Fri, Oct 03, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Four Taiwanese researchers bag Ig Nobel award

By Dan Bloom  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

A research paper by four Taiwanese professors on the spermicidal power of Coke and Pepsi has won one of this year’s 10 Ig Nobel awards, said Marc Abrahams in Boston, who heads the prize committee.

Hong Chuang-ye (洪傳岳), one of the winners, is currently the president of Taipei Medical University in Taipei. He co-authored the seminal research paper, which appeared in 1987 in the Journal of Human Toxicology titled “The Spermicidal Potency of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.”

Hong and his co-authors will be honored at the 18th annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater in Boston today.

LAUGH AND THINK

“The Ig Nobel prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think,” Abrahams said.

“Taiwanese inventor Hsieh Kuo-cheng (謝國楨) of Taichung won an Ig Nobel prize last year for his ‘Net Trapping System to Catch a Bank Robber,’” he said.

Neither Hong nor his co-authors will be able to attend the ceremony because of previous commitments, but Hong’s daughter, Wan Hong (洪琬鈞), who lives in the US, will accept the award on stage for the Taiwanese team.

The team will be sharing the Ig Nobel Prize with the US authors of an earlier New England Journal of Medicine paper that was cited in their study and which Hong’s group disproved.

Why was the Taiwanese team’s paper selected for an Ig Nobel this year?

“Because it makes people laugh, then it makes them think. And it will make them laugh and think, again, for the rest of their lives, every time they have a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi,” Abrahams said in an e-mail last week.

Hong said the team used a “trans-membrane migration method” to study the effect of Coke on sperm in their research.

The citation for the Ig Nobel prize reads: “To Sheree Umpierre, Joseph Hill, and Deborah Anderson (in the US) for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and to C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shieh (謝茶唱), P. Wu (吳珮芬) and Benjamin Chiang (姜必寧) (in Taiwan) for discovering that it is not.”

In the published abstract of their 1987 paper, the team at the department of medicine at Veterans General Hospital in Taipei said: “The inhibitory effect of Old Coke, caffeine-free New Coke, New Coke, Diet Coke and Pepsi-Cola on human sperm motility was studied with a trans-membrane migration method. None of them could decrease sperm motility to less than 70 percent of control within one hour.”

“A previous study [published in the New England Journal of Medicine] which claimed a marked variation of spermicidal potencies among different formulations of Coca-Cola could not be confirmed,” the researchers wrote.

“Even if cola has a spermicidal effect, its potency is relatively weak compared with other well-known spermicidal agents,” they said.

MOTILITY

“Testing of various cola formulas on sperm motility using a trans-membrane procedure did not decrease motility to less than 70 percent control in a one-hour period. Diet Coca-Cola had the strongest spermicidal effect followed by Classic Coca-Cola, Caffeine-free Coca-Cola and New Coca-Cola. Since there are no known substances in cola that affect cellular membranes, the results of these tests were not unusual,” the reserachers said.

“Other tests have been done using higher dilution of cola which could effect sperm motility and give different results for spermicidal potencies. The results show that cola has little if any spermicidal effect. Its use in postcoital douching is ineffective and could cause complications such as infection,” the paper concluded.

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