Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fish Using Tools - Caught on Camera

The use of tools had long been considered a uniquely human trait until Jane Goodall's reports of tool use in chimpanzees in the 1960s. Now many other primates, some birds, dolphins, elephants and other animals have been observed using tools. Although there have been some reports of fish doing the same, we now have conclusive evidence, with stunning video footage of an orange-dotted tuskfish using a rock to open a clam.

The video has been published in the journal Coral Reefs by Giacomo Bernardi, an ecologist at the University of California. While diving in four feet of water, the scientist watched the fish carry out the elaborate procedure twice before switching on his camera and recording the event.

Shot in Palau in July 2009, the video shows the fish digging a clam out of the sand, carrying it to a rock and throwing it repeatedly against the rock to crush it.

"What the movie shows is very interesting. The animal excavates sand to get the shell out, then swims for a long time to find an appropriate area where it can crack the shell," Bernardi said. "It requires a lot of forward thinking, because there are a number of steps involved. For a fish, it's a pretty big deal."

The actions recorded in the video are remarkably similar to previous reports of tool use by fish. Every case has involved a species of wrasse using a rock as an anvil to crush shellfish.

"Wrasses are very inquisitive animals," Bernardi said. "They are all carnivorous, and they are very sensitive to smell and vision."

Writing in the published article, Bernardi notes:  "the similarity of the behaviours [between wrasse species] suggest that either they emerged independently or they correspond to a deep-seated beahvioural trait"

Bernardi says there may well be other examples of tool use in fish that just hasn't been observed:

"We don't spend that much time underwater observing fishes," he said. "It may be that all wrasses do this. It happens really quickly, so it would be easy to miss."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Irish Young Scientist Wins Top EU Prize

Alexander with his project in Helsinki
Alexander Amini, the winner of Ireland's BT Young Scientist Award for 2011 has scooped the top European Young Scientist Award in Finland today.

Alexander's work looked at collecting and analyzing huge quantities of sensor data taken from tennis courts and discovered a technique for automatically distinguishing between 13 different types of tennis stroke with a 96% accuracy. His findings are relevant to a variety of motion assessment scenarios in sports, physical therapy and emergency responses.

Although technology already exists to measure some of the tennis strokes, Alexander's system can measure much more. Speaking after winning the Irish award, the young scientists said: "I am very proud and happy.I could never have imagined this would happen. I spent about four months working on this project," he said.
"My father taught me tennis and was very into technique and this inspired me."

In total, 3 first place awards were made, with young scientists from Lithuania and Switzerland also taking the top prize. Winners were announced at a ceremony in Helsinki and on the competition's Twitter stream. Alexander is a student of Castleknock College in Dublin and will be awarded a €7,000 prize fund. That's on top of his cheque for €5,000 which he receives for winning the Irish Young Scientist Competition.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Faster than the speed of light?

The OPERA detector
Some interesting results from CERN could turn science on its head IF they are correct. 

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) issued a press release yesterday saying that during their OPERA experiment, they had found an "anomaly in flight time of neutrinos from CERN to Gran Sasso".

OPERA was designed to observe a beam of neutrinos travelling from CERN's lab in Geneva to Italy's Gran Sasso laboratory, a distance of about 730 km. Neutrinos are elementary particles that come in three types of "flavours": electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos. OPERA aimed to test the phenomenon that, as the particles mover through space, they can change from one flavour to another. The results published now are an unexpected outcome of this work and if they can be confirmed, are startling. The neutrinos got to their destination 60 billionths of a second faster than they should have. Light would have travelled the same distance in 2.4 thousandths of a second. The conclusion: these neutrinos are faster then the speed of light.

CERN scientists were clear, that given the magnitude of the discovery, a very high level of proof is required. Modern physics is largely built on the understanding that the speed of light is the limit past which nothing can pass. Nothing can be faster than the speed of light, according to Einstein's theory of special relativity.

Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny.

“This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”   

 “When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.”

CERN have made the results of the experiment freely available online for other scientists to examine.
CERN will hold a briefing today (Friday 23rd September, 2011) at 3pm (GMT) which will be streamed live at

Friday, September 16, 2011

David Puttnam on Educating for the Digital Society

Film director, Labour Peer and noted educationalist David Puttnam spoke at University College Cork this week in a talk entitled Educating for the Digital Society: How Ireland can raise its game and how its universities can help?

