Studies on mouse rehab music, onion tears win Ig Nobels

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

A study on how opera may prolong one’s life and research into the complex mechanism of how chopping onions causes tears have earned two Japanese groups an Ig Nobel prize.

The award, organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research as a parody of the Nobel Prizes, has honored humorous science studies in 10 categories for the past 23 years.

This was the seventh consecutive year that Japanese have won the prize.

A group that includes Teikyo University associate professor Masanori Niimi was honored with the Ig Nobel Prize for medicine for research involving heart transplants on mice and three types of music, including opera and classical.

According to a report by the group published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery in March 2012, mice that had undergone heart transplants were exposed to the opera “La Traviata,” classical music by Mozart, songs by Irish pop singer Enya and simple sound frequencies.

Such mice normally live an average of seven days, but those treated to the opera survived 26.5 days and those that listened to Mozart held on for 20 days. The mice that listened to Enya or simple sound frequencies, however, lived only seven to 11 days.

“Our findings indicate that exposure to opera music, such as ‘La Traviata,’ can affect such aspects of the peripheral immune response,” the group said in its report.

Meanwhile a group led by Shinsuke Imai of House Foods Corp. was awarded the Ig Nobel for chemistry.

Their research revealed that enzymes that cause tears when chopping onions are different than the ones previously believed to be the cause. The study may one day lead to the invention of a tear-less onion, according to the group.

The Ig Nobel for archaeology this year was presented to two American researchers who swallowed, without chewing, a half-boiled shrew in order to determine which bones can survive the human digestive system.

According to their report, “Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton,” the study showed that the amount of bones found in the researchers’ fecal matter was significantly less than they had expected.

The Ig Nobel for probability meanwhile went to Scottish researchers who published a report titled “Are Cows More Likely to Lie Down the Longer They Stand?”

The team used sensors on indoor-housed beef cows for more than two weeks.

“Cows were, however, not more likely to lie down the longer they were standing,” the group concluded.

Past Japanese winners of the humorous award include researcher Hideki Tanemura, who along with six others won the Ig Nobel prize for chemistry in 2011. They invented smoke detectors that emit a strong wasabi scent instead of an ear-piercing screech.

In 1995, Keio University professor Shigeru Watanabe and his team won the Ig Nobel for psychology for their research on the cognitive capabilities of the pigeon, in which they trained one to distinguish drawings, one by Picasso and one by Monet.

The Tamagotchi digital pet, the karaoke machine and the Bow-Lingual device, which supposedly translates a dog’s barks into human language, are some of the Japanese inventions that have been honored with the award in the past.