I Ate a Bug, and I Liked It

I Ate a Bug, and I Liked It

What would it take for you to eat bugs? I mean, besides the “worm” at the bottom of a tequila bottle. (Your motivation is apparent in that case). Would you do it if it were healthier for you than our typical western diet? Would you do it if it might help to save the world? I decided to explore those questions after watching a video featuring Nicole Kidman munching down a bunch of bugs and calling them delicious.

Nicole Kidman eating bugs for Vanity Faire

We already eat bugs

In fact, over 2 billion people eat bugs on purpose, though not typically in western culture. There are even cookbooks dedicated to gourmet insect cooking (here is one, if you are curious). But, most folks in the US eat bugs in our “normal” food unwittingly. Cochineal bugs, a kind of insect related to cicadas and aphids, are commonly used to make a red food dye called “carnelian.” If you have a strong stomach, take a look at the United States Food and Drug Administration’s The Food Defect Levels Handbook and you can see just how many bug bits are allowed in foods commonly produced and consumed in the United States.Continue reading…    

Editor’s Picks: The UYBFS Summer Reading list!

Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the first edition of the UYBFS book club! As much as we like writing about science, we enjoy reading about it, too, especially all the strange and interesting history behind many scientific discoveries that we now take for granted. There are a lot of great books out there, and here Editor David has collected a few of his favorites. Why not add some to your summer reading list? Dazzle your friends with trivia!

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York – Deborah Blum. A fascinating history of thescience of forensic toxicology in the United States, this book is equal parts crime drama and history of science. Ever wonder about what makes “denatured” alcohol? Would you have guessed it has to do with Prohibition? How did we figure out all that CSI stuff that modern forensic scientists use to determine how someone died? It’s all in here, and it’s super cool.Continue reading…    

Chemicals in our Society: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Chemicals in our Society: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Welcome to “chemicals and society”, where we highlight the current understanding of the biological effects and safety of some of the most common chemicals in today’s society.


Today’s Chemical: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

What is MSG?

MSG is monosodium glutamate. “Glutamate”is the salt of glutamic acid, which you may remember from biology class as one of the 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in our body. “Monosodium” means there is a single sodium ion associated with each molecule of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is the 6th most common amino acid in vertebrates – it makes up about 5.8% of the proteins in your body and the meat that you eat. Sodium is also very common in the diet and inside your body. Another sodium salt, Sodium chloride (table salt) is used in cooking throughout the world.

What is MSG used for?

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer, which means that while it doesn’t have a particularly strong taste on it’s own, it brings out the flavors of other foods – particularly meats and savory foods. It is most commonly used in flavor-enhancing meat tenderizers and Chinese cooking, though you’ll find it in many, many prepared foods like chips, snacks, and soups. It’s in Doritos, Kentucky Fried Chicken, most canned soups, processed meats, Chick-Fil-A sandwhiches, Cheetos, Pringles, and ramen noodles. You get the point.

Continue reading…    

Stephen Hawking’s Final Paper was Published Today

Stephen Hawking’s Final Paper was Published Today

Stephen Hawking died in March, but his final peer-reviewed paper was published today in The Journal of High Energy Physics. As you might expect from a genius like Hawking, the data presented are… complicated. Basically, it says that if there are, in fact, alternate universes in existence (like Timecop!), they share at least some unifying laws of physics.

Read Dr. Hawking’s paper here.

Use Your Brain!