This episode is a culinary adventure as Jon, Ross and Stu sample some very weird food combinations – all in the name of testing out the science of ‘food pairing’. It’s hilarious and could just change the way you cook forever. Also on the menu, Animal Guru, Artem Cheprasov, considers how to get a decent education without a lifetime of debt. Our surveys say that this week’s episode is better than chocolate. (more…)
Have you ever wanted to travel the world?
We at Guru HQ love travelling and so we’re more than a little bit jealous of our newest Guru, Autumn Sartain. Get this: she’s surveyed birds in the Grand Tetons, searched through the rainforests of Malaysia for new reptile species, jumped off a speedboat in the Caribbean to catch a 300 pound sea turtle and helped in conservation efforts in Tasmania. She’s snorkelled with manatees, netted terrapins in the Everglades and, oh, she rock climbs in Arapiles and Thailand for fun.
Bet you wish your careers advisor told you about conservation biology.
So, placing a ceremonial flower garland around her neck, we are delighted to announce that Autumn Sartain is now our Nature Guru. Celebrating with a glass of homemade lemonade, we asked her a few questions…
So you’ve always been an outdoorsy kind of person, right?
Yes, I love being out in nature because it reminds me of who I am in some sort of deep, primal way.
When I was a kid I was definitely a tomboy and loved being outside. Before the age of the internet I would climb trees and go “exploring” (as my brothers and I called it) through the acres of desert around my grandmother’s house in Arizona. I remember walking through a forest once and seeing what seemed like thousands of bright red ladybugs on the side of a mossy tree. I was captivated. I still am.
But although I’ve traveled a lot, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy as during moments of quiet and sunshine in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Tell us, why join Guru and why now?
I love that Guru is all about making science fun and accessible. Science, particularly nature and wildlife-based science, has massively increased my quality of life and I enjoy sharing that passion with others. I can only hope others will be as fascinated as I am with all our natural world has to offer.
I’m still working in science, getting outside as much as possible, and writing. In addition to contributing to Guru, I have various other writing projects, including a non-fiction work-in-progress on animal migrations.
We hear that you used to be a novelist?!
No, not really! When I was 10 I wanted to publish a book. I secretly stayed up late diligently working on what I believed was my soon-to-be national bestseller, “Fred the Fly” – an epic tale of adventure and inevitable disaster (flies only live so long after all). I was disappointed when, ultimately, the publisher kindly declined my story that I had carefully handwritten on lined paper.
I continue to write now and have co-authored a guidebook on the birds of Madagascar (you can read more in the lead article of Issue 13, Feathers and Muddy Boots).
Finally, if you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I think I’d be a red-tailed hawk. Their call is one of my favorite sounds and to me it’s the sound of the wilderness. (Also, whenever you hear an ‘eagle’ in movies or TV shows, it’s really this bird.) Plus, how awesome would it be to soar and fly and see things miles away? Oh, and courting involves clasping talons with your partner in the air and plummeting in spirals toward the ground. Who could resist that?
Autumn Sartain writes about biology, conservation, and the environmental / outdoor lifestyle. She holds a Master’s degree in Biology and has worked in the science world since 2004 on various ecosystems and species, currently focusing on sea turtle research. She also loves practicing yoga, eating burritos, and rock climbing.
‘Rare’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘common’ are words that medics and scientists use. For example, your doctor might tell you that “exploding head disease is rare” or “it is uncommon for you to catch badfactitis”. It is therefore pretty useful to know what they mean. Especially if you care about getting exploding head disease, that is.
There are some answers. When you look at the information leaflet in a packet of prescribed tablets, you will find a list of side effects. These will be split up into ‘common’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘rare’, each with a particular meaning:
So you might say ‘I rarely eat meat at mealtime’, happy in the knowledge that you mean you eat it less than once per 1,000 meals.
Of course you wouldn’t think like that. And neither do most people – even the scientists. Because, with the exception of medication regulators, no one can agree on what these words should mean. Debates ensue, but ultimately one man’s ‘uncommon’ is another man’s ‘rare’.
Perhaps it is good that academics can’t decide on a precise meaning for everything. I would hate for there to be a time when we have to think about how long a ‘long’ piece of string is.
Question from Natasha Bristow
Answer Dr Stu
In the question you originally sent, you asked “When does rare become the ‘norm’, and the ‘norm’ become common?” I took the liberty to substitute ‘norm’ for ‘uncommon’ because these words are more often used in health circles. Hope that’s ok!
Not since Jennifer Aniston first stepped out of the shower and uttered the immortal words “here comes the science bit…” have we been so spellbound by TV commercial ‘science’. Probiotic yoghurt and drinks have convinced so many of us that they make us healthier, more vibrant people that the industry will soon be worth about $30 billion. Not bad for posh yoghurt.
Probiotic yoghurts, which are sold in various small shaped colourful pots and bottles, make health claims based on real science. But when I say real science I mean the kind of science you get in Jurassic Park: yes, dinosaurs did exist, yes, DNA is real, but… no, dinosaur theme parks aren’t possible. Yes, probiotic yoghurts contain digestive bacteria, and yes, they can be good for bringing the bowel back to health, but… no, they don’t do anything for most of us.
The bottom line: probiotic yoghurts are pretty useless if you’re healthy. They are a useful treatment for some people with specific types of diarrhoeal disease. They may be useful for some skin conditions and allergies, although the jury is still out (you can read review of all the evidence here). But apart from that, they are just nice-tasting yoghurts.
Next time you see one of those adverts, watch very carefully: they will not say that their probiotic yoghurt will make you healthier – they are not allowed to, because they don’t for most peope. All health benefits will be cleverly implied, e.g. someone jogging, saying they feel great and eating probiotic yoghurt at the same time…
How probiotics (are supposed to) work
You see, to understand how probiotic yoghurts work, you need to understand what goes on your guts. Within your bowels (the ‘colon’) there are about a gazillion bacteria. (Well, I lost count at about 100 trillion.) These near-countless bacteria help us to digest our food and keep our immune system in tiptop shape. And it is this living, breathing, brown-coloured microbe world that probiotic products are designed to help:
There is a surprising amount of harmony in the messy-looking intestinal bug world. Like a planet’s ecosystem, the types and amounts of different gut bacteria species are kept in continuous balance. Sometimes, due to illness or medications (a long course of antibiotics or food poisoning, for example) there can be a disturbance of this beautiful brown equilibrium: some types of bacteria can ‘overgrow’ and dominate. In such instances, it is possible to get very unwell.
Probiotics contain high numbers of ‘good’ bacteria and when eaten or drunk can reseed the gut with useful, digestion-boosting bacteria. If you are well, then the balance of bacteria will, in all likelihood, be absolutely fine. Adding ‘helpful’ bacteria into an already nicely working mix of bugs will do nothing. It’s like taking a medicine when you’re not unwell.
So unless there is some fantastic scientific breakthrough (which looks unlikely, given the amount of research already done), I would suggest that you save your cash for some shampoo.
Question from ‘JJ’
Answer by Dr Stu