Old People Smell, Ctenophores on Sea Stars and Triticale

I don’t have a long argument or paper for you to review this time. Instead, I have random awesome science.


  • The origins of triticale (and why the idea of quadrotriticale is awesome).
  • Neat tiny ctenophores living on sea stars. What are ctenophores? Find out!
  • Old people smell comfortable. No really.

Don’t worry: this post is pretty short, by my standards.

Old People Smell Better

First, the old people. A new study in Science found that old people really do smell different but that, surprisingly, people liked old people smell better! How did they do this study? Basically, they had groups of people of different ages shower each night with odorless soaps and then sleep in t-shirts sewn with absorbent underarm pads for several nights. They then had some twenty-somethings smell the various absorbent pads. Sounds fun! Err … Anyway, the most interesting parts to me were:

  • The “sniffers” more reliably identified a pad worn by an older person.
  • When asked which odors they preferred, the sniffers tended to rate the older person smells as less offensive.

So, old people smell better. Apparently. Or at least one study says so. The image of people sleeping in night clothes every night designed to absorb as much smell as possible amuses me.

Invertebrates Living on Echinoderms

Next up, tiny ctenophores that live on sea stars. I’m a regular reader of the Echinoblog which primarily posts about Echinoderms which are the sea stars (starfish), sea cucumbers, basket stars, sea urchins and sand dollars of the ocean. I’m pretty much in love with the weirdness of echinoderms (plus, just say echinoderm a few times and you’ll love the word). Anyway, the Echinoblog just posted a post with an awesome video of tiny ctenophores living on sea stars. Ctenophores are fairly closely related to Cnidarians or the jellyfish, though different phyla. They are small jelly like things that filter or grab other animals out of the current to eat. In this video you’ll see a tiny ctenophore living attached to a sea star and waving its cilia about grabbing things to eat (tiny things obviously).

Sea stars (and other echinoderms) are frequently habitat for other small sea creatures including shrimp, crabs, worms and even fish that live in the cloaca of sea cucumbers.

So, echinoderms and other marine invertebrates are awesome. One of the best experiences I’ve had this year has been scuba diving and seeing them up close, including sunflower sea stars which are some of the biggest in the world. It’s pretty alien to float next to a giant many-armed echinoderm.


Finally, triticale! I was (still am?) a Star Trek nerd. When I was eleven, I stayed home every day for several months during the summer to record on VHS tape every episode of the original series. You might be aware of an episode about tribbles. Everyone remembers the cute purring little balls of fur. But do you remember how the the tribbles saved the day? They ended up feeding on a store of seed grain called quadrotriticale that the Federation was planning to plant when they won the right to settle on a planet the Klingons were fighting them over. The Klingon agent had actually poisoned it and thus the Federation won the rights to the planet. Quadrotriticale was an obvious homage to triticale which is a real hybrid grain grown today.

Triticale is a wheat and rye hybrid. I knew that part. What I didn’t know is that normally a hybrid between wheat (tetrapoloid) and rye (diploid) would be sterile because the offspring is triploid. But in the late 19th century, colchicine applied to the seeds was discovered to prevent chromosomes from separating during meiosis so you ended up with a polyploid, fertile offspring. Over the years various varieties have been bred. Triticale is considered a good compromise cereal grain that can grown in less hardy conditions than wheat.

But have a read about colchicine, the chemical used to induce polyploidy. It’s used in many different plants and regularly in research. But plants are perverse (by mammalian) standards and will double their chromosomes and breed across “species” lines at the drop of a hat, even without chemical help. Wheat itself comes in several different numbers of chromosomes.

Star Trek’s fictional quadrotriticale is described as being a high yield perennial (!) improvement on triticale. One of my favorite things about Star Trek is the unrelenting and optimistic belief that humans can improve our civilization using science and reason.