Multipurpose microbes; therapeutic cows; a liberal’s passing

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

 

WYOMING
Yellowstone National Park’s neon-colored hot springs belch up bubbles that delight the tourists, but the resident volcanic microbes have proven equally important to entrepreneurs. A Chicago-based company called Nature’s Fynd has invested $45 million in those microbes to grow a “meatless meat,” reports VegNews. The company feeds its microorganisms glycerin and starches, then ferments them to produce a complete protein it calls “Fy,” which contains “all nine amino acids and (is also) high in fiber and vitamins.” Nature’s Fynd plans to have vegetarian hot dogs, nuggets and hamburgers in stores as early as 2021.

Yellowstone’s superheated pools have already  contributed to humanity’s welfare, reports National Geographic. Back in the 1960s, microbiologist Thomas Brock was visiting the park when he realized that a bizarre gelatinous mass floating in Little Octopus Spring was “definitely living” despite the water’s forbidding temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. A year later, he and his graduate student Hudson Freeze discovered that  a gooey mass in Mushroom Spring contained a microbe that produces weird heat-resistant enzymes. Their find revolutionized molecular biology: The heat-tolerant enzymes enabled scientists to automate the copying of DNA and RNA, making testing fast, easy and routine. The enzymes are the key component of PCR — polymerase chain reaction — which is “now being used to boost the signal of viruses in most of the available tests for COVID-19.” Brock never imagined that his investigations would add up to so much. “I was free to do what is called basic research,” he said. “Some people called it useless because it was not focused on practical ends.” But serendipity ultimately triumphed: “The find has made a world of difference.”

THE WEST
Fox News recently reported on a surprising condition shared by some young people. Let’s call it “bovine deficit disorder.” A study of 3,500 Americans between the ages of 11 and 24, conducted by the RV travel site Parked in Paradise, found that 33% — “a shocking number” — claimed to have never seen a cow “in person.” If these udderly deprived youngsters ever do encounter a 1,000-pound cow, they might benefit from a new wellness trend: cow hugging. “Cuddling cows is thought to reduce stress in humans by releasing the bonding hormone oxytocin.” One farmer told the BBC that interacting with cows is pretty basic: “You come to the fields and we have some special hugging cows and you can lay next to (them). People think it’s relaxing” — though so far no one has asked the cows for their opinion. Therapeutic cow snuggling apparently got started in the Netherlands more than a decade ago.

MONTANA
In Bozeman, there’s a far easier way to commune with mammals that are much fluffier and considerably more portable than cows: You can pet the purring kitties at Montana’s first Cat Café. Started by Josh Marks and Josh Pecukonis, the cat lounge is located above the Foxtrot restaurant. Patrons can take their food upstairs and hang out with whatever felines, usually three or four of them,  are currently on duty. All of the cats are adoptable through the Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter, reports KBZK. “We’re just really crazy cat people …  and we really just wanted to offer an extra outlet for people to be able to spend time and adopt cats,” Pecukonis said. The Cat Café is currently focusing on older cats, which are experienced enough to hide from potential owners, reports the “Town Crier” briefs in Explore Big Sky.

COLORADO
A fond farewell is overdue for a gallant woman named Henrietta Hay, who died last year in Grand Junction at the fabulous age of 106. Hay was always a maverick, a liberal in a conservative western Colorado town who rode a motorcycle into her 60s, worked as a librarian for a quarter-century and wrote a column for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel for 22 years. One of her most provocative columns was reprinted by the Denver Post in 2002. In “What is a liberal?” Hay declared that she was tired of hearing people use the word “liberal” as an obscenity. “Liberals are not criminals, she wrote. “They are not traitors. … Most of them probably have cats. Most of them are Christians. Most of them are Democrats. Some are Republicans. Most of them say, ‘You believe your thing and let me believe mine.’ Liberal,” she concluded, is “not a dirty word. It is a proud word.” And, quoting Mark Twain, she added, “The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.”   

Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected], or submit a letter to the editor

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