Thursday, April 24, 2008

Italian Mafia Starts Faking Olive Oil | Weird Facts

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Italian police have arrested 39 people and seized truckloads of fake olive oil destined for the United States, Germany and Switzerland to be sold at a big profit.

Police said on Monday they seized 25,000 litres of the fake oil. The gang was adding flavouring and colourants to vegetable oil and slapping false labels on to bottles that claimed the contents were extra-virgin olive oil.

Random tests on olive oil, as well as suspicions raised by some Italian restaurateurs and retailers, had led police to make the discovery. Police impounded contents of seven premises where the fake oil was being produced.

"We blocked the export of huge amounts of the oil to America, Germany and Switzerland, avoiding another international scandal after the buffalo mozzarella case," said Ernesto Di Gregorio, a Carabinieri police chief in the southern city of Naples.

Several countries banned imports of Italian mozzarella when high levels of dioxin were found in the cheese – something blamed on the illegal dumping and burning of waste around the Naples area where the buffalo that provide the milk graze.

Italy exports 914 million euros of virgin and extra virgin oil each year. A consumer group said the fake oil scam could further dent Italy's reputation for high quality produce after police made a similar raid on makers of fake wine earlier this month.

"After wine and mozzarella we now have olive oil, which like the other two is an excellent product of which Italy is proud around the world," said consumers' association Aduc.

"It will end up that consumers abroad, when they buy Italian produce, they will have the same doubts as when they buy Chinese products," it said, in an apparent reference to recalls of Chinese-made toys and concerns about fake goods.

[Via - Stuff.Co.Nz]

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scientists take control of flies' brains to make females behave just like males | Weird Facts

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Scientists have been able to take control of flies' brains to make females behave just like males.

Researchers genetically modified the insects so that a group of brain cells that control sexual behaviour could be "switched on" by a pulse of light.

The team was able to get female fruit flies to produce a courtship song - behaviour usually only seen in males.

The study, published in the journal Cell, suggests that the wiring in male and female flies' brains is similar.

Scanning electron micrograph of the fruit fly (SPL)
What would happen if we turned the neurons on in females
Gero Miesenboeck

Gero Miesenboeck, from Oxford University, UK, who carried out the research with J. Dylan Clyne from Yale University, US, said: "It is often the case that males have to work very hard to convince females to mate with them.

"In many animal species, males have to put on elaborate courtship displays to impress females - even the tiny fruit fly."

Male fruit flies will vibrate one of their wings to produce a barely audible song, explained Professor Miesenboeck.

"And if the female likes that sound, she'll surrender to his advances."

Previous research has revealed that a group of 2,000 brain cells are necessary for this courtship behaviour in the insects; however, both male and female fruit flies appear to possess most of these neurons.

Professor Miesenboeck said: "It looks like males and females have very similar neuronal equipment, yet they behave so differently - only the male sings, and only the female responds to the song by allowing a male to copulate with her.

"The big question is: why - what is the difference?"

To investigate, the team placed some flies in a "mini sound studio".

The insects had been genetically modified so that a pulse of light would activate this group of courtship neurons.

First of all, the researchers looked at male flies and found that the light would indeed spark a song.

"The second, more exciting question we wanted to ask, was what would happen if we turned the neurons on in females.

"Females don't normally show this kind of behaviour, but we wanted to find out if they had a hidden capacity to do it," explained Professor Miesenboeck.

As the light pulsed through the chamber, video footage shows the female fruit fly lifting and vibrating one of her wings to produce a song.

The next stage was to find out how effective the artificially induced songs were as mating calls.

For this, the "Cyrano de Bergerac" test was applied.

A male and female fly were placed in the sound studio. The male fly had had his wings altered so that he could not produce any sound.

The mute couple were then played the recorded courtship songs produced by the mind-controlled male and female flies.

"The artificially activated male songs proved seductive," Professor Miesenboeck told the BBC News.

Experimental set up for flies (Miesenbock)
The flies were places in a mini sound studio

However, the music produced by the female did little to get the mute flies in the mood for mating.

Professor Miesenboeck explained: "When we analysed the songs, we found there were subtle differences between the male song and the artificially induced female song - the pitch was a bit off, the rhythm was off, the song, overall, was less well controlled."

Nevertheless, the researchers say the study reveals that male and female brains are extremely similar in flies - even the circuits thought to be dedicated to sexual behaviours such as courtship.

The next question to answer, said Professor Miesenboeck, was if both males and females had the capacity to create courtship songs, why was it that only the males did so under normal circumstances?

He said he thought there might be a handful of "master switches" or "command centres" in the flies' brains that were set to male or female mode.

"Our next goal is to find these switches," he added.

[Via - BBC]

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why Beautiful Women Marry Ugly Men | Weird Facts

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Women seeking a lifelong mate might do well to choose the guy a notch below them in the looks category. New research reveals couples in which the wife is better looking than her husband are more positive and supportive than other match-ups.

The reason, researchers suspect, is that men place great value on beauty, whereas women are more interested in having a supportive husband.

Researchers admit that looks are subjective, but studies show there are some universal standards, including large eyes, "baby face" features, symmetric faces, so-called average faces, and specific waist-hip ratios in men versus women.

Past research has shown that individuals with comparable stunning looks are attracted to each other and once they hook up they report greater relationship satisfaction. These studies, however, are mainly based on new couples, showing that absolute beauty is important in the earliest stages of couple-hood, said lead researcher James McNulty of the University of Tennessee. But the role of physical attractiveness in well-established partnerships, such as marriage, is somewhat of a mystery.

The new study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, reveals looks continue to matter beyond that initial attraction, though in a different way.

Supportive spouses

McNulty's team assessed 82 couples who had married within the previous six months and had been together for nearly three years prior to tying the knot. Participants were on average in their early to mid-20s.

Researchers videotaped as each spouse discussed with their partner a personal problem for 10 minutes. The tapes were analyzed for whether partners were supportive of spouses' issues, which included goals to eat healthier, to land a new job and to exercise more often.

"A negative husband would've said, 'This is your problem, you deal with it,'" McNulty said, "versus 'Hey, I'm here for you; what do you want me to do?; how can I help you?'"

A group of trained "coders" rated the facial attractiveness of each spouse on a scale from 1 to 10, with the perfect 10 representing the ultimate babe. About a third of the couples had a more attractive wife, a third a more attractive husband and the remaining partners showed matching looks.

Trophy wives

Overall, wives and husbands behaved more positively when the woman was better looking.

The finding "seems very reasonable," said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences and Sloan School of Management. "Men are very sensitive to women's attractiveness. Women seem to be sensitive to men's height and salary," said Ariely, who was not involved in the recent study.

In couples with more attractive husbands, both partners were less supportive of one another. McNulty suggests wives mirror, in some ways, the level of support they get from husbands.

"The husband who's less physically attractive than his wife is getting something more than maybe he can expect to get," McNulty told LiveScience. "He's getting something better than he's providing at that level. So he's going to work hard to maintain that relationship."

Men who are more attractive than their partners would theoretically have access to partners who are more attractive than their current spouses, McNulty said. The "grass could be greener" mentality could make these men less satisfied and less committed to maintain the marriage.

Physical attractiveness of husbands is not as important to women, the researchers suggest. Rather, wives are looking for supportive husbands, they say.

So it seems the mismatch in looks is actually a perfect match. "Equitable is unlikely to mean the same on every dimension," Ariely said during a telephone interview. "It just means that overall two people make sense together."

[Via - Yahoo!News]

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