Light Friday: Japanese Pickles Prevent the Flu

November 8, 2013


How Big Data Helps Injured Soldiers

Ancient Platypus Was a Giant Carnivorous Beast

Subway Sign Prank Makes Conductors Smile

A Dose of Pun

It's flu season, and you know what that means -- time to gorge yourself on suguki.

Scientists have determined that this popular Japanese dish made of pickled turnips contains bacteria that help the body fend off the flu virus. The researchers isolated bacteria called Lactobacillus brevis and injected a group of mice with it. After being exposed to the flu virus, those mice developed much higher levels of flu-fighting antibodies than a control group.

The mice even developed a resistance to the highly contagious H1NI swine flu virus and other types of infection. According to Science World Report

, the scientists speculate that the bacteria could help stave off the lethal H7N9 avian flu that recently emerged in China.

Human clinical trials have begun in the UK using a probiotic drink that contains Lactobacillus brevis KB290 bacteria.

Suguki enthusiasts have long touted its health benefits, but it is only recently that science has backed up the claims. The dish is made using the Japanese turnip sugukina, which is forced to endure a complex, week-long ritual of soaking and salting. The vegetable only comes into season in November, and given the timing of the announcement, they may suddenly be hard to get a hold of.

How Big Data Helps Injured Soldiers

Technology has done much to save American lives on the battlefield, from protective gear to advanced sensory and detection equipment. But the latest military lifesaver is Big Data.

Information about injuries caused by improvised explosive devices (IED) and other weapons is driving two projects aimed at developing more effective treatment for wounded soldiers. In one project, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research created a database called the Joint Trauma System (JTS) with information about battlefield injuries, treatment, and results. The data tracks patients from field hospitals to medical centers to final discharge.

The database now holds more than 150,000 records. The data helps doctors learn what treatments work best for various battlefield injuries.

The information has helped doctors improve the scheduling of surgeries as well as determine what drugs work best in controlling excessive bleeding, Col. Jeffrey Bailey, JTS director, told the Txchnologist

website. It also helps them spot trends in treatment.

"This isn't a static system, it's dynamic," he said. "The information that gets entered in can be analyzed concurrently. Data collection and analysis drive near real-time improvement in our operational practices."

In a separate project, the Georgia Tech Research Institute is collecting data intended to help the military better understand the damage that IED explosions cause to the human body. Troops and their vehicles are being equipped with sensors that can record the GPS location of an IED blast and the pressure changes it causes.

"Because of improved equipment and medical services, people are surviving severe explosions," Dr. Shean Phelps, a GTRI principal research scientist said in a statement

. "Yet we lack a clear understanding of blast-induced injuries on the human nervous system."

The sensors only capture environmental data about a blast. However, because of its open architecture, other diagnostic capabilities could be included, the researchers said. For example, sensors could be added to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and EKG activity.

Ancient Platypus Was a Giant Carnivorous Beast

The duck-billed platypus already has it a bit rough. Although a mammal, it lays eggs. It looks cuddly, but it has poisonous spikes. It looks like a small beaver, but has that whole duck bill issue.

But the platypus will never go around crushing bones in its ceaseless hunt for blood. It already did that thousands of years ago.

Michael Archer, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, found a fossilized tooth that suggested a larger platypus that possibly ate small reptiles like turtles. Although he only found one tooth, Archer is positive that it is platypus-related.

"Platypuses have such distinctive teeth that, frankly in the pitch black, with the tooth held behind my back, I could tell it's a platypus tooth," he told New Scientist


The tooth had slightly different wear patterns than on other ancient platypus teeth discovered around Australia, and its large size suggests it was a towering predator. "The wear is at the tips of the cusps, indicating it's coming down hard on hard material that is held between the jaws."

The existence of an ancient carnivorous platypus suggests the species had several branches in the past, whereas today's platypus has no living relatives. Archer believes future fossil discoveries can provide further information for the study of evolution.

"This new giant platypus-zilla, it raises more questions than it answers," he says. "If it was so divergent, what was its lifestyle? Did it have venomous spurs? Did it have a flat tail? Was it aquatic?"

Subway Sign Prank Makes Conductors Smile

The New York City MTA has a strange rule that requires subway conductors in the middle cars to point at a little black-and-white sign on the platform. The rule is supposedly proves that they're paying attention.

Two subway riders decided to bring some levity to the dreary task. Yosef Lerner and Rose Sacktor used funny, well-placed signs that brought a little laughter to the conductor's faces.


Finally, A Dose of Pun



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