Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Community News Network

January 11, 2013

Wrinkles help fingers get a grip

A long soak in the tub can wreak havoc on your fingertips, transforming your smooth digits into wrinkly eyesores. But this rumply skin may actually serve a purpose, according to a new study. It helps us get a stronger grip on slippery objects, especially those underwater.

Scientists long thought that wrinkly fingers were caused by osmosis-swelling of the outer layer of the skin as water seeped into cells. But experiments conducted in the past few years-as well as observations that water-induced wrinkles don't form on the tips of previously severed but subsequently reattached fingers-suggest that the wrinkles are instead produced by nerves that automatically trigger constriction of the blood vessels beneath the skin, reducing the volume of the tissues there.

Having something under the direct control of a nerve, even an involuntary one, suggests it serves an evolutionary purpose. But that begged the question of what function finger wrinkles have. In 2011, a team of neuroscientists proposed that the folds improved our grip on wet or submerged objects, just as the treads on tires help improve traction. "That seemed like a clever hypothesis that would be easy to test," says Tom Smulders, an evolutionary biologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

So, he and his colleagues designed an experiment where volunteers picked up 45 submerged objects such as glass marbles and lead fishing weights from a bin one at a time with their right hand, passed them through a postage stamp-sized hole in a barrier to their left hand, and then dropped them through another hole into a box. When test subjects had wrinkly fingertips-induced by soaking their hands in 40°C water for 30 minutes-they completed the task about 12% faster than they had when their fingers hadn't been soaked, the team reports online Monday in Biology Letters. When performing the same task with dry objects, wrinkly fingertips didn't provide a performance advantage.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 4.42.47 PM.png VIDEO: Leopard attacks crowd in India

    A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 21, 2014

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 21, 2014

  • VIDEO: Moose charges snowmobile, flees after warning shot

    While snowmobiling in New England, Bob and Janis Powell of Maine were charged by a moose and caught the entire attack on camera.

    April 21, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 21, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014