In a broad ranging and entertaining talk and discussion, Lord Puttnam struck an optimistic note but did not shy away from stating the problems plainly. Puttnam made a decision some fourteen years ago to leave the world of cinema where he had worked for 30 "happy and, I hope, very productive" years in engage with a very different world of public policy. In that time, he says, he has had "no regrets".

If he had "one disappointment", the BAFTA-winning director and West Cork resident said "it's the growing absence of what is probably best described as wisdom" in the society around him.

"Developing that kind of wisdom in the current social, political and media environment is far from easy. 24/7 news cycles, economic and employment figures that are scrutinised every quarter, or in Ireland's case, every fortnight. A world so interconnected that a slip of the tongue in one hemisphere can literally reek havoc in another".

Speaking at the invitation of Ionad Bairre, the Teaching and Learning Centre at UCC, Puttnam said his work in education has been very rewarding because "it has offered me the opportunity to engage with people who, every single day of their working lives are attempting to mould the building blocks, the quality of which will determine our ability to secure our own future - the next generation of teachers."

Using a military metaphor, he described teachers as the only infantry in a war between "our largely failed present and the possibility of an altogether more imaginative, and I hope more innovative future."

"One of the problems with our current system, especially in the UK," according to Puttnam, "is that the 'Chalk and Talk' model has been carried through to a point where it is now very, very close to its sell-by-date".

Resistance or reluctance to fully embrace digital innovation in the classroom, he said,  means that an "increasing disparity has opened up between life in the lecture hall or classroom and the daily experience of technology beyond the college gates".

"Surely few of us would dream of going to a doctor who was less than conversant with the very latest developments in whatever ailment we believed ourselves to be suffering and yet we found it incredibly difficult to persuade policymakers that if we are to win back the trust of you who are already students,then we need to engage far more effectively with your world, the students world. We need to view technology, and the way in which they relate to it, through their eyes."

In a message to the next generation of educators, Puttnam stressed the importance of the authenticity of teachers:

"It is vital for teachers to remember that, no matter how gifted or charismatic they may be, they will never successfully influence or teach anyone who doesn't believe them to be utterly authentic. Authentic in the sense that they hold on to and exemplify the values that they teach. Of all the things I've learned in dealing with the teaching profession in the last 15 years,  that is probably the most singly important."

Importantly, he said, if we always do, what we've always done, we can expect the same results:

"Merely digitising old practices is, in effect, simple seeking to get the same or similar results only faster. If all you do with technology is use it to support existing methodologies and practice, then why and on what possible basis would you expect to get new or better results?"

"Digitising what is and developing a digital pedagogy" are two totally different ways of looking at the problem, according to Puttnam.

Finally, Lord Puttnam outlined 6 crucial lessons for educators and society in general:
  1. Getting education right should be the number one priority.
  2. No education system can be better than the teachers it employs
  3. Ongoing teacher training is essential. "It is absurd", Puttnam noted "that you can graduate in a subject aged 24 and still be relevant at 44 or 64 [without ongoing training]"
  4. Educating women is essential. Educated women are the fulcrum around which you can build educated families.
  5. Government must spend a minimum of 7% GDP on education. All other spending should be designed to make this happen.
  6. Teachers and pupils work best in surroundings they are comfortable and respect. The physical infrastructure of some primary and secondary schools should be a cause of national shame.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weather Forecast is Science Communication in Action

Congrats to Jean Byrne of Met Eireann on winning the European Meteorological Society's 2011 TV Weather Forecast Award.

The win is a credit to the weather service in this country and a fine example of science communication in action. For many people, the weather forecast is their one regular exposure to science.

The award recognises individual contributions to best practise in the communication of meteorology and the fact is, the nightly weather forecast is one of the best science programmes on TV!

The presenter said she was honoured to receive the award:

"It's great, coming as it does from a group of my professional colleagues and which recognises the importance of the work that meteorologists do and how we continue to try to give our best service."

According to Met Eireann, they were invited to nominate an entrant for the competition and a sample of her work was submitted for consideration. This is the first time that an Irish person has been awarded the trophy.

A qualified meteorologist, Jean Byrne is one of a small group of incredibly well known scientists in the country who appear on our screens after the Six-One and Nine O'Clock News. There cannot be a household in the land that has not watched here or one of her colleagues explain why it hasn't stopped raining or why the winter has been so cold.

