Biology Science Zoology

Of sex, food and worms: good science, badly reported

It is true: there is a newly-discovered set of neurons found in a type of worm that, when activated, causes the male of the species to forego food in search of sex. That this set of neurons was just discovered actually does matter to the lives of humans. Or at least, it could. But not because it confirms the cliche of men starving for sex:

Researchers may have figured out why men can prioritize sex over food. Well, some men.

It’s a matter of two “mystery” neurons, suggest researchers at University College London.

They found that these extra neurons — which are unique to males — allow them to remember and seek sex even at the expense of food and are also behind some sex-based differences in learning.

So, what happened?

C. elegans is a species of worm about which we know a surprising amount. In biology research, there are some species of plants and animals that, for one reason or another, get more attention than others. Elodia and Drosophila (fruit flies) are very common study species.

C. elegans is popular because it is a simple organism that happens to share a lot of common traits with more advanced forms of life like humans. By studying C. elegans, we can often make intelligent extrapolations about how things work in other species.

In particular, C. elegans has the distinction of being the only species of life for which we have a complete neuronal map. Every neuron, every synapse (connections between neurons), every feature of the neural network of the C. elegans has been long-since mapped and analyzed… at least, so we thought.

Two researchers at the University College of London, wife and husband team Dr. Arantza Barrios and Dr. Richard Poole, research the sexual dimorphism of C. elegans. Sexual dimorphism means that different sexes have different traits (think boobs. I know I do).

In the past, the dimorphism of C. elegans has always been studied in a different portion of the worm, where differences are more obvious: the tail. These researchers discovered one set of sexually-dimorphous neurons in the head of the animals, which they named the Mystery Neurons of the Male (MNM).

What they do turns out not to be much of a mystery at all: they learn to recognize the opposite sex as a priority stimulus. Don’t we all? When the opposite sex is near – which turn out to be hermophrodites, in the C. elegens’ case – the worm with active MNM will ignore other homeostatic functions – like eating – in favour of pursuing sexual reproduction.

So. There you have it: males of the C. elegens species will forego eating in favour of sex. Or at least, they will favour sexual reproduction over other things. Not quite the whiz-bang you were hoping for? Of course not, because non-science – and even some science – news sources want to focus on sex, sex, sex. Yet the reality of what the boffins in London discovered is way more important and honestly cooler.

Why it matters

Worms getting it on don’t seem terribly relevant to humans. And indeed, they are not. What really matters is, again, the fact that simple organisms like the C. elegens can give us clues to our own biology. In this case, science has been looking for the keys to understanding sexual dimorphism in human cognition. We know that some decision making in humans is consistently different from one sex to the other. While much of the scientific community has been certain that such a difference also existed in the brain’s wiring, science has thus far not been able to pin that difference down.

That a simple creature so far removed from us in the evolutionary tree should have such a simple device for continuing the species may indicate that a similar development across species. Or, it may not. It’s just way too early to tell.

The other, perhaps even more significant, discovery that this new development represents is the appearance of glial cells in such a simple organism. Here in Rochester, we know all about glial cells, because that’s what our neuroscientists specialize in.

Glial cells are, effectively, stem cells for the brain. They are part of the glimphatic system, and their job is to grow more neuronal  cells when old ones wear out or are damaged. Remember Nancy Reagan in the 80’s? Insisting that you could not grow brain cells back, so don’t do drugs? Well, the old bat was wrong. Do drugs: your glial cells will make more neurons, no sweat.

It’s is significant that glia create entirely new neuronal cells at different age stages, at least in the case of C. elegans. Rather than simply creating the same type of cell over and over again, it seems like glia (individual glial cells) can alter their behavior throughout the lifetime of an individual. It means glia are a lot more flexible than we knew, which may point the way towards therapies for neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

So, maybe not the sexy news you were hoping for. If you’d been planning on filling out your 6pm news cast or your morning radio talk show? Sorry. But understanding the fundaments of human cognition and finding cures for wasting brain disease seems kind of important. But these messages got lost, because pee-pees and hoo-hahs. Maybe, if the media industry at large could stop giggling and take this more seriously, we could appreciate this amazing discovery for what it is.

But for now, dear reader, it’s just you and us.


Coming to a local news station near you: Bovine TB

Sure, its only in Britain at the moment, but so was Mad Cow until recently. is reporting that a specific strain of liver disease in cows actually obscures tests for bovine TB:

The liver fluke Fasciola hepatica was already known to affect the standard skin test for bTB, but it was unclear whether the fluke stopped the disease developing or merely hid the symptoms. A study published today in Nature Communications suggests that the latter is more likely, and that the effect is significant. It estimates that around a third of bTB cases in England and Wales are undiagnosed because the test is less sensitive in cattle infected with the fluke1.

