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What Causes Baldness?

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If you’ve got a receding hairline, don’t be so quick to blame it on your baseball caps or your grandpa.

Studies show that genetic factors mostly determine a person’s predisposition for hair loss. Humans have 46 chromosomes of DNA, and two of these chromosomes determine the sex of a person: the X chromosome and the Y chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while a man has an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. These chromosomes are passed from the parents to their child. The gene affecting hair loss is located on the X chromosome.

Since a male child can only inherit an X chromosome from his mother, it is often said that a man can determine the likelihood of becoming bald by looking at his mother’s father. If a man’s maternal grandfather expresses hair loss, then that man may also experience hair loss within his lifetime.

But it is possible to have a grandpa with a full head of hair and still become bald. This is because hair loss is only partially hereditary; a man may only have a 50/50 chance of inheriting baldness from his mother, since his mother has two X chromosomes. Additionally, a joint 2008 study conducted by McGill University, King's College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. pinpointed a small area on Chromosome 20 called 20p11 that is associated with male pattern baldness. Research is still being done as to the “why”, but so far it is known that men with this particular genetic variant are seven times more likely to lose their locks than those who do not carry it.

Still, genetics are not the only piece of the puzzle. Diet, exercise, and stress levels can also cause baldness. And while some may view baldness as a mark of distinction and maturity, others have tried all sorts of homemade remedies to stimulate hair growth. In ancient Egypt, doctors recommended mixtures of fats from hippos, crocodiles, tomcats, snakes, and ibex. One medical text even suggests boiling porcupine hair in water and applying it to the scalp for four days.

In the United States during the 19th century, salesmen and sideshow performers marketed phony concoctions of snake oils that supposedly reversed hair loss. Later in the 20th century, manufacturers developed a Thermocap device that worked to stimulate hair follicles. Unfortunately, the few individuals who wore the Thermocaps looked like characters from Coneheads. Much like Viagra, Minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) was originally intended as a possible treatment for high blood pressure. When the hair growth side effect was discovered, Big Pharma changed its marketing strategy.

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Big Questions
Why Is Soda Measured in Liters?
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Never a nation to fall in line, America is one of the few countries to resist the metric system. We stubbornly measure distance in miles and weight in pounds. So what’s with those two-liter bottles of soda?

First, a clarification: Soda is far from the only substance we measure in metric units. Heck, it’s not even the only beverage. Wine, liquor, and bottled water are sold by the milliliter. The healthcare field is all about metric units, too, from cholesterol levels to prescription, over-the-counter, and supplement dosages. We run 5-kilometer races, ride on 215-millimeter tires, and use 8-millimeter cameras, or at least we used to.

In most other things, we determinedly cling to our imperial measurements. Attempts to convince Americans to join the rest of the metric-measuring world have been met with great resistance.

Ken Butcher of the National Institute of Science and Technology has been working with the government’s tiny Metric Program for years. Speaking to Mental Floss back in 2013, Butcher explained that we’re so entrenched in our way of doing things that switching measurement systems now would be both chaotic and expensive.

"If we were going to start a new country all with the metric system, it would be easy," he said. "But when you have to go in and change almost everything that touches people’s everyday life and their physical and mental experience, their education, and then you take that away from them—it can be scary."

Here and there, though, when it’s convenient, we have been willing to budge. The soda bottle is a good example. Until 1970, all soft drinks in the U.S. were sold in fluid ounces and gallons, mostly in glass bottles. Then the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle came along, and soft drink makers decided it was time for a product redesign.

The redesign process coincided with two key factors: a short-lived wave of government interest in going metric, and the burgeoning environmental movement.

The folks at PepsiCo decided to meld all three into its exciting new vessel: a lightweight, cheap, recyclable, metric bottle, with built-in fins so it could stand up on supermarket shelves. Two liters: the soda size of the future.

The two-liter bottle took off. The rest of the soft drink world had no choice but to get on board. And voila: liters of cola for all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
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The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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