7 science stories to spice up the holidays


Whatever your feelings about the holiday season, it’s here and it doesn’t stop. If you don’t look forward to the reliable traditions that can accompany the celebration, spice things up with science news as a way to break boredom. With these charming and compelling stories, you will impart new wisdom to those you may see once a year, making an impression and teaching them something while you are at it.

Tell your aunt her turnips tasted better in the 70s

Your older parents will likely tell you how much better life was back then. Finally, something you can agree on! Support their nostalgia with science by mentioning that food might have tasted better 50 years ago. Part of the change in the quality of today’s grocery store could come from the high demand for crops like tomatoes, which push growers to breed for endurance and longevity rather than flavor.

Fluorescent microscopy allows us to see one-millimeter roundworms, the leftmost one expelling milk through her vulva so that her offspring, lower right, can eat. Image: Kern et al. 2021

Discuss worm milk over eggnog

Instead of explaining what frankincense and myrrh are for the fourth year in a row, tell everyone that nematode worms produce lactate. Well, they don’t milk exactly as much as they eject their milky, liquefied insides from their vulva to feed their offspring and then perish as a result. Just think of it as another reminder to be thankful for a parent’s love.

Celebrate the first mRNA-based HIV vaccine

We are grateful that mRNA vaccines allow us to safely celebrate the holidays with our loved ones this year, but they don’t end there: the system that Moderna has modeled its vaccine on can also help prevent HIV. In August, the company launched a Phase I human trial to test the safety of the new drug. It has been difficult to make an effective vaccine against HIV because the virus quickly integrates into the human genome and creates an irreversible infection. Reengineering Moderna’s HIV mRNA vaccine could help expand the types of cells and antibodies the body produces in response.

Little Mariana's bat hanging upside down
The Little Mariana fruit bat no longer exists in the wild. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Pour one for all newly extinct animals

It’s always worth remembering those who haven’t made it to the holiday table this year. In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that 23 species of birds, bats, plants and aquatic creatures be removed from the endangered list and officially marked as extinct. These creatures included the ivory-billed woodpecker, the fruit bat Little Mariana, and the crazy fish Scioto. Perhaps paying attention to what we have lost this year will help us prevent future extinctions.

Nostalgic wax on Brood X cicadas

When you start to get cold, gather around the fireplace and remember the summer craziness of the cicadas. Maybe you will be asking yourself: what are these bugs so far? Truth be told, we don’t quite know yet. Many entomologists believe that nymphs (or young cicadas) survive on grass roots; As they develop, they spend the last 16.5 years of their teens about 4 to 6 inches underground. It’s still unclear how they avoid freezing, how much they move between layers of dirt, and how they even know when the right amount of time has passed.

Toast to Eternal Youth

When someone inevitably complains about growing old, bring up the fountain of youth that conveniently flows through each person’s veins. Neurobiologist Saul Villeda sees aging as a biological process that can potentially be hijacked. He, among others, infused old mice with younger blood to make them heal faster, remember better, and move more nimbly. Aging is “the most artificial construction”, maintains Villeda. Not that anyone would have to become a vampire to turn back the clock, but there is a secret to be discovered in the connection between blood and mortal flesh.

an old drawing of a kitchen with a large open fire and a small dog running on a mill-shaped wheel to spin the spit on a green background with an eyeball
The so-called dizzy dog ​​has taken one of the less glamorous kitchen jobs to new heights. Graphic: Katie Belloff

If all else fails, let the dogs out

Pets tend to be neutral territory. They are endearing, dumb, and shameless beggars who can appease even the most cantankerous souls. Once the puppy has grabbed everyone’s attention, casually breed the Tourniquet Dog, a terrier-like companion bred to run on a treadmill that spins a kitchen spit. If it was still 1805, Tater Tot might be in the kitchen helping roast the holiday centerpiece. After centuries of widespread use throughout Western Europe, the tradition of the tourniquet dogs was finally withdrawn, which is probably a good thing, given that at least one historian claims that Henry Berg founded the American Society. for the prevention of cruelty to animals after encounter with the breed.

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