The report goes on to say that the US, Canada and Australia have “eradicated” the liver fluke that is obscuring the test results. But you know how that goes.


Happy Birthday, Oreos! Why do you taste so good with milk?

You’ve probably heard: its Oreo Cookie’s birthday! Hurray for those blessed little discs of transfats and chocolate flavour. Speaking for myself, I can say they’re one of the few indulgences of childhood that I still find myself craving all the time.

But not really Oreos: Oreos and milk, or I’ll go without, thank you. There is just nothing like the proper distribution of milk inside of the cookie part of the Oreo to warm my heart. But why?

Well, as it turns out, fat is not just something that “goes with the territory.” In fact, fat is a flavour, not simply an ingredient like flour or even eggs. While most of us grew up being told that there were only four flavours: salt, sweet, bitter and sour. But science is revealing more flavours including the ubiquitously-foodie “ummami,” or the rich earthy flavour you get from mushrooms.

And yes, it turns out that there is still another taste – fat. It has a flavour and one that is missing from Oreos without the milk. So you see: if you’ve been eating Oreos without milk, you have been eating them dead-wrong. Which leads me to suspect your palate is unrefined. Sorry.

Blogging Science

Your Top 5 Posts for Feb 11th

The Super Bowl dominated the first half of this week, followed by a lot of bad news the rest of the week. But our Jillian Seaton knocked it out of the park with two really interesting article this week, so I guess you could say she’s this site’s savior of the week!

I was sick Wednesday, so there’s not a lot of linking going on. Sorry! But I hope you all enjoy this list of links and I’ll see you next week!
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Copyright Run Amok: Chrysler’s Superbowl ad blocked on their own YouTube channel » DragonFlyEye.Net

The real losers in Super Bowl XLVI were the people who insist on watching just for the commercials.

Amazing but true: about the only commercial most Super Bowl watchers agreed was awesome got blocked on the Chrysler YouTube channel because the NFL disputed the copyright on…. well, what, exactly? Maybe the word “half time.”

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The refreshing taste of carbonated water, sugar and flame retardant » DragonFlyEye.Net

Pictured above: death in carbonated form.

Ah! The delights of factory-made food! Jillian Seaton gives us a glimpse into some of the uglier facets of Mountain Dew, including melted mice and flame retardant.

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Hard-boiled egg recall expands, eggs in 33 states »

Pictured above: death in ovarian form

The story started out that Wegmans was recalling hard-boiled eggs. It now appears that a single supplier sold eggs that show traces of lysteria to several grocers in as many as 33 states.

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Food packaging plant Cryovac closes, 180 jobs cut »

Pictured above: death in small business form

As if the City of Rochester could use more bad news this week, a local food packaging producer announced this week that they will be closing their doors, leaving 180 employees without jobs. This is especially tough because they’re manufacturing jobs, and those are getting increasingly hard to find within city limits.

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Lake Ontario’s Very Own Nessie – Could a ‘Sea Monster’ Appear on Charlotte Beach? » DragonFlyEye.Net


Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water – well, ok, not altogether “safe,” exactly. This is Lake Ontario we’re talking about here.. Well, erm. Pig-dog weird thing washes ashore on the Canadian side. Just read it.

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Science Uncategorized

Tasty T-Day Science: don’t forget your edible lilies!

When he was a kid, my father was famous in our family for his contempt for onions. In fact, my grandmother went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to hide onions in her cooking, because she knew if he saw even the smallest sliver of the offending white bulb, that would be the end of the meal.

But she couldn’t possibly have cooked most traditional foods without the onion. It is nearly ubiquitous in the food world: mirepoix, sofrito, the holy trinity, suppengrün, w?oszczyzna, refogado. These are all names of traditional cooking bases and all contain the pungent sweetness of the onion along with a few other ingredients like peppers, celery or carrots.

An onion's flower. Very pretty, yes?

But did you know that the onion is actually a cousin of the lilies we grow in our gardens? And not onions alone, but onions, garlic, scallions and shallots all descend from the same plant family. In fact, edible flowers enjoyed a certain popularity recently and included some types of straight, garden-variety lilies.

Don’t think you should go out and start munching on the lilies at Wegmans, however: many of the varieties we enjoy as garden flowers are actually slightly poisonous. They won’t kill you, but they’ll ruin your evening.

Lilies like most flowers originate in China and their use in cooking has ancient roots across Eurasia. They are even featured on some Egyptian monuments.

And your Thanksgiving meal will not be complete without these tasty bulbs, either. A cursory Google search reveals dozens of preparations, including cassaroles, caramelized and (yuck) creamed onions for your delectation. Personally, I’ll be happy with a few in the stuffing, but I guess that’s Thanksgiving for you: everybody’s got their own traditions.


