Guru Magazine - - CONTENTS - An­swered by Dr Stu (Science Guru)

Ev­ery Fri­day we open up the dig­i­tal gates to reader’s ques­tions – both weird and won­der­ful. We en­deav­our to find the best an­swers and fea­ture them on our web­site. Here’s a se­lec­tion of some of the best from the last two months.

Ever had one of those ques­tions that re­ally bugs you? Us too! Well here’s some most ex­cel­lent news: ev­ery Fri­day our team of Gu­rus will be ac­cept­ing your ques­tions about (pretty much) any­thing – health, nu­tri­tion, psy­chol­ogy, space… or life!

To ask a ques­tion, sim­ply post it on our Face­book

wall or tweet it to @Gu­ruMag with the hash­tag #AskAGuru on any Fri­day. We also ac­cept ques­tions vi­ae­mail. Our di­verse team of writ­ers and Gu­rus will re­search and find you the an­swer. If we can’t, then we’ll hunt down an ex­pert who can. It might take us a few days to find the an­swer, but we will do our best!

See the full list of ques­tions an­swered so far on our web­site. Here’s a se­lec­tion of some of the best:

If a man has gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery will he suf­fer ‘phan­tom limb’ type feel­ings? Sent via twit­ter

Phan­tom limb syn­drome is the sen­sa­tion of a body part be­ing present even af­ter it has been am­pu­tated. A most pe­cu­liar con­di­tion, the am­putee can find the ab­sent limb feel­ing very real and even as if it can be moved and ma­nip­u­lated. It’s a sur­pris­ingly com­mon syn­drome and can be ex­tremely painful for many: an am­pu­tated hand may feel as if it is clenched and the fin­ger­nails are dig­ging into the palm. The rea­sons for phan­tom limb sen­sa­tions are un­clear but they are thought to be due to the way the brain is ‘hard-wired’ for all its body parts: a re­gion within the

pari­etal brain lobe (the top of the head) has a ‘map’ for re­ceiv­ing sen­sa­tions from dif­fer­ent body re­gions. When a body part is re­moved, this – now re­dun­dant – brain seg­ment ‘cre­ates’ an im­age of the miss­ing body part from other bod­ily sen­sa­tions. It isn’t imag­ined – the feel­ings are just as real as when the body was whole. Gen­der re­as­sign­ment in­volves (ob­vi­ously) the re­moval of body parts. For men, the pe­nis (al­though not a ‘limb’) seems to be vul­ner­a­ble to the same prob­lem as for arms, hands, legs and feet. 60% of trans­sex­ual men ex­pe­ri­ence phan­tom ‘limb’ feel­ings for the ab­sent gen­i­talia af­ter surgery. And not just men are af­fected: women com­monly feel ‘phan­tom’ breasts af­ter a mas­tec­tomy.

Why does my athe­ist brother-in-law com­plain when his son re­fuses to be­lieve in Fa­ther Christ­mas? Asked by @Chris­tomill via twit­ter

I have given this much thought be­cause there are three ways of ap­proach­ing the is­sue of chal­leng­ing per­sonal be­liefs: by tip-toe­ing dain­tily through the tulips, bash­ing through the ob­struc­tion with a fron­tend loader, or – my per­sonal favourite – oblit­er­at­ing the tulips with the front-end loader. I’m go­ing to have to take the first route, be­cause ide­ally as a science jour­nal­ist I’d need to in­ter­view all par­ties be­fore throw­ing any light on the mat­ter; and be­sides, there are some sen­si­tive is­sues at stake here. Firstly, I have to as­sume that your athe­ist broth­erin-law doesn’t be­lieve in Fa­ther Christ­mas ei­ther. That makes sense be­cause the char­ac­ter doesn’t ex­ist out­side of folk­lore, and even then, in such ap­par­ently di­verse forms as to ren­der re­ports of him un­ten­able as proof. Be­sides, in or­der to de­liver as many presents as needed in a sin­gle night (even to only the good chil­dren), would re­quire Fa­ther Christ­mas (and his rein­deer) to do some in­ter­est­ing things with the laws of physics (see The Physics of Santa) Se­condly, I also have to as­sume that be­cause the son has been brought up in a home where at least one the par­ents is an athe­ist, he has been en­cour­aged to em­ploy crit­i­cal rea­son­ing. He has there­fore come to the log­i­cal con­clu­sion that Fa­ther Christ­mas doesn’t ex­ist. This means that – un­like his peers who have been en­cour­aged to be­lieve in non­sense – he won’t grow up to be­lieve in horo­scopes and home­opa­thy. The log­i­cal an­swer to your ques­tion is there­fore sim­ple… it’s love (al­to­gether now, 1…2…3…”aaaah!”) I can imag­ine that your brother-in-law doesn’t want to risk his son be­ing prej­u­diced by his peers (and their judge­men­tal par­ents) by run­ning around and telling ev­ery­one that Fa­ther Christ­mas doesn’t ex­ist.

