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All-Corn Diet Turns Hamsters Into Cannibals 171

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: A new paper outlines the efforts of scientists at the University of Strasbourg to determine why the European hamster has been dying off at an alarming rate... Previously, the rodent's diet consisted of grains, roots and insects. But the regions in which its numbers were dropping have been taken over by the industrial farming of corn... Researchers in France have discovered that a monotonous diet of corn causes hamsters to exhibit some unusual behavior -- cannibalism.
âoeImproperly cooked maize-based diets have been associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and cannibalism in humans," the researchers point out, and they believe it's the absence of vitamin B3 which is affecting the hamsters' nervous system and triggering dementia-like behavior. Hamsters are already an endangered species in Western Europe, so this is being heavily-researched. And they obviously won't improve their chances of survival with cannibalism.
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All-Corn Diet Turns Hamsters Into Cannibals

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  • Cannabis? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 29, 2017 @01:43PM (#53760265)

    I misread Cannibals as Cannabis and thought - that's quite a magic trick.

  • Obviously (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sacrilicious ( 316896 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @01:53PM (#53760325) Homepage

    And they obviously won't improve their chances of survival with cannibalism.

    It's tempting to accept this statement at face value, but an instance of cannibalism involves the death of an individual, not the death of a species. Cannibalism is just another variant of natural selection, and it's fairly easy to construct a scenario where it in fact leads to better overall survival rates (e.g. only the sick are eaten, or the challenge of evading being eaten leads to the accelerated development of intelligence/swiftness/whatever). Whether it turns out that way in this case remains to be seen.

    • Eating other hamster will not increase a hamster's level of niacin.
      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        But cannibalism may resolve some other deficiencies - protein for example.

      • Why not? Can the first hamster not metabolize the niacin that was in the second hamster?

        I mean sure, if the second hamster had *no* niacin in it's system then obviously it wouldn't help, but in general cannibalism should provide a nice boost for any trace vitamins that are at low but non-zero levels.

        • I guess that a hamster that has access to a richer diet, and thus has niacin in its system, is strong enough to defend itself and not being eaten. Anyway, according to the summary, hamsters are resorting to cannibalism in regions where there is no source of niacin, so cannibalism won't help very much.
          • I rather doubt that there are *no* sources of niacin in the region - more likely there's just not enough to maintain healthy levels given their "default" diet. An organism designed to eat a grain-rich diet is unlikely to recognize that the available grain suddenly no longer contains balanced nutrition. But hamsters are after all omnivorous, with insects, lizards, etc. making up a portion of their normal diet.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      Cannibalism is quite literally survival of the fittest.

      And, not to pour water, but has anyone considered that a cannibalism response is actually sensible and protective? With a nutrient deficiency, the animals change their behaviour to find another source of said nutrient.

      How does this differ from pregnancy cravings? Some animals eat their OWN young. Cannibalism may well be what's keeping the few that are left alive.

    • And they obviously won't improve their chances of survival with cannibalism.

      It's tempting to accept this statement at face value, but an instance of cannibalism involves the death of an individual, not the death of a species. Cannibalism is just another variant of natural selection, and it's fairly easy to construct a scenario where it in fact leads to better overall survival rates (e.g. only the sick are eaten, or the challenge of evading being eaten leads to the accelerated development of intelligence/swiftness/whatever). Whether it turns out that way in this case remains to be seen.

      In New Zealand, turning to cannibalism arguably stopped a precipitous population crash. The Maori population had soared from a diet of native birds including the gigantic moa which were easily hunted. When these species were driven to extinction people started starving. By the time Europeans arrived the Maori population was a fraction of what it had been (eg there were dozens and dozens of uninhabited hill-forts dotting the countryside, a testament to the huge population that had existed in the past.) and p

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        That's a quite unlikely interpretation of the history. That there was a population crash is evident, but I know of no plausible argument that cannibalism maintained the level of population. It *is* true that when levels of protein in the diet are very low, people tend to become cannibalistic. I've also heard it claimed that this is true if the only protein is fish, though I doubt this.