While other broadcasters are switching to unqualified presenters, RTE are to be credited with keeping these scientists on our screens.

In my view, the contrast between RTE broadcasts and other Irish and British weather forecasts is vast. The meteorologists on RTE make a constant effort to explain WHY the weather is as it is and not just whether it will be dry tomorrow or not. For that, they deserve this prestigious accolade.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Robert Boyle Science Festival

2011 represents the 350th anniversary of the publication of Robert Boyle’s famous scientific paper entitled, “The Sceptical Chymist”. This document set the scene for the establishment of the academic topic we now call the Chemical Sciences. 

2011 is also the year that has been designated the International Year of Chemistry (or more simply, IYC) and so it is appropriate that Robert Boyle’s enormous... contribution to the subject will be celebrated in a Science Festival to be hosted at his birthplace in Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford. 

The Festival will take place between Thursday 17th November and Sunday 20th November 2011 to coincide with Science Week. Events will be mounted by Eoin Gill (WIT) and Dr Declan Kennedy (UCC) suitable for both children and adults including lectures, demonstrations and “hands-on” experiences. Talks by Professor Duncan Thorburn Burns (QUB) and Dr Allan Chapman (of Channel 4 TV fame) will emphasise material on Boyle himself and also his scientific partnership with the equally famous Robert Hooke. 

Due to the universal importance of Boyle’s law of gases, two further lectures will be devoted to Earth’s atmosphere. The first is to be presented by the Chief Scientific Officer to DEFRA in the UK, Professor Bob Watson, and will provide a political perspective relevant to human activities on air pollution, climate change and agriculture. The second, by Professor Richard Wayne from Oxford University, will attempt to put the evolution of our atmosphere in proper perspective with our neighbouring planets in the Solar System and answer the question: Why Life on Earth? 

The celebration ends with a spectacular Firework Display at the Castle to point at the essential “Air” that covers our planet and allows all forms of life to exist. The Robert Boyle Science Festival is organised by the Lismore Heritage Centre along with representatives from Lismore Castle, University College Cork, Waterford Institute of Technology and local chemical industry. It is sponsored currently by the RIA and UCC. 

You can keep up to date on the festival using their Facebook page.

See our earlier post on Robert Boyle and his science here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'Drink deeply of the nectared cup of science': Woodroffe and the Cork Anatomists

Co-inciding with the annual meeting of the UCC Medical Faculty and Alumni Association, the Jennings Gallery at University College Cork Medical School will host an exhibition entitled "An Anatomical School in Cork - John Woodroffe and the Cork Anatomists".

It will be a celebration of the Bicentenary of the first Anatomy School in Cork, founded by John Woodroffe, Surgeon of the South Charitable Infirmary, in 1811, together with an exploration of the contribution of Cork anatomists to the development of anatomical illustration in the 19th century. The exhibition will run from September 15th to October 3rd 2011.

Woodroffe founded the school in Margaret Street Cork and the exhibition will examine his life as a teacher of anatomy, a passionate devotee of epic art and a successful and committed surgeon.
Woodrooffe's former school at 18 Parnell Place, Cork. Seen here on the right of the image. After years in a derelict state, the top floors of the facade were rebuilt and the remainder became part of an (as yet) unopened hotel development. (Image: Septemer 2008,

By 1828, the school was transferred to Warren's (now Parnell) Place, Cork to a building which (the facade at least) is still standing. At Warren's Place Woodroffe taught Anatomy and Physiology. Henry Baldwin Evanson, Charles Yelverton Haines and Edward Richard Townsend taught Materia Medica, Medicine and Surgery respectively. In keeping with the central nature of plants to medicine, Thomas Taylor was employed to teach Botany.

Michael Hanna, Chair of the Gallery Committee notes that "Woodroffe's contemporaries called it the first 'permanent' school of anatomy in Cork. It gave rise to others and to an unbroken link with the founding faculty of medicine in Queens College Cork".

In the Quarterly Journal of Foreign and British Medicine and Surgery (and of the Sciences connected with them) from 1822, the journal notes the growth of Woodroffe's school in Cork:
"We understand that of late regular courses of lectures have been delivered at Cork by Dr. Woodroffe, on Anatomy, Surgery, Midwifery and the Theory and Practice of Medicine.
Dr. Woodroffe, who sems a clever, enterprising man, and, as we are informed, an excellent lecturer, also gives popular courses on Physiology, and the Anatomy of Painting. We wonder why Dr. W. has the whole monopoly of lecturing."

