What’s your earliest memory? Chances are you can’t remember anything before the age of three. Otherwise known as childhood amnesia, it affects us all but isn’t quite the stuff of Hollywood. In the movies, the plot usually revolves around someone being bopped on the head and suddenly having no idea who they are or what they are supposed to be doing. And more often than not, a second whack to the head and the person’s memories return, good as new. But is that an accurate depiction of amnesia?
Confession time: I adore chocolate. I’ll never forget a chocolate experience I had almost 20 years ago when I was given the opportunity to try some <em>Gymnema sylvestre</em>. It’s a herb that suppresses your ability to taste sweetness. And eating chocolate straight after the herb was rather distressing. The chocolate had virtually no taste and had the texture of wax, or maybe soap. I could feel it coating my tongue and teeth and I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to eat it again. That’s the power of our taste buds. But not all animals can taste the same flavours we can.
When I was a kid I aspired to live to 100 so I could get my letter from the Queen. These days I have a rather different view of the monarchy and more insight into the pivotal role of good health in old age. If you want to talk old age, there are a plenty of other animals and plants with lifespans far more impressive than ours. The question is: why do some living things live so much longer than others?
Pseudo-insomniacs are rare cases that complicate the classical rules of sleep science. While they perceive themselves to be awake all night, traditional lab tests show nothing other than completely normal sleep. ‘Pseudo-insomniacs’ have made scientists take a closer look at the sleeping brain, but the science of sleep is still far from being completely understood.
Chimpanzees use blades of grass to ‘fish’ for termites, and capuchin monkeys use a hammer and anvil to crack open nuts. A mandrill has even been seen using a stick to get dirt out from under his toenails. We’ve known for a long time that other primates use tools but how about animals that aren’t our close relatives?
Bees have long been famous for their “waggle dance”, a series of moves telling other bees where good food can be found. But do you know just how intricate this dance is? It turns out bees have a complex language and we know how to eavesdrop onto their conversations.
Water: it covers 97% of the planet, makes up almost two-thirds of each of us, and is a requirement for life as we know it. But did you know too much of it can kill you?
Think having a treadmill at your desk is a ridiculous fad? It may not be realistic for most workplaces but the idea is strongly rooted in science. You’re probably aware that sitting down all day is bad for your health. But just how bad? And is there anything you can do, short of quitting your desk job?
You've suffered a gunshot wound. You're losing blood and your organs are failing fast. Would you let doctors drain your blood and chill your body to 10 ºC, entering a state of clinically-dead, suspended animation, to buy precious time that may save your life? This radical technique is being trailed by a group of doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania.
We have known for a long time that eating less (much less) can prolong life in many animals. Given fasting diets are currently all the rage, I decided to investigate the science. Is fasting also good for humans?