As children, we learn pretty quickly which parent to go see to report an injury. Be it through a kind word, a hug or an extra cookie at dinner time, one parent will always be a little bit more sympathetic to a paper-cut or a scraped knee than the other.
In my family, my mother was the one to run to on such occasions. My sister and I learned this very early on because my father, the self-professed country bookie from Trinidad and Tobago, would regale us with tales of injuries that were treated with a slap on the head and a handful of sand, a sure way to form a scab over exposed flesh.
He felt the same way about dirt and bacteria. To this day, I can get him going by mentioning the lengths parents go to these days to prevent their kids from getting sick or developing allergies. “Disinfectants are the reason these kids can’t get through a simple cold or a handful of peanuts” he’d say, “You have to develop their immune systems through dirt!” and scientists agree.
Researchers in Copenhagen conducted a study on 400 children and found that increased bacterial diversity in their rectum significantly reduced their chances of developing an allergy later in life. They also realized that kids born through caesarean, thus avoiding being in contact with the bacteria in their mothers’ rectum, were more likely to develop an allergy than kids born vaginally.
They emphasized the importance of being exposed to a wide variety of bacteria early in life. It seems that the window for immune system development closes after only a few months.
What is the take away message here? Obsessively disinfecting your newborn’s crib and bottle might not be the best way to raise a healthy child. If your kid drops her pacifier in the playground, it might not be the end of the world if it finds its way back into her mouth.
More Science News
1. This week’s Ontarion article was about an idea advanced by geology professor and paleontologist Dr. McMenamin, who proposes that an ancient squid-like or octopus-like cephalopod would have been the very first organism to create a self-portrait. If that isn’t
creepy fascinating enough, this giant kraken would have done so with the bones of its unfortunate prey. Dr. McMenamin, who was gracious enough to answer some of my questions by email, presented the Triassic Kraken hypothesis at the 2011 Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in October.
2. Have you ever wondered how woody woodpecker managed to bash his head up against trees repeatedly and then fly away without the slightest hint of a concussion in the popular Saturday morning cartoon or in the wild for that matter? As it turns, these powerful little birds cushion the impact thanks to a spongy layer of bone and the unequal length of the top and bottom portions of their beaks. This combination allows them to cushion the seemingly unsustainable impact. The scientists that performed this study hope to apply these findings to human protective gear in the hopes of avoiding injuries like the ones hockey star Sidney Crosby suffered in January.
The original journal article can be downloaded here.
3. This is a really interesting article from Wired magazine about how background music can affect the perceived taste of wine. In a study conducted on university students, the reported qualities of the wine they drank reflected the music that was being played while they were drinking said wine. I must say that I was a bit surprised that they used university students as test subjects since this demographic group does not tend to have much experience with wine, but I digress. This study is valuable because it hints at the importance of music in restaurant settings.
Science Video of the week:
In honour of the Triassic Kraken hypothesis, here is a pretty impressive video of an octupus opening a sealed jar in order to get at the doomed crab inside: