An interesting find was recently reported in the press regarding attractiveness of a range of items to a group of very young babies. The Telegraph reports that two American behavioural researchers have examined young babies preferences when reaching for organic and non organic items.
What the study reports is that the young participants showed a significant preference for artificial non-edible things like keys, pipe cleaners and spoons.
What they found was that there was a measurable hesitance in reaching for a stem of nutritious broccoli or a piece of celery.
What is the reason for this observed behaviour?
The researchers, Dr Annie E Wertz and Dr Karen Wynn at the Department of Psychology at Yale University, discuss the possibility that what they were observing was an adaptive behaviour similar to the yuck factor most people experience when they see a spider or a snake.
Primates have co-evolved with their food plants over eons and this co-evolution has matched the defenses of certain plants to behavioural changes in herbivores or omnivores like us. The change in behavour that the plants have forced upon us serves to protect green plants from over grazing thus promoting the spread of genes of the plants over the surface of the earth.
Plants are devious in their defenses against herbivory but sometimes a mismatch between defense and attack in plants and animals occur. A good local example being introduced trees of Northern hemisphere origin in our gardens in Melbourne and Sydney that are over grazed by possums.
Here is an example of an animal herbivore, the possum, that has been isolated from the Northern hemisphere trees for 90 million years since the Australian continent separated from Antarctica and South America and thus developed totally different response to plant defense mechanisms.
The trees are essentially defense less against the possums which have tough digestive systems used to survive on the leaves of native trees full of nasties and the introduced European and North American trees succumb to grazing especially when the trees are stressed by prolonged drought.
It would have been interesting if the researchers repeated the same experiments with brightly coloured fruits which are appealing to the adult eye and palate.
Do the human young reach for the fruit? The bright pigments in fruits and berries being natural anti oxidants and thus health promoting. Evidence has benn found that anitoxidants llike anthocyanin are actively protecting humans that ingest them from the ill effects of heart disese and different form of cancer.
Tomatoes are brighly coloured and contain lycopene which has been claimed to have health benefits. In a recent study on the basis for aerthosclerois a group of researchers at the Unviversity of California in LA found that Low Density Lipoproteins or 'bad' Cholesterol which was thought to be packaged and excreted form our livers actually is produced and formed in the small intestine of us humans. In additon they discovered another culprit in the Cholesterol saga , lysophosphatidic acids (LPAs), and evidence for LPAbeing a major culprit in the inflammatory process of the walls of the arteries that lead to heart attacks
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