Light Friday: 3 Things You May Not Know About Turkeys

Plus:
Why Airports Make You Sick
A Device that Scans Your Food for Calories
Why You Can’t Tickle Yourself 


Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Since you’ve already had your fill of turkey, we think it’s worthwhile to help you get to know a little more about the bird that is so central to this holiday season. And don’t worry — none of this will ruin your appetite come Christmas.

The connection between “turkeys” and Turkey is not a coincidence. When European settlers first encountered what we now call turkeys in the New World, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guinea-fowl. Another name for guinea-fowl is turkey fowl, so called because they were imported to Central Europe through Turkey. The name turkey fowl, shortened to just turkey, stuck as the name of the North American bird, even after the mistake was realized.

The long fleshy thing hanging from its neck is a “snood.” For years it was believed that snoods held no purpose, but new research shows that it is used to attract mates. Female turkeys prefer to mate with males who have longer snoods. Those with longer snoods are also shown to be resistant to certain types of infections, meaning, in general, they are healthier.

Potatoes, not turkey, is what makes you drowsy. Many of us blame tryptophan, the amino acid found in turkey meat, for that sleepy sensation you feel post-feast. Scientists say our bodies convert tryptophan into melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. But, the larger contributor to passing out on Aunt Bonnie’s couch is the sugar crash resulting from having gorged yourself on simple carbs, like potatoes and yams. Alcohol may also be a factor, as well as simple fatigue from preparations, arguing with Uncle Frank, or dealing with family in general.

Why Airports Make You Sick

A loud, wet sneeze interrupts the steady rumble of the engines aboard the flight you’re taking to Boston. It originated several rows back, but you know you are trapped and doomed to breathe germ-infested air recycled throughout the cabin. What you wouldn’t give for one of those paper face masks — or a parachute.

Relax. Your fear is largely unfounded. Air in a typical flight cabin is completely refreshed approximately 20 times per hour, according to Dr. Mark Gendeau, an aviation medicine specialist at Tufts University. By comparison, air in an average office building is refreshed about 12 times per hour.

Fresh air from outside the plane is bled from the engine’s compressors then filtered, heated, processed in an air conditioning pack, and pumped into the cabin. Aircraft typically cycle cabin air through high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters, which are 99 percent efficient in removing bacteria and viruses, according to Boeing.

Still, one in five people contract common colds within a week of taking a commercial flight, researchers reported in 2002 in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Microbiologist Charles Gerba told the science news website io9 that the actual heath threats aboard a commercial airliner are the tray tables, arm rests, complimentary pillows, and in-flight magazines. The surfaces of these inanimate objects carry and transmit infectious diseases, he said.

However, the gravest health risk on the aircraft is the restroom. The typical commercial jet has one toilet per 50 passengers and aboard a particularly crowded flight the ratio might be one to 75.

“And remember, these planes see hundreds of passengers a day,” Gerba said, adding that everything from the flu virus to E. coli can be found on sinks and other surfaces inside the plane’s restrooms. The risks are compounded when you consider that passengers’ immune systems can be hampered by dehydration (cabin air is notoriously dry), the stress of flying, and jetlag.

The upshot: Breathe easy, but consider packing disposable disinfecting wipes and hand-sanitizers in your carry-on baggage.

A Device that Scans Your Food for Calories

Nutrition labels may soon be a thing of the past for the health-conscious and tech savvy. A hand-held device called Tellspec can identify the chemicals, nutrients, calories, and even the allergens, so you can find out what’s really in your food.

TellSpec combines a spectrometer scanner and a unique algorithm for its food analysis. The device was funded on Indiegogo, and has passed its $100,000 funding goal, with contributions currently exceeding $278,000. The system works through an easy-to-understand interface on smart phones. Anyone who aims the scanner at food (even through glass or plastic) can get a full report on their cell phone.

The company describes the process in scientific terms: “When you beam the low-powered laser in the TellSpec scanner at the food, some of the photons are absorbed, raising the energy states of the molecules in the food. Lower energy photons are then reflected back. The spectrometer inside the TellSpec scanner sorts these photons by wavelength and counts them. The resulting numbers, called a spectrum, describe the chemical compounds in the food.”

Expected to reach the market in 2014, this pretty much means that sooner or later, we’ll have no excuse to indulge in our favorite snacks.

Why You Can’t Tickle Yourself

Most people have a ticklish spot (or spots) somewhere on their body — the kind that if someone touches in just the right way, or any way at all, will cause you to flinch, giggle, and writhe like a child. However, have you ever noticed that your own hand is incapable of triggering a ticklish sensation from yourself?

It turns out your brain actively tells the body that there is nothing to be alarmed about when your hand reaches out and touches your own body. After all, who can you trust if you can’t trust your own hands? But what’s really interesting is that scientists tried to trick the brain into thinking that a hand tickling you was not your own. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The video below from Discovery.com explains why.

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