Always keen to bring science to a more public audience, as an introduction to the study of science, the following qoute of Woodroffe's takes some beating:

"... and why may not I presume to hope, that there are among you some, who, by pursuing a similar plan, in a science which presents to your view such ample materials for investigation, may yet fathom the deep recesses of the mind, detect the subtile agent which directs the phenomena of thought and intellect, or make such discoveries in the obscure and unexplored regions of Physiology, as may transmit your names with honour to posterity, and consecrate this humble spring where you first inbibed the pure elements of science. With such incitements your labours must not, cannot, relax; while youth and energy are yours, ere care shall make its fatal inroads in your hearts, or worldly pursuits prevent your better feelings, let me implore you to devote yourselves religiously to the important task of study; drink deeply of the nectared cup of science; her lucid beams will guide you through your perilous course, and gild with eternal sunshine your future prospects; in after years you will enjoy the proud superiority of a good education, and rest assured that your intellectual acquirements, like the Eagle's plumage, will not only adorn, but support you in your flight." (Cork  Merchantile Chronicle 15 Nov, 1815)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nerdy Day Trips

Ever felt the need for a day trip filled with nerdy stuff?

Science writer and self-confessed "big fan of nerdy day trips" Ben Goldacre and blogger Jo Brodie have come to the rescue. They've developed which allows nerds or even quite normal people to log on and post their own  nerdy days out on an interactive map.

The organisers want as many trips as possible on the site including the more obscure ones: "the clearing with the abandoned factory, a strange earth feature of nerd interest, the terrifying power station, the water slide park, and so on."

I've added a few Irish spots to visit and you can continue and help create a giant interactive map of scientific, historic and other nerdy stuff to do and see in Ireland by logging on here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Plant Science has never been more important"

The work of Plant Scientists is crucial to our long-term survival, according to a hard-hitting letter by an international group of botanists and crop scientists published this week.

After an online consultation, the authors have drawn up a list of 100 important questions that urgently need to be addressed by the next generation of plant biologists.

"Plant science has never been more important" the authors state. Global challenges including the production of abundant safe and nutritious food, shelter, clothes, fibre and renewable energy can only be met, according to the authors, "in the context of a strong fundamental understanding of plant biology and ecology, and translation of this knowledge into field-based solutions".

In order to see what questions plant scientists should be considering, the authors compiled a list of 100 important questions facing plant science research.

The top-ten questions are:

  • How do we feed our children's children?
  • Which crops must be grown and which sacrificed, to feed the billions?
  • How can we deliver higher yields but at the same time reduce environmental impact of agriculture?
  • What are the best ways to control invasive species of plants, pests and pathogens?
  • Should GM crops require special regulation?
  • How can plants curb global warming?
  • How do plants contribute to maintaining human life on earth?
  • What will be the new scientific approaches central to plant biology in the coming century?
  • How do we ensure that society appreciates the importance of plants and how can we attract the "best and brightest" into plant science?
  • How do we make sure sound science informs policy decisions?

"Plant science is central to addressing many of the most important questions facing humanity", the authors conclude. The importance of plants also extends well beyond agriculture and horticulture as we "face declining  solid fuel reserves, climate change, and a need for more sustainable methods to produce fuel, fibre, wood and industrial feedstocks".

The authors note that training new plant scientists is essential given the central role they will play in the future:
"As plant science becomes increasingly important, we need to attract the brightest and best to careers in plant research. School education does not include the most interesting or relevant aspects of plant science, and discourages young people from studying the subject at university. This is indefensible in a world with such a strong requirement for outstanding plant scientists, and steps should be taken to put it right".

The authors are clear on the importance of plant science research and future plant scientists:
“Everyone knows that we need doctors, and the idea that our best and brightest should go into medicine is embedded in our culture.  However, even more important than medical care is the ability to survive from day to day; this requires food, shelter, clothes, and energy, all of which depend on plants.

“Plant scientists are tackling many of the most important challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century, including climate change, food security, and fossil fuel replacement.  Making the best possible progress will require exceptional people.  We need to radically change our culture so that ‘plant scientist’ (or, if we can rehabilitate the term, ‘botanist’) can join ‘doctor’, ‘vet’ and ‘lawyer’ in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire.”

