Lots of People Are Missing Out on the Smell of Asparagus Pee

Adriaen Coorte via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Adriaen Coorte via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Scientists have uncovered some staggering news: Many people have never smelled asparagus pee—and never will. The experts, writing in the British Medical Journal, say more than half of participants in a large survey reported an inability to pick up the scent.

People have been remarking on the odor of asparagus pee for just about as long as we’ve been eating asparagus. A bemused Benjamin Franklin noted the “disagreeable odour” the vegetable produced in his urine. Marcel Proust waxed lyrical on the subject, writing that asparagus spears “…played…at transforming my humble chamber into a bower of aromatic perfume.”

The precise cause of that perfume remains to be seen. Scientists’ current best guess is a natural compound called asparagusic acid, which is found only in—you guessed it—asparagus. On its own the acid smells fine; it’s after being processed through your body and coming out the other side that it acquires its signature scent.

Or at least it does for some people. Previous studies have suggested that the ability to smell asparagus pee is not as universal as we once thought. To find out, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health pulled data from two long-term projects on American health: the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Both studies had, remarkably, asked respondents about their ability to smell their own asparagus pee. All 6909 of the respondents had also submitted samples of genetic material.

The results were kind of astonishing. A full 58 percent of men and 61.5 percent of women said they’d noticed no unusual aroma in their pee after eating asparagus. That’s well over half of everyone in the study. All of the survey respondents, including the ones who could detect the scent, were of European descent, which means these results can’t be considered representative of everyone everywhere.

The researchers then looked at the DNA of smellers and non-smellers to see if they could find any differences. They could. The 4161 people with this asparagus anosmia collectively had hundreds of genetic variants, all located in the region of the chromosome associated with our sense of smell.

"Outstanding questions on this topic remain," senior author and epidemiologist Lorelei Mucci said in a statement. "First and foremost perhaps is: Why such a delicious delicacy as asparagus results in such a pernicious odor, and what are the selective pressures driving genetic variations that lead to asparagus anosmia?"

Pernicious or no, the aroma is one that Mucci and her co-authors imply is an olfactory experience millions are missing out on. They note that “future replication studies are necessary” but suggest a future of “targeted therapies to help anosmic people discover what they are missing.”

Pioneering Heart Surgeon René Favaloro Is Being Honored With a Google Doodle

Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
The Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Argentinian heart surgeon René Favaloro is the subject of today’s Google Doodle, which features a sketched portrait of the doctor along with an anatomical heart and several medical tools, The Independent reports.

The renowned doctor was born on this day in 1923 in La Plata, the capital of Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, and pursued a degree in medicine at La Plata University. After 12 years as a doctor in La Pampa, where he established the area’s first mobile blood bank, trained nurses, and built his own operating room, Favaloro relocated to the U.S. to specialize in thoracic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 1967, Favaloro performed coronary bypass surgery on a 51-year-old woman whose right coronary artery was blocked, restricting blood flow to her heart. Coronary bypass surgery involves taking a healthy vein from elsewhere in the body (in this case, Favaloro borrowed from the patient’s leg, but you can also use a vein from the arm or chest), and using it to channel the blood from the artery to the heart, bypassing the blockage. According to the Mayo Clinic, it doesn’t cure whatever heart disease that caused the blocked artery, but it can relieve symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, and it gives patients time to make other lifestyle changes to further manage their disease.

Favaloro wasn’t keen on being called the “father” of coronary bypass surgery, but his work brought the procedure to the forefront of the clinical field. He moved back to Argentina in 1971 and launched the Favaloro Foundation to train surgeons and treat a variety of patients from diverse economic backgrounds.

Favaloro died by suicide on July 29, 2000, at the age of 77, by a gunshot wound to the chest. His wife had died several years prior, and his foundation had fallen deeply into debt, which Argentinian hospitals and medical centers declined to help pay, The New York Times reported at the time.

“As a surgeon, Dr. Favaloro will be remembered for his ingenuity and imagination,” his colleague Dr. Denton A. Cooley wrote in a tribute shortly after Favaloro’s death. “But as a man ... he will be remembered for his compassion and selflessness.” Today would have been his 96th birthday.

[h/t The Independent]

Forget Lab-Grown Meat—You Can Now Buy Lab-Grown Ice Cream

Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Even though “dairy-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthier,” it’s still a necessary disclaimer for dairy-free people who are screaming for ice cream. And between veganism, lactose intolerance, and other dietary dairy restrictions, the race is on to create an ice cream for the masses that doesn’t taste like chalk, chemicals, or sadness.

Bay Area startup Perfect Day may have just pulled ahead of the competition. Today, Fast Company reports, it released three flavors of dairy-free ice cream—Vanilla Salted Fudge, Milky Chocolate, and Vanilla Blackberry Toffee—that contain the same proteins found in cow dairy, but grown in a lab from engineered yeast and DNA. Since those proteins contribute greatly to the rich texture and taste of ice cream that we love so much, Perfect Day’s products are supposedly indistinguishable from the real thing.


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The co-founders, vegan bioengineers Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, got the idea from their experience in medicine, where fermentation is used to grow things in a lab all the time. “The two of us started scratching our heads and wondering, what if we just apply that same exact technology that’s been around for half a century to make the world’s most in-demand, highest-quality protein?” Pandya explained to Fast Company.

Their lactose-, dairy-, and gluten-free vegan ice cream, which they’ve been working on for five years, includes the dairy proteins casein and whey, as well as plant-based fats and sugar. If you're dairy-free because of a casein or whey allergy or sensitivity, you should treat this ice cream like you would any other foods containing dairy, and heed the "Contains milk protein" disclaimer on Perfect Day products.

Lab-grown dairy has environmental benefits too, considering that cows and other livestock are major culprits of greenhouse gas emissions. Pandya and Gandhi hope to sell their proteins to large-scale food manufacturers, and have teamed up with Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois-based food processing company, to increase production.

Though it seems like a scoop or two of this ice cream might be the recipe for a perfect day, that wasn’t the inspiration behind the company’s name—the founders stumbled upon a study in which scientists discovered that cows produced more milk when listening to music, and one of the most successful songs was Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” “As a company on a mission to make cows, people, and the planet happier, it seemed like a perfect fit,” the website says.

Can’t wait to taste the magic? You can purchase all three flavors in a three-pint bundle for $60 here.

[h/t Fast Company]

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