Making morphine
The article “Chemists pin down poppy’s tricks for producing narcotic painkiller” (SN: 4/10/10, p. 5) may presage geopolitical changes in Afghanistan, regardless of whether there are engineered virus attacks or alternative crop programs. A technological advance like this one will eventually be used in the United States and Europe. Even if governments continue to treat morphine as a controlled substance, producing it domestically will trump the costs and difficulties of smuggling.
Terry Franklin, Amherst, Mass.

Gut sense
I’ve been vindicated (“Stomach’s sweet tooth,” SN: 3/27/10, p. 22). Ever since I first read about the links between diabetes and diet soda consumption, I have thought: “Artificial sweeteners were designed to be noncaloric and to taste sweet. They were not designed (nor tested) for glycemic responses in the digestive system, so perhaps there is good reason to expect them to affect insulin responses just as sugars do.” As one who abhors the aftertaste from artificial sweeteners, I have no trouble suggesting that they should be avoided or reduced in diets just as much as natural sugars should. Our bodies are not evolved to regularly digest pure sugar nor to be challenged by sugar mimics.
David Adams, Garnet Valley, Pa.

If the stomach and other organs can taste sweetness, how valid are tests using sugar pills as an “inert” placebo?
William Davis, Seattle, Wash.

Feathery escape for dinos
Sid Perkins’ article “Feathered dinosaurs, bold and in living color” (SN: 2/27/10, p. 9), in which he discusses why dinosaurs developed feathers, gives reasons such as “sending visual signals” to “startle an attacking predator” or to signal “come here, cutie.” Watching predators such as foxes and dogs try to catch chickens, it’s easy to see a reason why feathers may have developed: When the bird escapes, it leaves a mouthful or paw full of feathers behind. My theory is that feathers are scales that became detachable. Fluffy features make it more difficult for an attacking animal to grab its prey. This is probably something the world has already thought of, but if not, could you pass the idea along?
Glynn Willett, Potomac, Md.

Missing nukes
After reading Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s comment in Scientific Observations (SN: 1/2/10, p. 4), I concluded that he has never heard of nuclear power.

Terrell Perry , Los Alamos, N.M.

From the Nature Index

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