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Tiny bubbles, better bubbly

Want the best champagne for your New Year's Eve bash? Look for the bubbly with the smallest bubbles, report French scientists in the Dec. 17 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Gerard Liger-Belair of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France (where else?) and his colleagues found that champagne's uniquely tiny, rising bubbles are the key to its aroma and flavor, and the more you have, the better. Smaller bubbles mean you'll have more bubbles to pick up and release the wine's flavor and aroma molecules as they burst onto the surface of the liquid, creating the refreshing zing of a good champagne. The researchers studied bubble formation and found that carbon dioxide, surprisingly, was not the main factor in determining bubble size in champagne, as it is in other beverages. Rather, dissolved salts, carbohydrates, and minerals in the wine play a much larger role than previously thought. They hope to develop a computer model that will help them create the perfect bubble. Liger-Belair, who is also a consultant with Moet & Chandon, flatly stated, "Our ultimate goal is to create smaller bubbles in champagne wines." We'll toast to that.


Cholesterol-free mouse

With the glut of cholesterol-free everything on the market, now comes the cholesterol-free mouse, reports an international team of researchers in the Dec. 19 Science. Cholesterol, despite being notorious for clogging arteries and contributing to heart disease and strokes, has long been considered integral for survival. The fat-like substance plays many roles in the body, being vital for cellular signaling and the formation of hormones, and it is an essential structural building block of cells and their membranes. But now researchers from Quark Biotech Inc. in the United States, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and the Sackler School of Medicine in Israel have created mice with a genetic mutation that disrupts the manufacture of cholesterol in their bodies, replacing it with a substance called desmosterol. The cholesterol-free mice were 25 percent smaller than normal when born and both males and females were infertile, but were otherwise relatively healthy. In humans, a similar genetic deficiency causes severe abnormalities. "We were surprised by the fact that a mouse lacking cholesterol can survive and develop into adulthood with little effect," stated study author Elena Feinstein of Quark Biotech.

Holiday snack under attack

What would the holidays be like without those almost-impossible-to-crack dark-brown Brazil nuts on the table? We might find out if the Brazil nut industry doesn't change its ways, says a study in the Dec. 19 Science. Brazil nut trees are among the oldest and largest in the Amazon forest -- they can live 500 years or more and grow 160 feet tall -- and their grapefruit-sized fruits hold 10 to 25 nuts each, which are collected when the fruit drops to the ground. The nuts are the only internationally traded crop collected entirely from natural forests. In the Brazilian Amazon alone, 45,000 tons of nuts are collected annually, with sales of more than 33 million US dollars, according to the study. Now Carlos Peres of the University of East Anglia and an international group of scientists warn that "current Brazil nut harvesting practices at many Amazonian forest sites are not sustainable in the long term." After examining Brazil nut tree groves in 23 sites in the Bolivian, Peruvian, and Brazilian Amazon, the researchers found that new trees are not adequately replacing aging trees where nuts are intensively collected. Young trees "were most common in unharvested and lightly harvested stands" and "virtually absent where seeds had been persistently collected," they wrote. Due to the longevity of the trees, there will be no shortage of nuts in the near future, but the researchers recommend steps to avoid the collapse of the industry, including planting more seeds and limiting and rotating harvests so the stands may have a chance to regenerate.


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