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Education

Better Bacon, Whale Snot, Real Ingredients

by Bethany Halford
March 8, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 10

Bacon:
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Making it healthy.
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Credit: Shutterstock
Making it healthy.

In an effort to make bacon part of a more healthful breakfast, researchers in Canada have figured out a way to enrich the pork product with docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 465). A good dietary source of DHA—a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid thought to promote healthy brain development, boost the immune system, and improve cardiovascular health—is fish.

But why eat fish when you can eat bacon? Or so reasoned William Jon Meadus and coworkers at the Lacombe Research Center, in Alberta. They figured that adding DHA to bacon could make the meat healthier. So they fed pigs a diet enriched with the fatty acid at low, medium, and high concentrations, all of which were sufficient to elicit DHA's beneficial effects.

After the pigs were slaughtered, their bacon was analyzed to ensure that the DHA had been incorporated into the meat, and then it was passed on to a group of taste-testers. Meat with medium and high levels of DHA fared poorly with panelists, who described its odor and flavor as "piggy" and possessing a "barnyard" quality. Bacon with low levels of DHA did better, with 73% of tasters reporting they preferred it to regular bacon and enjoyed its fresh smell.

Meadus tells Newscripts that adding DHA in the form of algal biomass bumps the price of pig feed up by only a dollar or two, which translates to about 10 to 20 cents more per pound of bacon. His group is continuing its study of the DHA-enriched bacon with the goal of bringing it to grocery stores.

Toy Helicopters:
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A new idea in sample collecting.
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A new idea in sample collecting.

If you think health care professionals have an icky job gathering bodily fluids from people, imagine what life is like for Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse. As a fellow at the Zoological Society of London, she studies whale health. Because it's nearly impossible to take a blood sample from a whale in the wild, she has to make do with the next best thing: whale snot.

But collecting the mix of mucus, water, and gas that spews from a whale's blowhole presents its own unique challenges. Acevedo-Whitehouse used to gather her samples by tying herself to her boat and leaning over a whale's blowhole with a petri dish. It was effective, but far too dangerous.

Taking a cue from high-tech toys, Acevedo-Whitehouse now gathers her samples with the help of a radio-controlled model helicopter. A trained model aircraft pilot helps Acevedo-Whitehouse fly the chopper, a Thunder Tiger Raptor 30 V2 that carries several petri dishes into the whale's spout. They can then be taken back to the lab and analyzed for bacteria and viruses. Her report of the unconventional sampling method appears in Animal Conservation (DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2009.00326.x).

As lovers of flavor chemistry, the Newscripts gang was intrigued upon reading the "Feedback" column in the Sept. 19, 2009, issue of New Scientist magazine. Several "Feedback" readers had written in to point out that the British potato chips known as Walkers Sensations proudly boast on their packaging that they are "made with real ingredients." Fears of imaginary ingredients were, apparently, unfounded.

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