        More likely there was a short period of extreme protein starvation where groups that developed a cultural set in favor of

    • This article reeks of anti-corn lobbies.
      Corn should only be part of your diet not all of it. Granted we use corn as a sweetener and a grain and filler. But it's flavor and cooking diversity doesn't mean that it will have all the nutrients of a full balance diet.
      Hamsters have been known to eat other hamsters in time of stress. If they are not having a balanced diet for hamsters then they will be under stress.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @01:53PM (#53760327)
    ... thousands of /.ers around the World stop to stare blankly at their bowl of Corn Flakes (or whatever breakfast cereal) ...
    • Grains are only somewhat harmful. It's sugar that will really do you in.

      Of course, the thoughtful food manufacturers have kindly combined the two in every conceivable manner, often also folding in some toxic fats for good measure.

      Stick to food that a hunter-gatherer could find, and you won't go far wrong. (Clue: that includes no sugar - except for a little honey occasionally - and no grains. If we had evolved to eat grains we would have four stomachs).

      • Re:At this point... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @02:16PM (#53760467)

        Grains are only somewhat harmful.

        The problem is not eating grain, but eating ONLY grain. This leads to deficiency in B3, B12, and lysine.

        If we had evolved to eat grains we would have four stomachs).

        Ruminants don't have four stomachs to digest the starch in grain, but the cellulose in leaves and stems.

        • Exactly this. It is a wonder how many are ignorant of basic science. (Well not really with the state of today's public education system.)

        • Re:At this point... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @03:25PM (#53760917)

          The problem is not eating grain, but eating ONLY grain. This leads to deficiency in B3, B12, and lysine.

          Depends on the grain and how it was prepared. If the corn has been prepared by some form of nixtamalization, the B3 (Niacin) will be more readily available for consumption. The Aztecs knew about this. A lot of processed corn products (Including junk food) have undergone this process. However if you subsist entirely on corn on the cob (or frozen corn kernels) you will develop a deficiency. The B3 is in there, but not in a form our bodies can digest and utilize.

        • And if you want to get technical, ruminants don't even have four stomachs - they have one stomach, preceded by three esophageal pouches that act as fermenters / bioreactors to grow large populations of microbes. The microbes then break down the cellulose as well as synthesizing a wide range of dietarily important chemicals not present in the original feedstock. In essence ruminants don't primarily digest plants, they digest internally plant-fed microbes.

      • Hunter-gatherers ate quite a bit of sugar, that's where the 'gatherer' part comes in. Berries, fruits, vegetables - all of these contain sugars, and sometimes in great quantities. Did you perhaps mean to say 'processed' sugars like glucose?

        • Hunter-gatherers ate quite a bit of sugar, that's where the 'gatherer' part comes in. Berries, fruits, vegetables - all of these contain sugars, and sometimes in great quantities. Did you perhaps mean to say 'processed' sugars like glucose?

          True and those sources also contain fiber, which slows the digestion/metabolism of the sugar.

          I recommend this video Sugar: The Bitter Truth [youtube.com] by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, about how sugar is metabolized (in extreme detail) by the body.

          • True and those sources also contain fiber, which slows the digestion/metabolism of the sugar.

            Not much. White bread has a glycemic index of 75. Whole wheat bread has a glycemic index of 74. Both higher than table sugar at 65. You can also test this yourself. Each a few slices of bread, wait an hour, and measure blood glucose. It will be up sharply, meaning that the glucose is already entering the bloodstream while the fibers are still in your gut.

            • True and those sources also contain fiber, which slows the digestion/metabolism of the sugar.

              Not much. White bread has a glycemic index of 75. Whole wheat bread has a glycemic index of 74. Both higher than table sugar at 65. You can also test this yourself. Each a few slices of bread, wait an hour, and measure blood glucose. It will be up sharply, meaning that the glucose is already entering the bloodstream while the fibers are still in your gut.

              Most white bread has zero (or almost zero) fiber and most whole-wheat bread isn't much better. And hunter-gathers don't really hunt/gather bread. Most fruits, nuts and vegetables have lower glycemic loads. But to support the initial statement, from Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet [mayoclinic.org] (and other places):

              Benefits of a high-fiber diet

              Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber — particularly soluble fiber — can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

              Also, we're talking about adequate fiber in the diet, not just 3-6g. From the second page of the above link:

              Fiber: Daily recommendations for adults:
              Age 50 or younger, Age 51 or older
              Men: 38 grams, 30 grams
              Women: 25 grams, 21 grams

              You should watch the video I originally referenced, it's from the a lecture series at UCS

              • Not to mention how important fiber is to gut flora, which they're finding also influences many systems, from immune system to mood.

