The Fun Factoid Festival

by Ines Wynn

It’s always fun to dig up zany facts from the internet and share them with friends or incorporate them in your trivia quizzes. Here is what’s perking up some interest these days.


Fascinating genetic mutations in humans – Genetic evolution in humans seems to follow a slow but visible progress. We seem to get taller, live longer and healthier. Our DNA has been mapped and its secrets are slowly being divulged. There are myriad cells in our body each of which contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. These chromosomes in turn contain hundreds to thousands of genes, which, among other things, define our gender, physical and character traits. Most of the members of the human race have common traits and characteristics which fall in the so-called normal range. But in some humans a mutation of genes and a re-arrangement of chromosomes can result in some deviant traits that are not shared with the majority.

Mutations can be caused by environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun or can occur if an error is made as DNA copies itself during cell division. Some of these mutations can be passed to the next generation. Some benign mutations like lactose tolerance, blue eyes and red hair are fairly well known since they have a long history and have been well documented. These traits crop up in certain segments of the population and are sometimes geographically localised. Lactose tolerance, for instance, is most prevalent in people descended from ancient herder tribes in Northern Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, West Africa, and Central Asia/the Indian Subcontinent. These tribes fed their infants with animal milk and the kids maintained lactose tolerance into adulthood. The rest of humanity didn’t.

Haemophilia, Down syndrome and albinism are less fortunate examples of mutations. Some other mutations are universal and specific to humans, setting us apart from animals. Like the loss of a fur covering, the third eyelid and the inability to move your ears. Most animals have the ability to rotate their ears towards a sound but humans have lost that ability.

In the category of rare mutations there are some fascinating examples. There is a tribe in Zimbabwe called the vaDoma, known as the Ostrich people where a genetic trait called electrodactyly is prevalent in several different family lines. Electrodactyly is a rare condition in which the hand or feet only have 2 digits, missing the middle digits. It occurs mostly in the hands. The vaDoma have very large and broad feet with only 2 distinct toes reminiscent of the ostrich family. Despite the odd appearance they have no difficulty walking normally.

Progeria or accelerated aging is another rare condition. So is resistance to poisons, the inability to feel pain, the absence of active sweat glands or odourless perspiration. Yes, there is a lucky 2% of the population that has this fortunate gene. They are mostly East-Asian. Maybe that explains why many Indonesians don’t have a distinctive perspiration odour.


Architecturally speaking– There are many architectural marvels in this world; some spectacular, awesome or just plain ingenious. Check out the rolling bridge, a type of curling movable bridge completed in 2004 as part of the Grand Union Canal office and retail development project at Paddington Basin in London. It is twelve meters long and opens every Friday at noon to let boats pass. It does so by curling up until its two ends touch. After the boats have passed, it gently unrolls itself again to a prone position.

Next time you travel to Vietnam you could take in another awesome bridge by taking an inspiring walk on the Cau Vang Golden Bridge located in Thien Thai garden in Ba Na Hills, just outside of Da Nang. The bridge appears to be held by a giant pair of hands that lifts it into the sky. The walk is 150 meters long and 1.400 metres above sea level, offering visitors a spectacular view of the surrounding mountainous landscape.


To the point – The Pirahãs tribe, a group of hunter-gatherers in the central region of Brazil appears to have no need for numbers. Apparently they don’t even have words like ‘all’, ‘every’, and ‘more’. Their counting ability is limited to one, two and many. They also have no use for colours, as there are no words in their language to describe the hues that surround them.

Do you know what a donkey power is? It is a true unit of measurement, equivalent to 250 watts, approximately ½ horsepower. Your Harley Davidson may use brake donkey power; check it out.   In case you’re wondering, there is no such thing as goat power; that’s a goat renting service in Portland, Oregon.

If you’re not from Australia you may not have encountered a quoll. It’s a small carnivorous nocturnal marsupial whose numbers have declined due to loss of habitat and predators like the toxic cane toad. They primarily reside in coastal areas. They are cute but may not make good pets as they are just active at night and prefer to sleep their days away.

Decidedly less pet-material is the narwhal, a medium sized Arctic whale you may encounter in Greenland, Russia and North Canada. They are called the unicorns of the sea because the male has a long forward-pointing spirally twisted tusk resembling that of the famed unicorn. The tusk is actually a protruding canine tooth. The narwhals can dive 1 mile deep. They also are in danger of declining numbers as they often collide with shipping traffic.