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Although my days of science study are long, long over but I do try to keep abreast of scientific developments. It was with great pleasure to see today’s Independent and a discussion of some more bizarre scientific developments. However, it is unlikely that any of these will be up for an Ig Nobel:
Research carried out in Queensland for the past four years has determined that kangaroos are able to produce environmentally friendly farts: bacteria in the stomach lining of kangaroos that means they do not contain methane. The team, led by Dr Athol Klieve, believes that unlocking this secret could lead to the creation of more climate-friendly cattle. Between them, the flatulent farm animals produce so much methane that they account for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, second only to power stations. But if the kangaroo bacteria were added to cattle feed, the researchers hope they could create herds with much lower carbon footprints. Kangaroo stomachs are more than just green. Instead of methane, they produce a chemical that improves digestion. Feed laced with kangaroo bacteria could give rise to livestock that is not only greener, but also faster-growing and me fertile.
Methane-busting feed supplements could be available commercially in as little as three years.
As well as being a tasty and nutritious snack olfactory mucus actually enhances our sense of smell. It separates the chemical compounds that make up the smell of, say, frying onions. These compounds travel through the mucus at different speeds, hitting our scent receptors at different times. By dissecting and separating smells in this way, mucus allows our brains to identify scents more quickly and accurately.
In April, Professor Julian Gardner of the University of Warwick started to improve his electronic noses, which have been used (without mucus) for years, in everything from the production of artificial fragrances to quality control in crisp factories. "We built a polymer that replicates the function of snot," says Gardner. "It's not green but it has the same consistency as human snot and, applied to our sensors, means our artificial noses are at least five times better than those without snot."
And who says science can't be fun!