        • Berries are actually quite low in sugars, just a few percent. And in old times, fruit was much smaller than today. Apples were the size of cherries, for instance, and corn cobs only the size of your thumb. On top of that, fruit and berries are seasonal. Root vegetables were probably a bigger source of edible starches, but also not available year round and not in the size and composition that we consider normal now. Most hunter gatherers didn't eat nearly as much starches and sugars as we do.
      • Right. Because hunter-gatherer societies were the pinnacle of human evolution. The ones that had a child mortality rate around 50% and lived to, maybe, their mid thirties.

        Just a thought - look at evolution on a continuum. There are several billion humans on the planet who've largely escaped the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. That's 'evolution'. Now, we just might agree that this is to be widely regarded as a Bad Thing for a bunch of reasons, but freezing the diet at the early Paleolithic stage makes absolut

        • Because hunter-gatherer societies were the pinnacle of human evolution. The ones that had a child mortality rate around 50% and lived to, maybe, their mid thirties.

          That's because we have better medical care, antibiotics especially.

          freezing the diet at the early Paleolithic stage makes absolutely no sense

          Makes more sense than eating a bunch of hyper processed food not found in nature.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Just admit it: you want food that doesn't have chemicals.

            • To be fair, there is a solid and scientific reason to be concerned about processed foods. And it has nothing to do with the processing (about which, frankly there seems to be equal evidence for and against).
              The real concern is that they tend to use very few ingredients - which means they are nutritionally very poor. We're omnivores, we are evolved to make use of (and as a result require) a diverse diet.

            • FYI, everything has chemicals, you are made of chemicals!

        • The ones that had a child mortality rate around 50%

          I would not dispute this.

          and lived to, maybe, their mid thirties.

          Not true - they lived far longer than the generations that lived after the wide spread use of coal fires and tobacco.

          Rumours of life being "nasty, brutish and short" were not based on facts/hunter gatherer lifestyle. They were much influenced by poor interpretation of the evidence.

          • The ones that had a child mortality rate around 50%
            I would not dispute this.

            But I would. It would mean that every second grave would be of a new born. For that we have no evidence at all.

            • by ghoul ( 157158 )

              Babies are not buried always. With a 50% mortality rate babies would not even be named till they are 1 yr old. Dead bodies would be disposed with garbage

              • For that again we have no evidence.

                Hint: with a mortality rate of 50% you would need 4 kids to even sustain the population.

                A mortality rate like that is extremely unlikely. There is no animal in the world that has a comparable mortality rate.

                The idea that either early humans eat their dead babies, threw them away or did not bury them, or have a significant higher mortality rate than any other modern man is absurd at best and in my eyes: idiotic.

                • by ghoul ( 157158 )

                  I am not saying that 50% mortality rate is true. I am merely saying that the absence of child graves does not prevent it from being true. You need a differnt argument to say the rate is not true. As for modern man even till the last century in rural America 1 out of 3 kids died in infancy. My Grandfather was the eldest of 13 kids. When a cholera epidemic hit within 4 weeks he was one of 2 surviving kids.

            • Apparently the argument is that the dead babies weren't being burried - they were being eaten by the parents.

              Talk about slow-cooking your dinner...

              • There is also the possibility of predation causing many of those deaths. Wolves don't normally bury their prey.

                • That seems unlikely though. Firstly, the areas where humans lived that way were not really wolf territory. The majority of our hunter/gatherer existence we would be more worried about lions, hyenas and leopards. And there is strong evidence that hunter/gatherers were quite adept at defending against those (not least that surviving hunter/gatherers are), indeed the evidence suggest that during the hunter/gatherer phase - humans were already the top predator.
                  There is also other things to consider, like the st

        • >Right. Because hunter-gatherer societies were the pinnacle of human evolution. The ones that had a child mortality rate around 50% and lived to, maybe, their mid thirties.

          Which, to be fair, is 40% LESS than the child mortality rate in Industrial-Revolution Britain. 90% of children died before age 10 during that little adventure in unregulated, unrestrained capitalism. It's no wonder the very first labour law *ever* passed in Britain was to outlaw child-labour. So when libertarians hold that period up a

      • Y0u mean grain. Hunter-gatherers gathered grain too. Don't fall into this paleo crap invented by people who don't know what paleo even means.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      ... thousands of /.ers around the World stop to stare blankly at their bowl of Corn Flakes (or whatever breakfast cereal) ...

