Do naked mole rats hold the secret to a youthful appearance? Perhaps


Learning from mole rats

Feedback anticipates a bonanza of pharma-medico-lifestylish new-product announcements offering to boost everyone’s level of hyaluronan, a substance recently shown to somewhat protect your cells against inflammation and early death if you are a naked mole rat.

Marketers who specialise in inflammation of the populace won’t have missed the Journal of Experimental Biology‘s appreciation of hyaluronan. Beneath the headline “Underground anti-aging secrets from burrowing rodents“, the journal says: “Most cells live in a blanket of molecules and minerals called an ‘extracellular matrix’. In naked mole rats, this blanket is woven from a thicker fabric: naked mole rats produce a heavier and larger version of the molecule hyaluronan, which is the backbone of this extracellular matrix.

“As Andrei Seluanov and Vera Gorbunova’s team at the University of Rochester, USA, show, this extra padding protects cells from inflammation and early death.”

The report ends with this almost poetical wink: “the Fountain of Youth may be embodied in the heavy hyaluronan of naked mole rats – nearly blind rodents, with lots of wrinkles and yellowed teeth”.

Anarchist cookbook tip

Books can be dangerous in little-anticipated ways.

Feedback reminds you to be careful when using The Anarchist Cookbook. If you don’t cook your anarchist to the proper temperature, there may be problems.

Similarly with The Shredded Vegan Chef. If you don’t properly shred your vegan chef, distress can result.

If your hobby is astrophysics, the warning applies to The Whole Earth Cook Book.

Post-deadly encounters

After the world became aware two decades ago of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck, more reports of “Davian behaviour” found their way into the public record. Here is a quick update.

The subject got its big boost in 2003 when Dutch ornithologist Kees Moeliker was awarded an Ig Nobel prize for his now-famous paper “The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos“. Moeliker told of two ducks that had an avian Davian encounter. Necrophilic behaviour is here called “Davian” because, in 1960, US ornithologist Robert W. Dickman gave necrophilia a new name – “Davian” – in his paper “‘Davian behavior complex’ in ground squirrels“, published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

Now, Michal Řeřicha and colleagues at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague have published a report that documents the practice among ladybirds (known as “ladybugs” in some places). The report’s title smacks of horror: “Mating with dead conspecifics in an invasive ladybird is affected by male sexual fasting and time since the female’s death“.

This comes just three years after a report by Amber Lea D. Kincaid at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and colleagues, about necrophilia at sea: “Necrocoitus in common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) near Sarasota, Florida“.

Attention-grabbing, grim accounts can take a literary turn, as happened in a 2015 paper, about South American snakes, called “The sexual attractiveness of the corpse bride: Unusual mating behaviour of Helicops carinicaudus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae)“, by Raíssa Siqueira at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and colleagues. They write: “We observed a young male copulating, with the hemipenis fully inserted into a headless female. Specimens were collected, dissected and measured”.

Literary works inspire other literary works, as is evident in a 2020 paper by Marco Colombo and Emiliano Mori at the University of Siena in Italy. The title is: “The ‘corpse bride’ strikes again: First report of the Davian behaviour in the Eurasian badger“.

Happily horrific titles

Some medical papers have titles so intriguingly horrifying that – to anyone who loves a good horror story – the title almost begs the reader to NOT read the study itself.

Why avoid the complete study? Because one’s imagination, when overstimulated, can conjure up wonders. In comparison, the actual you-could-go-see-it-yourself details might seem mundane, dull, even comparatively dreary. Reading them could produce literary disappointment and disgruntlement – maybe even the death of curiosity.

For example, consider a paper written by a medical team in Chiba, Japan. To a non-professional, it tells how doctors solve accidental jigsaw puzzles – puzzles each made of odd parts from some person’s digestive organs. Chew, please, on the paper’s title: “Risk factors of unintentional piecemeal resection in endoscopic mucosal resection for colorectal polyps ≥ 10mm“.

Feedback invites you to send easily over-imaginable titles of actual published scientific reports, should you run across any. Please include full citations and links to the papers. Send to: “Happily horrific titles” c/o Feedback.

Marc Abrahams created the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and co-founded the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Earlier, he worked on unusual ways to use computers. His website is improbable.com.

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