The 20 Catchiest Songs (According to Science)

The catchiest song is "Wannabe," by the Spice Girls! At least that's the conclusion researchers in the UK have come to after a year-long study.

In the experiment, developed by the UK's Museum of Science and Industry, people played an interactive online game called Hooked on Music, created by computational musicologist John Ashley Burgoyne and a team at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht. The game contained 1000 clips of best-selling songs spanning seven decades, from the 1940s until the present day. There were four different ways to play, as Cnet describes:

Recognise that Tune, where users had to hum along with the track, continuing when the sound dropped out and gauging whether they were still in time when the sound resumed; What's the Hook, where users had to listen to two different clips from the same song and choose which clip was catchier; Time Trial, where users had to recognise as many songs as possible in three minutes; and In a Row, where users had to recognise as many songs in a row as they could.

Researchers analyzed the data of 12,000 participants, which revealed that, on average, it took users just 2.29 seconds to recognize "Wannabe." Here's the full list:

1. "Wannabe," Spice Girls - 2.29 seconds
2. "Mambo No. 5," Lou Bega - 2.48 seconds
3. "Eye of the Tiger," Survivor - 2.62 seconds
4. "Just Dance," Lady Gaga - 2.66 seconds
5. "SOS," ABBA - 2.73 seconds
6. "Pretty Woman," Roy Orbison - 2.73 seconds
7. "Beat It," Michael Jackson - 2.80 seconds
8. "I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston - 2.83 seconds
9. "Don't You Want Me," The Human League - 2.83 seconds
10. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Aerosmith - 2.84 seconds
11. "Poker Face," Lady Gaga - 2.88 seconds
12. "MMMbop," Hanson - 2.89 seconds
13. "It's Now or Never," Elvis Presley - 2.91 seconds
14. "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," Bachman-Turner Overdrive - 2.94 seconds
15. "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson - 2.97 seconds
16. "Karma Chameleon," Culture Club - 2.99 seconds
17. "Baby One More Time," Britney Spears - 2.99 seconds
18. "Devil in Disguise," Elvis Presley - 3.01 seconds
19. "Rivers of Babylon," Boney M - 3.03 seconds
20. "Candle in the Wind," Elton John - 3.04 seconds

The researchers hope to figure out not only what makes a song catchy but how musical memory works, which could help people with dementia. "There has already been some research that shows that if you can find the right piece of music, something that had a very strong meaning, playing that piece of music can be very therapeutic," game creator Burgoyne said. "But the challenge is figuring out what is the best piece of music."

[h/t The Science of Us]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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