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Musical instruments from vegetables

Two brothers from Beijing have created musical instruments from carrots, potatoes and other vegetables.

Playing music with vegetables has become a passion and a career for Nan Weidong, 43, and Nan Weiping, 41, since the idea came to them two years ago.

The brothers learned to play conventional instruments from their father, a music teacher, when they were children.

Now the pair live and work in a narrow apartment in Beijing, drilling holes in carrots, marrows, lotus roots and Chinese yams to make vegetable instruments that they perfect using an old electronic tuner, the Telegraph reported.

According to the brothers, different vegetables have different scales and are therefore suited to different melodies: a sweet potato makes an ocarina, a bamboo shoot becomes a flute, a yam, a whistle.

But controlling the pitch is still extremely difficult, because changes in the air temperature, humidity and other factors can warp the shape of the holes and put the notes out of tune.

The Nan brothers, whose repertoire ranges from traditional Chinese flute music to modern pop to western folk songs like Auld Lang Syne, have appeared on talent shows in China and can receive payments of 30,000 to 50,000 yuan for a performance.

Sugary beverages increase heart disease risk in men

More evidence has been found of the impact of sugar-sweetened drinks on heart disease, according to a study involving an Indian-origin co-author.

In a new study, scientists found that men who drank a 12-ounce sugary beverage a day had a 20 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to men who didn’t take any such drinks.

“This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to cardiovascular health,” said Frank B Hu, MD, PhD, study lead author and professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population,” he added.

Vasanti S Malik, Sc D, is also one of the co-authors.  Researchers studied 42,883 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and found that the increase persisted even after controlling for other risk factors, including smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol use and family history of heart disease. Less frequent consumption - twice weekly and twice monthly - didn’t increase risk.

They also measured different lipids and proteins in the blood, which are indicators, or biomarkers, for heart disease. These included the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP), harmful lipids called triglycerides and good lipids called high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

Compared to non-drinkers, those who consumed sugary beverages daily had higher triglyceride and CRP and lower HDL levels.

Artificially sweetened beverages were not linked to increased risk or biomarkers for heart disease in this study.

Beginning in January 1986 and every two years until December 2008, participants answered questionnaires about diet and other health habits. They also provided a blood sample midway through the survey. Follow-up was 22 years.

Participants were primarily Caucasian men 40-75 years old. All were employed in a health-related profession.

Health habits of the men in the study may differ from those of the general public, but findings in women from the 2009 Nurses’ Health Study were comparable, Hu said.
The study was published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.

Meat-eating mammals lose taste for sweets over time

Seven of 12 related mammalian species have lost the sense of sugary taste, and as each of the sweet-blind species eats only meat their liking for it is frequently lost during the evolution of diet specialization, a new study has found.

Previous research from the Monell Centre team had revealed the remarkable finding that both domestic and wild cats are unable to taste sweet compounds due to defects in a gene that controls structure of the sweet taste receptor.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they subsist only on meat. In the current study, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA Early Edition, the Monell scientists next asked whether other strict carnivores have also lost the sweet taste receptor.

To do this, they examined sweet taste receptor genes from 12 related mammalian species with varying dietary habits. They once again found taste loss and to their surprise, it was widespread in the meat-eating species.

“Sweet taste was thought to be nearly a universal trait in animals. That evolution has independently led to its loss in so many different species was quite unexpected,” Gary Beauchamp, senior author of the study, said.

The integrity of the sweet taste receptor gene was closely related to the animals’ diets. Sea lion, fur seal, Pacific harbour seal, Asian otter, spotted hyena, fossa, and banded lingsang, species that are exclusive meat eaters, all had defective sweet receptor genes.

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