You can read the letter, published in the New Phytologist here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Boyle's Wishlist

Boyle's wishlist
The Irishman known as the Father of Modern Chemistry left behind him a wishlist, the boxes of which have been well and truly ticked. Is it time to write a new one?

During a visit to the Glucksman Gallery recently to visit the wonderful Book of Lismore, I was reminded of the work of Robert Boyle, a man who shares a common history with the tome.

Boyle was born on 25th January 1627 in Lismore Castle in County Waterford, the son of Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Cork. After being tutored locally and in England, his father sent him on a grand tour of Europe at the age of 12, visiting Dieppe, Paris, Lyon and Geneva.

He went on to visit Florence in 1641, the year of Galileo's death in the same city. Boyle became greatly interested in Galileo's work and in science in general.

Boyle was a founder of the Royal Society of London in 1660 after being associated with its precursor, the "Invisible College" for many years and his work looked at using mathematics to explain chemistry. The Royal Society elected Boyle president of the the Society in 1680, a post he declined due to his religious beliefs.

Robert Boyle is best know perhaps for Boyle's Law - that, at a constant temperature, the pressure of a gas varies inversely with its volume. This law explains such events as a balloon popping and your ears popping at high altitude as well as how pneumatic tools and systems work.

Perhaps less well known than his eponymous law, Boyle also outlined a 'wishlist' of 24 of the most pressing problems to scientists to solve, as he founded the Royal Society. All but a few, have now become a reality. Boyle's wishlist in the 1660's read as follows:

"The Prolongation of life" - there is no doubt we are all, on average, living much longer than our ancestors.

"The recovery of youth, or at least some of the marks of it, as new teeth, new hair" - plastic surgery or botox anyone?

"The art of flying" - a regular occurrence for many onboard planes and helicopters.

"The art of continuing long under water" - submarines (invented by an Irishman).

"Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc" - antibiotics, painkillers.

"The cure of diseases at a distance or at least by transplantion"  - Organ transplant now a common procedure. Even virtual surgery carried out by robots led by remote doctors are now possible.

"Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author" - hallucenogenic drugs.

"The emulating of fish without engines by custome and education" - scuba diving?

"Strength and agility..exemplified by ...hystericall persons" - Steroids perhaps?

"The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions" - synthetic growth hormones?

"The acceleration of the production of things out of seed" -Advances in plant breeding, including GM technology.

"The making of parabolical and Hyperbolical glasses" - advances in eyeglasses, microscopes and telescopes.

"Making armor light and extremely hard" - Kevlar

"The practicable and certain way of finding longitudes" - GPS technology is now in cars and phones.

"A ship to sail with all winds" - Engines have greatly reduced the reliance on sailing.

"Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men" - stimulant drugs

"Perpetuall light" Lightbulbs, LEDs, etc. all ensure that darkness, at least in urban areas, is very hard to find.

"Varnishes perfumable by rubbing" - possibly one of Boyle's weirdest wished, but you know those scratch and sniff things that fall out of magazines? Boyle would be proud!

"The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches" - Quartz and digital watches.

"Transmutation of species in mineralls, animals and vegetables" - GM, synthetic biology explain at least the biological components of this wish.

Boyle died in London on 31st December 1691 leaving his wishlist to be fulfilled in the centuries after his death. It begs the question, if we were to write such a list today, what would be on it?

Leave your science wishlist ideas as a comment to this post or tweet, using the hashtag #sciwish

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Primary Science Fair

As primary schools get back to work this month, they can also get back to  developing exciting class science projects for the RDS Primary Science Fair 2012. 

The call for entries is now open and primary schools across Ireland are invited to visit the website to submit an expression of interest to participate in the 2012 Fair. 

Open to 4th, 5th and 6th class (ROI) and Key Stage 2 (NI), the RDS Primary Science Fair provides an opportunity for students to think about science in practical, fun ways. Projects are not limited to a specific theme so schools can choose a topic that interests them and make the most of the chance to learn something new.
The RDS Primary Science Fair is not a competition, the emphasis is to encourage a positive learning experience for each class and to inspire students to see science as exciting, challenging and fun. Successful schools will be invited to exhibit on one day of the RDS Primary Science Fair which takes place from January 12 – 14, 2012 as part of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.  