      Corn Flakes have added Niacin (B3), so I assume that Kellogs are already aware of the cannibal apocalypse potential.

  • I just had forced myself to like my grits by calling it Polenta and now I'm getting homicidal thoughts after that article.
    I might also develop a liking for long pig.

  • The dim-witted hamsters don't realize that they need to nixtamize their maize to get adequate nutrition.

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter&tedata,net,eg> on Sunday January 29, 2017 @01:58PM (#53760369) Journal

    Well, not so much the cannibalism part, but the dementia part.

    Corn cell walls separated mostly by Hemicellulose [wikipedia.org], and breaking down this tough molecule is necessary to access the nutritional compounds found within, including niacin. Humans can't do it very easily. Mesoamericans figured out the way a long, long time ago how to break apart hemicellulose by mixing a little ash into the water used to boil the maize kernels, breaking apart the hemicellulose and freeing up the niacin, a process called nixtamalization [wikipedia.org].

    When Europeans landed in the 15th and 16th centuries, they took corn back to Europe, but not the nixtamalization process. As a sort of crude justice for all the pain and suffering Europeans inflicted on the natives, the European cultures that adopted corn as their cereal crop suffered greatly from pellagra, a disease brought about from the absence of niacin. A disease which includes among its symptoms dementia.

    What's happening with these hamsters sounds eerily similar.

    • It was not exactly clear, B3 is only missing when not niximized?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Between 1906 and 1940 more than 3 million Americans were affected by pellagra with more than 100,000 deaths.

      In 1915, Joseph Goldberger, assigned to study pellagra by the US Surgeon General, showed it was linked to diet by observing the outbreaks of pellagra in orphanages and mental hospitals. He noted that children between the ages of six and 12 and patients at the mental hospitals were the ones who seemed most susceptible to pellagra.

      Goldberger theorized that a lack of meat,

  • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @01:59PM (#53760377)

    An all-corn diet has virtually no protein... The body will eventually rebel against such a diet, and force a change in nutrient availability. I was born and raised in Iowa, so I love the taste of corn, but even I know that a man cannot live on corn alone... nor a rat.

    • Missouri raised.

      Of course a healthy balanced diet includes beer, pizza, steak and chocolate cake as well as corn chips and corn on the cob. Everybody knows that.

    • An all-corn diet has virtually no protein... The body will eventually rebel against such a diet, and force a change in nutrient availability. I was born and raised in Iowa, so I love the taste of corn, but even I know that a man cannot live on corn alone... nor a rat.

      Rats contain lots of protein, but true enough, one isn't going to last you very long.

    • This is untrue, it is only modern hybrid corn that has a tiny amount of protein, and most of it locked away and unusable.
      Naturally, corn is like most grains, it contains a goodly amount. Many strains exist which will give you 20%, and some experimentation has yielded strains with upwards of 30%. I believe a decent grain mix typically contains something like 16%, so corn is extremely protein rich if done right.

      The problem is America, the farmers are paid to produce corn, the more they produce the more they a

    • Actually corn does have a fair bit of protein (about 1g protein for every 10g of corn according to the USDA [usda.gov]) relative to many other vegetables, but it doesn't include all of the essential amino acids so you'll need to get those from somewhere else. Of course that's true for anything a person is going to eat, and corn is probably only something you'd want for supplemental protein anyhow as lentils or other beans offer much more protein per serving. It's good to have on the cob and cornbread is alright once i
    • I'm guessing you're just making a joke, but corn is actually not too bad at 7% protein: http://nutritiondata.self.com/... [self.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Budweiser has a high corn content (along with white rice). In fact, most mass market American beers are corn based. That is what gives them that watery sickly sweet taste. Homicide, insanity, cannibalism--alcohol fueled? Perhaps . . . but more likely the corn in the beer.

    • Not beer.

      Beer is a beverage made of malted barley, yeast, hops and water. _Nothing_ else.

      American Budweiser is a cereal malt beverage, not beer. Same as all American 'can beer'.

      Corn or rice sugar, doesn't matter. It's just ethanol after fermentation. No flavor, just good pure nutritious alcohol. Might make the yeast into cannibals, but they take the hit for you.

      • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

        Only if you are a mindless slave to the proclamations of a monk. Reality is, beer is a family of beverages, with a fair amount of variation.

