Sunday, 23rd September 2018
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By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD

Q. If you were somehow able to choose the time of day you were going to be injured, what would be best?

A. during the day B. at night C. it makes no difference.

A. Research points to (A) as the answer, since "wounds seem to heal in half the time if sustained during daytime hours rather than at night," reports "New Scientist" magazine. Nathaniel Hoyle and his colleagues at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, discovered that genes in fibroblast skin cells switch on and off during day-night cycles and that these cells help close wounds once skin has been cut. The team found that, on average, "daytime wounds healed in 17 days, while similar burns sustained at night took 21 days ("Science Translational Medicine").

Q. You might call this the story of a snail that wouldn’t stay dead. And speaking of snails, did you know that some of them can fly - sort of. Explain please.

A. The story goes like this: In his travels to several Mediterranean countries in 1846, lawyer/explorer Charles Lamb collected various snails and sent them back to the British Museum, says Dan Lewis on his "Now I Know" web site. Among the specimens was a desert-dweller that died in transit. Nonetheless the museum decided to display it, gluing it to a piece of cardboard, "and there it stayed, like any good, dead snail would, for the next four years." But then someone noticed that the cardboard was becoming discolored, and the curious museum curator unstuck the snail and placed it in warm water. "After a few moments, a head popped out of the shell, and the snail, quite alive, began to move around" ("Mental Floss"). Apparently, because it was a desert species, the snail was able to go for very long periods without food or water. Provided with nourishment and housed in a jar with another snail, it lived another two years before dying for good.

As to the "flying" snails: No, snails don’t have wings but, according to the BBC, some snails may catch a ride with birds that eat the small animals and later deposit their droppings some distance away. Researchers discovered that "15% of the snails eaten survived digestion and were found alive in the birds’ droppings."

Q. What happens to garbage once it is interred in a landfill?

A. Through hands-on excavation, archeologist and garbologist Bill Rathje found that a well-maintained, airtight, dry sanitary landfill acts more like a mummifier of trash than a decomposer, reports Edward Humes in his book "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash." Fifty-year-old newspaper was readable, steaks and hot dogs intact after decades, guacamole pasty and green after 25 years, onion peels and carrot tops recognizable after 20, and grass clippings still green after 15. The slowly decaying material is held in place by surrounding non-biodegradable plastic, and this "trash matrix" has the unintended benefit of sequestering to some extent toxic materials (paint, motor oil, insecticide and more) from the water table.

Other surprising results: There’s Rathje’s "First Principle of Food Waste," that is, the more repetitive your diet-–the more you eat the same things day after day-–the less food you waste. Also, during times of expected scarcity, wastage tends to go up, not down; people lay in more provisions than they actually need, and end up throwing more away. Finally, well-publicized toxic-material collection days sponsored by sanitation departments may backfire, leading to a surge of toxic waste from those who gather the stuff for disposal but, for some reason, miss the official collection.

Here’s the big picture: Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, accumulating to some 102 tons over a typical lifetime. Notes Humes, "Each of our bodies may occupy only one cemetery plot when we’re done with this world, but a single person’s 102-ton trash legacy will require the equivalent of 1,100 graves. Much of that refuse will outlast any grave marker, pharaoh’s pyramid or modern skyscraper: One of the few relics of our civilization guaranteed to be recognizable twenty thousand years from now is the potato chip bag."

Q. This one definitely belongs in the "big idea" category: Picture a flattish, layer cake-like volcano big enough to cover a continent, with seemingly endless oozing lava ripping open miles-deep cracks in the Earth’s crust. What might have happened next?

A. Such an enormous volcano zone may have given rise to several of Earth’s mass extinctions, says Eric Betz in "Discover" magazine. Try to imagine a lush forest that thrived in the Antarctic Circle some 260 million years ago. Park University paleobotanist Patty Ryberg and colleagues are working to uncover the fossilized remains of this forest and to understand what killed off about 90% of life on Earth in our planet’s biggest known extinction, called the Great Dying.

Backed by a global campaign to map Earth’s ancient mega-eruptions, plus advances in rock dating, scientists now believe that "the size of an eruption or asteroid isn’t as important as the type of rocks incinerated." For example, the end of Triassic life may have occurred when organic matter-rich rocks deep below the surface released gases like sulfur and carbon dioxide that, in erupting, raised the temperature dozens of degrees Fahrenheit and eventually gave rise to the dinosaurs.

Corroborating evidence came from a recent drilling expedition to Mexico’s dino-killing Chicxulub crater: the asteroid involved hit relatively rare sedimentary rock rich in sulfurs. "The dinosaurs might’ve survived if the space rock hit elsewhere" ("Nature").

(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


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