The following is a short inventory of recent serendipitous events. Please check back frequently as this page is regularly updated.

If you know of an event of this nature that you feel warrants inclusion, please contact the author via the contact page.

Human Milk Fighting Infections:
            Catharina Svanborg and her team at Lund University in Sweden had a surprise in their work concerning their studies of the manner in which babies can fight infections. Because there was considerable variation shown by cells in laboratory tests they used cancerous cells instead. They found that milk killed the cancerous cells!
            Breast milk can both protect against, and heal, a remarkable variety of ailments. According to the account by Julie J. Rehmeyer (Science News, 170, 274, 2006) these properties should not be surprising. Of the thousands of substances people eat, breast milk is the only one that evolved under natural processes to maintain health.

Protecting Grasses Against Heat:
            A fungus, Curvularia protuberata, grows inside plant tissues without damaging them. In fact, it is beneficial. In 2002, researchers in Yellowstone National Park reported that grass colonized by the fungus thrived in soils that simmer at over 40° C (104° F) all summer. A further look shows that the fungus alone doesn’t protect plants from heat, according to Marilyn Roosscink of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK. The fungus itself has to be injected with a previously unknown agent which she and her colleagues have named Curvularia thermal tolerance virus.
            This finding goes back to 2003 when Roosscink was working on a different project. In looking through theYellowstone Curvularia samples she found signs of viral infection in the fungi in hot spot grasses but not in fungi from cooler places. Roosscink and her colleagues isolated the virus and tested its powers in both the grass and tomato plants. One of the challenges she faced was the failure of the standard techniques to cure the fungus of its viral infection. It was when she was bringing the fungal samples out of storage that Roosscink serendipitously discovered that freezing destroys the virus but not its host. After Roosscink removed the virus by freezing the fungus, the latter no longer offered even limited protection to tomato plants. When she re-infected the fungus, its protective powers returned.         
            (Based on a report by S. Milius, Science News, 171, 54, 2007).

Addiction to Smoking Halted:
            This was a case in which a stroke had a beneficial effect. A 28-year old man, who had been a heavy smoker since he was 14, suffered a stroke that affected the insula, a region deep inside the cerebral cortex. After the stroke, he had no urge to light a cigarette.
            The team led by neuroscientist Antoine Bachara, University of California at Los Angeles, had known that the insula had previously been associated with monitoring the body’s internal conditions and controlling conscious urges, such s the desire to eat.  To shed more light on the phenomenon, the researchers identified 69 smokers or former smokers with a variety of damaged brain areas caused by strokes, surgery, or other factors. Nineteen of them had damaged insulas, and all had quit smoking. However, there is more to be learned because some of the patients had experienced typically tough withdrawal symptoms. Bachara was quoted as saying “When we did all our analysis and statistics, it turned out that the likelihood of quitting smoking with ease after damage was 136 times higher than for damage anywhere else in the brain.”
           (Based on a report by C. Brownlee, Science News, 171 {#4}, 51, 2007.)

Don’t Underestimate the Gecko:
            A rare plant, Trochetia blackburniana, is found only on the island of Mauritius. The plant’s large red flowers make it desirable and, therefore, efforts have been made to preserve it.
            It was known that geckos of the species Phelsuma cepediana transfer pollen as they poke their heads into the flowers to sip nectar. Dennis Hansen and his colleagues at the University of Zurich showed that if the plants were caged, to keep away the geckos, the plants were less successful in making fruit. Obviously there would be merit in having geckos available for the pollination to take place, but they are preyed upon during the day unless they have a suitable cover. Fortunately, such cover is provided by dense clusters of pandanus with their long bladelike leaves. Therefore, it appears that the secret to preserving Trochetia is to grow pandanus plants nearby. The geckos will take care of the rest.
            (Taken from Science News, 171, 221, 2007).

Chalk One Up for Global Warming:
            Alan C. Gange of Royal Halloway, University of London, is aware that mushrooms in England are popping up earlier and staying around longer than normal. His inspiration for this study came from his father, Edward Gange, who had kept detailed records of local mushrooms for decades. The elder Gange was a stone mason and. after his retirement, bought a computer so that he coud use a spreadsheet program to record his observations along with those of fungi enthusiasts in southern England.  In all, there were 52,000 observations.
            The younger Gange is a researcher in microbial ecology and, with his father and two colleagues, focused on 315 species that normally fruit in the fall. In the 1950s, the average fruiting season for the mushrooms in the sample lasted 33 days. In the current decade, the season has more than doubled, to almost 75 days. Eighty five of the species have started fruiting earlier, advancing almost 9 days per decade, while 105 species have started fruiting earlier, hanging around about a week longer.
            (Taken from a report by S. Milius, Science News,171, 212, 2007)