, all of life comes from the same place, and it wasn’t just a soup of chemicals.



About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
This entry was posted in Chicago, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s