        • Anyone who thinks parroting the Reinheitsgebot makes them look like a beer connoisseur is proving the exact opposite.

          • Drink all the wheat/corn/rice 'beer' you want. More of the good stuff for the rest of us.

            Name one quality 'beer' containing wheat, corn or rice? Bet you like beer with a 'yeast infection' too. Sour piss (wheat beer) can actually be improved by adding fruit flavor or leaving the yeast in, doesn't make it good.

            Try the 'grape beer', also the Japanese style 'rice beer'. Fuck it, just make beer mean 'water and alcohol mixture'.

            • Name one quality 'beer' containing wheat, corn or rice?

              Logic fail. I never claimed that it was a necessary or sufficient condition to be a quality beer.

              However, Hoegaarden Grand Cru. If that tastes sour to you it's because you're a fat ponce.

              If you were half as knowledgeable as you pretend to be you'd know that the original point of the law wasn't directly to do with beer at all - it was to ensure some cereals were reserved for bread so the poor wouldn't starve.

              Mind your head - shovel coming down.

  • It means acute dis-balance and/or deficiency of some nutrients which organism is trying to compensate. It also could explain in part aggression in general - getting better nutrition no matter what, implemented as some hormonal pathway.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Humans trying to live on unpreocessed corn get pellagra -- a chronic vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency -- the symptoms of which include emotional disturbance and aggressiveness. Corn is naturally rich in B3, but it's not bioavailable. So living on corn is a bad idea unless you're a ruminant.

  • But only if it's processed correctly. The lack of critical nutrients like niacin results in nutritious deficiencies, like pellagra, a nasty and potentially lethal disease.

    Mesoamerican peoples discovered all they needed to do is to pre-cook corn by boiling it in water and some lime, in order to have a product that didn't made people sick.

    That's the reason why people that adopted corn later (e.g. people in Africa), but that didn't adopt this simple method still suffer pellagra nowadays.
  • I guess I had better keep a sharp eye on the grandkids the next time I make cornmeal pancakes for them.

  • rofl (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hamsters of the Corn.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Cross reference with

    Pellagra and the origin of a myth: evidence from European literature and folklore.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1296679/

    Cross reference with the historical research on a village in Transylvania in the 1800s where the vilagers ate a diet of just corn without lime or other products providing vitamin B. The entire village suffered pelegra. Their skin would blister within minutes of sun exposure. This had led some historians to speculate that tales of the event may have had

  • ... I initially read the headline as:

    All-Corn Diet Turns Hamsters Into Cannabis"

  • “Improperly cooked maize-based diets have been associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and cannibalism in humans,” the researchers note.

    This remindeds me of the book Man Corn by Christy G. Turner II

    From Goodreads:

    "Christy and Jacqueline Turner’s study of prehistoric violence, homicide, and cannibalism explodes the myth that the Anasazi and other Southwest Indians were simple, peaceful farmers. Using detailed osteological analyses and other lines of evidence the Turners sho

  • by allo ( 1728082 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @05:54PM (#53761637)

    Hamsters are no group animals. If you have them in a group, they either fuck or bite each other or fuck and then the female bites the male until it leaves. Dead animals are eaten, as hamsters do eat meat, if they get some and they care to get rid of dead corpses to avoid attracting enemies.
    This hasn't anything to do with a corn diet, which is common for golden hamsters as pets.

    • Not real fond of hamsters, domesticated rats are much better pets. Less likely to bite and quite a bit more intelligent.
      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        Hamsters may be the better choice, when you're having a rat allergy, because they have other ancestors :-).
        Btw. there is cannibalism (mostly of corpses) in rats as well.

  • Everyone knows, babies are are just tastier! Beef and pork are best when young!

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Sunday January 29, 2017 @08:06PM (#53762171) Homepage

    Has no one else tried to click on the second link in the summary? It directs to "https://news.slashdot.org/story/17/01/29/068214/gizmodo.com/all-corn-diet-turns-hamsters-into-cannibals-who-eat-the-1791736449" - shouldn't Slashdot editors know how to set up a URL (in addition to preview/edit)? : \

  • If the hamsters ate each other, clearly the study failed to make sure they ate an all-corn diet. Fail.
  • People have been associating the obesity epidemic and various other problems to the rise of corn syrup sweetener; this suggests the influences could be more serious.

Science may someday discover what faith has always known.

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