The delicious science of the Maillard Reaction

Roast turkey on Thanksgiving! Who doesn’t love it? In fact, the best part of the bird, really, is that luscious brown, crispy turkey skin. So much flavour! And so pretty!

But what makes that delicious crust? If you said, “caramelization,” you’re close. The process by which sugar is turned to carmel happens in a lot of the same ways. But the real hero of this story is a complex and barely-understood process called the Maillard Reaction.

In short, the Maillard Reaction is the process by which amino acids, sugars and heat form to create hundreds of different chemicals, many of which create the many subtle flavors that make roasted or seared meats so delicious and some of which are brown, therefore adding to the color.

The Maillard Reaction is common to a variety of forms of cooking and lots of different types of foods. Roasting, searing, frying and grilling meats, breads and vegetables of all kinds benefit from this mystery reaction.

So, if you want to make your food taste even better this holiday season, remember the Maillard Reaction and plan for it:

  • High heat is key to this reaction. If you are cooking something big – like a turkey – best to cook at a low temp until nearly cooked, then crank the heat for the last bit to get that Maillard deliciousness working. This is especially good because..
  • Water evaporates at 200 degrees or so, but the Maillard Reaction happens around 300 degrees. Why does this matter? Because excess water on what you’re cooking will rob the food of the energy necessary to make the Maillard Reaction happen. It either won’t happen or will happen after the food has dried out!
  • The higher the water content in the food, the less likely to get that lovely brown color. Also, pan-frying things will increase the likelihood of that nice browning because its so close to the fire.

CMAC Concessions: Junk Food and Out of State Wine

So, I’m checking out events for this year’s summer festivities – YES and Steely Dan are BOTH coming to town, holy shit, holy shit – and I notice the CMAC concessions page:

CMAC Concessions.

CMAC. The “C” stands for Canandaigua, right in the middle of Upstate New York wine country. And guess who is serving up wine at the venue? Why, California producer Mondavi, naturalmente. And Arbor Mist, the company that makes Mad Dog 20/20 seem almost legitimate. And what else?

Well, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is never frowned upon, nor are Zweigels Hots. But c’mon! Why not some local beers and cheeses? Some tastes of the region? At least something that makes a vague play at being healthy might be a nice touch.

I’m sure there must be some bullshit reason for all of this. Guess who doesn’t give a shit what that reason is?

Update: Its been pointed out that, duh, Constellation is running the show, so that would explain the choices. Partially. But for fuck’s sake, give me the Clos du Bois Merlot or Alice White Shiraz over any bullshit from Mondavi any day of the week and twice on Steely Dan night.


Bon Apetite

Courtesy of Roc Docs on the D&C. Anybody up for a hot dog at Frontier Field?

Restaurant Inspections.


Dinner at Portofino in Henrietta: It’s Good to Be Wrong, Sometimes

Of course these days, shop owners and restaurateurs are very sensitive to what’s being said on the Internet about their businesses. It makes sense: my wife and I almost never go out to a new place without first checking for the latest reviews from the users there. It’s a great resource, but like many other websites, can make or break a business’s future.

Well, the new owner of Portofino in Henrietta saw a piece I’d done on this site swearing off on ever going back to that building after the lousy service we got when it used to be called Portobello. I’d never had such lousy service and really just didn’t feel like giving this new owner a chance. But that was before he got a hold of me and asked me to come out and give it one shot. My wife and I decided to go last night and I’m glad I did.

The first thing that jumped out at me when we got in the building was that the light fixtures were changed to a more modern style. That’s good because the lighting was way too dark before. They also lost the diner style, pack ’em in till they can’t lift their forks style of seating. There’s a few less tables now and lots more elbow room in the dining room.

The owner, Dominick Morano, was standing by the door, in front of the bar, where he was to greet all the customers that entered the restaurant. We always appreciate an owner who takes such a hands on approach to his customers. He got us a couple of choice wine selections – I didn’t catch the names, but I had a nice Sicilian red and Sarah had a Riesling – and the waiter brought us water and bread. Our waiter, by the way, also worked at his family’s restaurant in the city; a restaurant run by and worked in by restaurateurs, that’s nice! Already, the service was better than last time.

And when we got the food, we were quite happy. I got a pasta dish with pesto, grilled asparagus and shrimp. Sarah got chicken with white wine, garlic, mustard and pink peppercorns. Both dishes were rich with flavour, but not overly heavy, which is a nice rarity in Italian dining in Rochester. Pesto sauces tend to be cream-based, but this one was oil based and so didn’t hang out all night on the palate. Sarah and I both love pink peppercorns, and they make for a really amazing, savory-bitter punch at the end of a mouthful. Her chicken was cooked perfectly, too.

We split a desert, tiramisu, and I had a coffee. Those of you who read my website when I regularly wrote reviews for restaurants know that coffee was a double-rated, all-important determining factor for my reviews. This was just a delicious Italian roast coffee, simple and tasty.

