ABC science news: Ice cream and itchiness

This week on ABC Radio Melbourne 774 I discussed two stories about cells with Jacinta and Sami. One where cells are our friend and one where they just make us really itchy.

Listen at 1:04:25.

The first is a super, super important topic. Ice cream. Specifically, reducing its meltiness. I’m an ice cream superfan, so any breakthrough that makes it even better is right up my alley. And this one’s a double whammy because not only does it improve ice cream, it also has the added benefit of reducing waste.

How? It’s all thanks to bananas – it seems they do have at least one redeeming quality. It’s actually the stems that connect a bunch of bananas to the tree that are usually a waste product. By grinding these stems up really fine, and adding this to the ice cream mixture, we can increase the time it takes for a scoop of ice cream to start melting by up to 20 minutes.

This works because the cellulose (walls of plant cells) in the ground up stems add ‘architectural support’ to the ice cream, kind of like gelatine does for jelly.

And the best part? This isn’t one of those discoveries that’s going to take 10 years to see results from. We’re likely to see new and improved ice cream in the freezer in the next 3 – 5 years.


Apparently, we lose touch receptor cells in our skin as we age which makes us itchier and itchier. It’s a bit of a brain bender because if you’re like me you might think that surely losing receptors would lead to less itchiness, not more. But, these special receptors work by inhibiting itchiness, so as they decline we experience the strange consequence of feeling itchy at even the lightest of touches.

This type of itchiness, caused by a light touch like a brush of hair or fabric against the skin, is called a mechanical itch. It’s different to the usual type of itch cause by a mosquito bite, for example, which is a chemical itch.

The good news is that now we know the cause, focus can be directed to figuring out how to treat it. Thankfully, because I’ve become extremely itchy while writing this!