Friday, January 30, 2009

Pigs and the Ebola Virus

For those of you obsessed with worst-case scenarios, the New York Times ran a story (here) on January 23, 2009 about the confirmation of the transmission of the Ebola virus from a pig to its human pig handler in the Philippines. While this strain of the virus, Ebola Reston, is not dangerous to humans, the development is potentially troubling because humans are in contact with pigs much more often than they are with monkeys and apes, the known hosts of the Ebola virus and the vectors for the spread of hemorrhagic fever in Africa. Ebola Reston is normally a monkey virus; scientists think that it was spread to the pigs by fruit bats. The article indicates that scientists aren't particularly worried about this news. As one expert on pathogens noted, "It's probably a rare event that pigs get infected."

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Bacon Explosion

I suppose it's an index of how busy I have been that I failed to notice that a recipe for something called the "Bacon Explosion" has been sweeping the internet. Thanks to a piece in Wednesday's New York Times food section by Damon Darlin (here), I now feel up to date. The "Bacon Explosion"--two pounds of pork sausage wrapped in two pounds of bacon--was created by Jason Day and Aaron Chronister of the Kansas-based BBQ competition team Burnt Finger BBQ. It contains about 5000 calories and 500 grams of fat, and is either something that will make your mouth water or turn your stomach in disgust. The NYT article is largely dedicated to the mechanics of the recipe's spread throughout the country via the internet and text messaging. More germane for my purposes, of course, is the recipe itself, which reflects both the surging popularity of bacon and a carnophallic backlash to vegetarians, the health conscious, and friends of animals. 

The image of the "Bacon Explosion" on the smoker comes from the website where the recipe first appeared. The NYT also has lots of instructional photos and video in case you want to make one of these for Sunday's Super Bowl.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why (Domesticated) Pigs are Pink

According to a recent article reporting on the work of geneticist Greger Larson, pigs developed their bright coat colors after domestication. When you think about it, this is really a no-brainer, as the coats of wild pigs and boar provide camouflage in the forest, and humans are the ones that created "breeds" that reflected what looked good to them over the long process of domestication. Accordingly, as Larson notes, the brightly colored coats reflect "the real human penchant for novelty." 

The study does reveal in detail the mechanism for changes to coat color: mutations to the gene melanocortin receptor-1 (MC1R). These mutations account for pigs that are black, or pink, or spotted, all colors and patterns that would have a hard time surviving in the wild. Interestingly, a pink pig doesn't produce any melanin, making pink a "default" color.

Today's picture is one of my own, of wild hogs corralled at the Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival in Abbeville, Georgia. These suckers would be hard to spot in the woods, that's for sure. The New Scientist article summarizing work published in PL0S Genetics can be found here.

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