So, I know what you’re thinking: if the owner knew you were coming, then of course you got the best food. Well, that’s only partially true. You can’t fake good food and you can’t suddenly make your chef talented because someone new is in the dining room. All you can do is maybe spruce up what you have. The place didn’t look any different, the chefs are the same, the menu is the same as it would be if anyone else walked in. This is a quality restaurant, with or without my presence.

So go check it out. And have the tiramisu, it’s amazing.


Let them eat (mud) cake

I shouldn’t make light of this situation at all, the title of this post just came to me.

Haitians are going through convulsions as a result of the food and fuel shortages and rising prices across the globe in a way very few of us here realize.  Their prime minister’s position has already been toppled; their food prices have jumped 80% in a year; the food provided as relief by the U.N. is running out.

And now, they’re eating mud cakes.  It’s a revolution and a humanitarian crisis, right on our doorstep, folks.


UPDATED, I Was Wrong: Portobello? Portofino? Porto-Potty? Whatever it is, I’m Not Going

I recently had a chance to go to the new Portofino and was completely wrong about the new restaurant. If you’re thinking of not going because I told you it was awful, forget what I said. It was fantastic. ~ DFE

I saw this in the D&C and though, “mainstay?  What the hell are they talking about?”:

Portobello is now Portofino | | Democrat and Chronicle

Portobello Ristorante, a mainstay in the Italian restaurant lineup since 1993, closed in March. After a makeover, an updated menu and a new name, the restaurant reopened earlier this month as Portofino Bistro.

Portofino, Portobello, Porto-potty.  Call it what you will, but this is the site of one of the worst service and food related experiences that my wife and I share over the four years we’ve known each other. Rude, hasty service, over-cooked and disgusting food, preposterous prices, this place had it all.  To whom is Portobello a “mainstay” of Italian eating in Rochester?  Give me their names and I will show them ten other places with better prices and better food.  Crimeny, you can fall out of a car drunk and you’ll just roll right into an Italian restaurant, in this town.  Off the top of my head:

  • Michellina’s, right down the street
  • The Northside Inn
  • Perlo’s
  • Domenico’s
  • Brio (technically Mediteranean, but lots of Italian influence)
  • Bennucci’s

OK, so there’s six, right there.  Anyone care to help complete the list?  No fair looking at!


Tuesday at Tasteology

Whilst my site undergoes new hacking, coding, styling and other mayhem, it occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve talked about food on this site.  You’d never know it to look at my ever-expanding ass, so I thought I’d address a new place we checked out yesterday evening.

Generally, when something new opens up in Pittsford, I keep my powder dry.  A new boutique or some new trendy place like the Cold Crotch Creamery doesn’t usually do it for me, but after the initial public “panic” wears off, its usually safe to check out.  Such was the case for Tasteology, and since my wife and I have been trying to eat healthier and this place boasted of a more organic menu, it seemed like a good fit.

The decor is about what you’d expect in Pittsford, I’d say.  Lots of modern accents and light wood, flowy lines and generally very sleek styling.  It probably looks pretty cool at night, and I suppose at 7pm or so it didn’t look too bad either.  I’m just a fan of old-school touches and a bit more softness.  Can you tell we new home owners have been watching the HGHD network?

But the food was pretty kick-ass.  We started with grilled pita, tapenade and hummus.  Normally, this appetizer comes with guacamole, but nothing comes with guacamole when its meant to hit any table I plan to eat off of.  Actually, neither hummus nor tapenade are things normally found on my menu, prior to a few years ago.  But as Sarah and I slowly go “Foodie,” these things inevitably creep in.  We tried to eat this one slowly.  We failed.

Then Sarah had a chicken stir-fry with orange-soy sauce and noodles and I had the lobster ravioli.  Yes, we’re trying to eat healthier.  But “trying” and “doing” often are not the same thing.  Still, these are a fair sight better than the carb-fests we’ve typically eaten at Biaggi’s or Carrabba’s or Bennucci’s or Gambini’s or Fibonacci’s or The Guidonian or whatever.  Sarah’s dish was something of an “acquired taste,” but she liked it.  Mine was nice because it had leeks and tomato sauce.  We also had a couple of hot teas: mine was hibiscus, ginger and orange, hers was called “white lemon lime,” and I’m not sure where the lemon and lime flavours came from, but they were there.

We ended with a chocolate torte.  Like I said, “trying.”  And besides, tortes don’t have wheat, so that’s good, right?  We didn’t over-think it, we just ate.

And it was pretty damned good, and the price was right.  We got out of there for fifty bucks.  So, we’ll probably go back, especially since our new-found craving for healthier food doesn’t leave many options for eating out, anymore.