The idea of eating bugs is creating a buzz in foodie and international development circles as a more sustainable alternative to eating meat and fish.

In New Zealand, two young Canterbury entrepreneurs have started a company supplying ants, huhu grubs and crickets to high-end restaurants.

Now a report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry examines how the nutrients - particularly iron - provided by grasshoppers, crickets and other insects really measures up to beef.

It finds that insects could indeed fill that dietary need.

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Edible bugs might sound unappetising to many Westerners, but they've long been included in traditional diets in other regions of the world, home to more than two billion people.

In the study, researchers analysed grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms and buffalo worms for their mineral contents and estimated how much of each nutrient would likely get absorbed if eaten, using a lab model of human digestion.

The insects had varying levels of iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese and zinc.

Crickets, for example, had higher levels of iron than the other insects.

And minerals including calcium, copper and zinc from grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms were more readily available for absorption than the same minerals from beef.

The results support the idea that eating bugs could potentially help meet the nutritional needs of the world's growing population, the researchers say.

Energy drink cocktails mimic effects of cocaine

Drinking highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages triggers changes in the adolescent brain similar to taking cocaine, a new study has found.

The US researchers say the consequences last into adulthood as an altered ability to deal with rewarding substances.

When mixed with alcohol, high-caffeine energy drinks create an effect in the brain similar to that of cocaine. Picture / 123RF
When mixed with alcohol, high-caffeine energy drinks create an effect in the brain similar to that of cocaine. Picture / 123RF

They looked at the effects of high-caffeine energy drinks and high-caffeine alcohol in adolescent mice.

When those high levels of caffeine were mixed with alcohol and given to adolescent mice, they showed physical and neurochemical signs similar to mice given cocaine.

"It seems the two substances together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behaviour and changes the neurochemistry in their brains," said study leader Assistant Professor Richard van Rijn, of Purdue University.

"We're clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other."

His research, just published in the journal PLOS ONE, indicated that adolescent brains repeatedly exposed to caffeinated energy drinks had been changed in such a way that they were more likely to abuse natural or pleasurable substances as adults.

Forget voice to text - type with your mind

Picture being able to answer texts or emails without lifting a finger or opening your mouth.

Scientists are proposing such thought-driven technology, which could enhance the capabilities of existing speech interfaces and offer a game-changer for those with speech difficulties.

In the future, could Siri read your mind? Picture / 123RF
In the future, could Siri read your mind? Picture / 123RF

"Instead of saying 'Siri, what is the weather like today' or 'Ok Google, where can I go for lunch?' I just imagine saying these things," says Christian Herff, author of a review published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

While reading one's thoughts might still belong to the realms of science fiction, scientists are already decoding speech from signals generated in our brains when we speak or listen to speech.

The technologies include functional MRI and near infrared imaging that can detect neural signals based on metabolic activity of neurons, to methods such as EEG and magnetoencephalography that can detect electromagnetic activity of neurons responding to speech.

One method in particular, called electrocorticography or ECoG, has shown promise in a study involving patients who already have electrode grids implanted for treatment.

But there is still a long way to go before the world will have a mind-reading Siri, says Herff, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

"A first milestone would be to actually decode imagined phrases from brain activity, but a lot of technical issues need to be solved for that."

Would you feel safe around driverless cars?

Crossing the street in a city full of self-driving cars might seem something to fear - yet scientists say the future could be one of pedestrian supremacy.

In a new study, University of California researcher Assistant Professor Adam Millard-Ball created a model to simulate this not-far-off world.

It suggested that, because autonomous vehicles are by design risk-averse, pedestrians will be able to act with impunity, and may even have the right of way in pedestrian-oriented urban neighbourhoods.

Pedestrians have little to fear from driverless cars, researchers say. Picture / 123RF
Pedestrians have little to fear from driverless cars, researchers say. Picture / 123RF

But he also found that the potential benefits of self-driving cars - avoiding tedium of traffic and trauma of collisions - may be outweighed by the drawbacks of an always play-it-safe vehicle that slows traffic for everybody.

"From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied 5-year-old children."

He concluded the ultimate impacts of autonomous vehicles depend not only on technological advances and market adoption, but also on how planners and policymakers respond.

One approach could be to maintain traffic speeds by eliminating crosswalks, erecting fences between the sidewalk and roadway to corral pedestrians, and stepping up enforcement against those who flout the law.

Hate cheese? This might be why

The long-standing mystery of why some people can't stand cheese has been solved, fittingly, by French researchers.

The researchers first studied a sample of 332 people to zero in on the reasons behind their aversion to cheese, finding among many a potential genetic origin possibly related to lactose intolerance.

Next, they performed MRI brain scans on 15 people who like cheese and 15 people who don't, and watched as the participants were exposed to images and smells of different types of cheeses, along with other "control" foods.

New research shows why some people can't stand cheese. Picture / 123RF
New research shows why some people can't stand cheese. Picture / 123RF

They observed that the ventral pallidum, a small structure usually activated in people who are hungry, was totally inactive while the smell and image of cheese was being presented to individuals with an aversion to cheese, whereas it was activated for all other food types.

Even more surprisingly, the researchers observed that areas of the brain, the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra, which participate in the reward circuit, were more involved in people who do not like cheese than in those who do.

These structures, typically involved in processing reward, may therefore also be triggered in response to an "aversive stimulus", they said.

The work offered an insight into the areas of the brain that are activated when an individual is presented with an aversive food and suggests that the reward circuit may also encode disgust.