Entries for the 2012 RDS Primary Science Fair are now open and will close on October 5, 2011. Schools will be notified of their allocation by mid-October to allow plenty of time for classes to work on their projects! 

For more information or to contact the RDS Primary Science Fair team visit telephone 01 240 7990 or email

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Modest Man

Last Saturday was Heritage Open Day in Cork City and I was lucky enough to visit the recently renovated Triskel Christchurch.

The former church, in the heart of medieval Cork, has been re-imagined as a space for art in the City while maintaining much of its architectural heritage.

One such piece which is interesting from our perspective is the wonderful tombstone known as "The Modest Man" housed in the foyer. The gravestone originally covered the tomb of former Cork mayor Thomas Ronan, who died in 1554. It probably formed part of an earlier church on the site.

The limestone sculpture depicts a skeleton in a shroud, tied at the top and bottom. Three inscriptions on the stone are translated as:

"In this tomb is covered the body of the gracious gentleman Thomas Rona, formerly Mayor of this City of Cork, who died on the day after Saint Jambert's Day (13 August) in the year of our Lord 1554."

"With whom there also wises to be buried his wife Joan Tyrry, who died on the 1sy December in the year of our Lord 1569: on whose soul may God have mercy. Amen. Pater, Ave and Credo. De profundis."

"Man, be mindful, since Death does not tarry: for when he dies, you will inherit serpents and beasts worms."

What's interesting from a scientific point of view is summarised by Dalton:
"The sculptor knew but little of the human frame, as is evident from the lower joints of the legs and arms, and his having cut 14 ribs at one side and 12 on the other".

For all its inaccuracy, it is wonderful to see this historic stone back on public display. It's intriguing to think of the craftsman who carved the stone. He produced perfect gothic script but fell down on his anatomy skills. Odd since he clearly made a living working around dead bodies!

Potato Could Reduce Blood Pressure

Scientists report that just a couple servings of spuds a day reduces blood pressure almost as much as oatmeal without causing weight gain. Scientists reported on the research, done on a group of overweight people with high blood pressure, at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), in Denver, Colorado this week.

The bad news is that the research was not done with chips or fries, but with potatoes cooked without oil in a microwave oven. Although researchers used purple potatoes, they believe that red-skin potatoes and white potatoes may have similar effects.

"The potato, more than perhaps any other vegetable, has an undeserved bad reputation that has led many health-conscious people to ban them from their diet," said Joe Vinson, who headed the research. "Mention 'potato' and people think 'fattening, high-carbs, empty calories'. In reality, when prepared without frying and served without butter, margarine or sour cream, one potato has only 110 calories and dozens of healthful phytochemicals and vitamins. We hope our research helps to remake the potato's popular nutritional image."

In the new study, 18 patients who were primarily overweight/obese with high blood pressure ate 6-8 purple potatoes (each about the size of a golf ball) with skins twice daily for a month. They used purple potatoes because the pigment, or coloring material, in fruits and vegetables is especially rich in beneficial phytochemicals including phenolic acids, anthocyanins and carotenoids. Scientists monitored the patients' blood pressure, both systolic (the higher number in a blood pressure reading like 120/80) and diastolic. The average diastolic blood pressure dropped by 4.3 percent and the systolic pressure decreased by 3.5 percent, said Vinson, who is with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and has done extensive research on healthful components in foods. The majority of subjects took anti-hypertensive drugs and still had a reduction in blood pressure. None of the study participants gained weight.

Vinson said that other studies have identified substances in potatoes with effects in the body similar to those of the well-known ACE-inhibitor medications, a mainstay for treating high blood pressure. Other phytochemicals in potatoes occur in amounts that rival broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts, and also may be involved, Vinson added.

high cooking temperatures seem to destroy most of the healthy substances in a potato Unfortunately for French fry and potato chip fans, those high cooking temperatures seem to destroy most of the healthy substances in a potato, leaving mainly starch, fat and minerals. Potatoes in the study were simply microwaved, which Vinson said seems to be the best way to preserve nutrients.

The purple potatoes used in the study are becoming more widely available in supermarkets and especially in specialty food stores and farmers' markets. Vinson said that he strongly suspects a future study using white potatoes, now in the planning stages, will produce similar results.

  © Communicate Science; Blogger template 'Isolation' by 2012

Back to TOP