Q: Is that really a light on a lightning bug, or is
that just glow juice? Why don't we humans have one on us? Maybe we don't eat the right stuff. —Bug Catcher
A: Real light it is, with visible photons emitted via chemical reaction between luciferin and luciferase– a protein and an enzyme, says Stanford University's Michael Bachmann, M.D., D.Sc. But it's a "cold" light with almost no energy lost to heat compared to the 90 percent lost by incandescent bulbs.
Genes to produce these chemicals are in a number of "bioluminescent" species, ranging from bacteria to worms and insects. Mammals (including humans) do not have such a set of genes, and so are unable to emit light naturally. "Hence, we would not glow, even if we ate pounds of the right stuff, i.e., luciferin– which is extremely expensive at $200/gram."
However, modern biotechnologists now know how to introduce into laboratory mice the firefly luciferase gene, which acts along with injected luciferin to light up target cells for disease tracking via sensitive video camera.
Some brave new "artists" apparently have plans to take this a step further to create glowing dogs and cats, either art for art's sake or for pure entertainment. "But I think it is morally wrong to subject animals to such suffering,” says Bachmann, “when there is no benefit to human beings or other animals."
Q: OK, muscle guy, a rich guy offers you $1,000,000 if you can carry it away barehanded. But wait, it has to be in $1 bills and taken all at once, not piecemeal. Possible? –Money Grubber
A: Steroids or no, you've got more chance of getting rich by marrying the rich guy's daughter than as a dollar-lugger. Figure it: Pile approximately 500 bills on a scale to make a pound. Now divide 500 into 1,000,000 and you get 2,000 pounds (a ton!) to stack up to a cool million. Even if you could lift the bills, you'd need to maneuver– at about 200 per inch– a greenback tower 400+ feet high, or 50 "short" stacks each taller than a pro basketball player.
Q: If you will your body to medical science, can medical science reject it?—Gutsy Guy
A: Plenty of bodies don't make the cut. Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, willed her body to two medical schools, but both demurred, says Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., in Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?
Cadavers too young or too old, too tall or too fat, may be passed over. Too many operations, or an infectious disease, or a violent death, or an amputation, or the presence of extensive burns, or being too emaciated can all disqualify a body.
Q: In the old Bob Newhart routine, an infinite number of monkeys sit at an infinite number of typewriters blindly pounding out the works of Shakespeare. Takes a while, but infinity's plenty big. What if there were only one monkey, one typewriter, and one line of text to type?—Mad for Monkeys
A: In that spirit, a guy programmed a computer to randomly type 39-character lines to try to hit on Hamlet's "To be or not to be, that is the question." He set up a webpage titled "Monkeys typing Shakespeare" to keep everyone posted. After about a week, the computer's best was: ujgdEjOxeNOTejOtmbgTang IrcpqbglUzSTIzg. The 12 capitalized correct letters plus space figure to a success rate of 33 percent (13 out of 39). A quick probability calculation based on 26 letters plus a space suggests it'll take roughly 27 to the 39th power tries (39th power for the 39 slots in the sentence) before a perfect hit occurs. This is a colossal number. At 100 tries a second, this would take more than a billion billion billion billion billion years, in a universe not yet 20 billion years old.
(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org)