What is Sausage Skin Made of? Asked by Heather Young

Oh boy. Those of you who are squea­mish and want to en­sure you con­tinue to en­joy sausages bet­ter look away now as there are two an­swers – and one of them isn’t pretty. Sausage skins are also known as ‘cas­ings’. It used to be the case that all sausage skins were made from the in­testines of an­i­mals – cows, pigs, sheep, and so on. Yep, the stuff that di­gests food and makes fae­ces – the in­testines – are used to en­case the ground meat you so thor­oughly en­joy. How­ever, it’s not that sim­ple. Your in­testines, and those of the mam­mals you most likely eat, are made of four lay­ers. Sausage cas­ings are made from the sec­ond layer from the in­side, called the sub­mu­cosa. Some­what re­as­sur­ingly, this tough layer has never been in con­tact with the an­i­mal’s poo. Dur­ing pro­cess­ing, the other lay­ers are stripped off and the sub­mu­cosa is then cleaned and used for the sausage cas­ings. Now, for those of you about to vomit at the thought of all of this, don’t de­spair. New tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments have al­lowed the de­vel­op­ment of ar­ti­fi­cial cas­ings. Th­ese ar­ti­fi­cial cas­ings can ei­ther be made from nat­u­ral sub­stances, like the hide of a cow, or from cot­ton. Fi­nally, truly ar­ti­fi­cial cas­ings can be made from plas­tic. Only one ques­tion re­mains: how long will this ‘tasty’ in­for­ma­tion keep you from eat­ing your next juicy sub­mu­cosal sausage?

I have no­ticed that some prod­ucts (such as Soy Milk) state a warn­ing that it should be con­sumed within 4 days af­ter be­ing opened. How ac­cu­rate is this?

Asked by Julio Vazquez via Face­book

‘Best be­fore’ and ‘use by’ dates are used on dif­fer­ent types of food. ‘Use by’ dates re­late to per­ish­able foods, which can ‘go off’ eas­ily (like dairy prod­ucts and meat). The ‘use by’ date in­di­cates the lat­est date on which the food is def­i­nitely safe to eat (if stored cor­rectly, that is: don’t ex­pect milk to be any good on its use by date if it’s been left out of the fridge all day). ‘Best be­fore’ dates are used for foods with a longer life than per­ish­able goods – things like cook­ies and cakes. This date in­di­cates how long you can ex­pect the food to re­main at its best qual­ity. Such foods are typ­i­cally still safe to eat af­ter their best be­fore date, but may just not be quite so pleas­ing on the palate. Not good un­less you like stale-tast­ing muffins. Turn­ing to things like soya milk, it’s gen­er­ally best to heed the ad­vice given on the pack­ag­ing. Some things – like milk – may look and smell fine, even well af­ter their use-by date, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t be­come con­tam­i­nated with some lurk­ing bug or other since you opened it. As a UK Food Safety ex­pert ex­plains “It’s tempt­ing just to give your food a sniff to see if you think it’s gone off, but food bugs like E.

coli and sal­mo­nella don’t cause food to smell ‘off’ even when they may have grown to danger­ous lev­els.” So food could look and smell fine but still be harm­ful. In short, ‘use by’ dates aren’t just pro­duced as a re­sult of guess­work, but rather as the re­sult of care­ful test­ing. You can read more about the science be­hind ‘use by’ dates here. In­ci­den­tally, US soya milk man­u­fac­tur­ers state that their prod­ucts re­main fresh for be­tween 7 and 10 days, as re­ported here.

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