MySci Daily Round-Up, July 15: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter

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This is the 141st anniversary of the patenting of margarine by French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés, which has to be one of the coolest names in the annals of science, if not the entire history of human civilization. (It just kind of rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it?) Mège-Mouriés already had a long list of patents to his credit, including effervescent tablets, the use of egg yolks for the tanning of leather, and nitric acid as a treatment for syphilis. We’re not sure how well that last one worked. In any case, in the late 1860s he turned his attention toward research on manipulation of fats. As chance would have it, about that time, Napoleon III of France became concerned about the nation’s chronic butter shortage, and offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a substitute. Mège-Mouriés obliged, developing a method of purifying beef tallow and mixing it with skim milk, bicarbonate of soda and other ingredients and artificial yellow coloring. Except for the substitution of vegetable oils for tallow, it’s pretty much the same process that produces what you spread on your toast today. And now that we’ve ruined your appetite, here are the MySci stories of the day.

Gorillas learn to play fair by playing tag. Apes use play to explore the ramifications of unfair social situations, just like you did on the playground.

Triceratops and Torosaurus actually were the same species of dinosaur, at different stages of development. That’s kind of what we always suspected about those “identical cousins” Patty and Kathy, too.

Smoking can alter gene expression that forms cells. The dangerous habit thus may turn out to be linked to a much wider range of cancers than scientists had realized.

NASA is trying to figure out how to stop astronauts from throwing up. About half of our brave space adventurers get airsick in the process. The space agency hopes to use biofeedback to teach them how to control nausea.

Happiness and sadness spread in a manner similar to the flu. As it turns out, social networks are a crucial factor in both epidemics and our collective moods.

17th century Austrian soldiers’ remains found. The skeletons of the two men, discovered near a German town, date back to the Thirty Years’ War.