MUNsolved Mysteries

(Feb. 20, 1997, Gazette)

Have a burning question pertaining to science, engineering, medicine, the arts, music, humanities, social sciences, physical education, or any other field? Let us know; we'll do our best to find the answers for you, drawing upon the expertise of members of the university community.

Stewart Bastow, an alumnus from St. John's, asked this question:

"I've heard that females who live together, or work together in close proximity, can end up with synchronized menstrual cycles. Is there any evidence to support this?"

We took the question to Dr. Terry O'Grady, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Faculty of Medicine. She said there is some evidence, from research done many years ago, that women living together in large groups -- such as a university residence -- tend to have their menstrual periods at the same time. Dr. O'Grady explained that the phenomenon involves pituitary hormones, and chemical substances which are secreted and released, called pheromones. However, with the advent of the birth control pill, this phenomenon does not occur to the same extent.

Dr. O'Grady said the phenomenon of synchronized periods is a matter of curiosity only and certainly not a major research concern. "Why would anyone care?" she wondered.

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Remember Dr. Stuart Brown's observations about human evolution last issue (Feb. 6, 1997)? He told a reader not to worry about losing his little fingers and toes through evolution anytime soon, since the process takes a very long time. This news pleased Dr. Brian Roberts, who teaches music education.

"I was so delighted to read Dr. Brown's prediction about the possible loss of our little fingers since we, at least in the music school, still have need of all the fingers we currently have," he wrote. "Can you imagine the re-writing efforts needed to make the great piano concertos playable without a little finger? I'm so glad he thinks we're safe for a few thousand years yet."

We love hearing from readers. Please send questions and comments for MUNsolved Mysteries to the Gazette, Arts and Administration Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Nfld., A1C 5S7; e-mail, or fax 709-737-8699. Please include your name and telephone number.