1
$\begingroup$

My understanding is that Kervran fed chickens a diet lacking in calcium and yet eggs were produced with calcium in their shells.

Two related questions:

  • Could not the calcium have been from the bones of the chicken itself?
  • Has an attempt, with more sophisticated methods of determining where the calcium came from, been made to reproduce his results or was he completely discredited by either the source being as I asked from the chicken's bones or some source of calcium in the diet that he overlooked?

I read that that he was considered a fringe kind of scientist and won an Ignobel prize, but surely others being able to reproduce his results without being able to explain the source of the shells' calcium is important even if transmutation is not the actual reason.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why attempt to argue with science fiction? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster he attributed a cause for the calcium to a very unlikely source but that calcium was not present in the chicken's diet but the shell had it is not science fiction. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 14:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Biological transmutation is SF. Most animals put a high priority on offspring, often at the certain death of the mother. Further, completely eliminating Ca from the diet is, well, really hard to do. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 15:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There is no known example of natural non-radioactive transmutation in biological systems. It is pure imagination. It is impossible to raise a chicken without having calcium in it. Imagine, a chicken never fed calcium in its food. It will be a boneless chicken :-) $\endgroup$
    – ACR
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 15:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A claim that the chickens (that laid eggs, after all) were heavily Ca-deficient is an extraordinary enough claim to call for evidence. It is irrelevant if nobody questioned that at the time. The issue would rather be, what evidence did the author provide to prove that claim? $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 23:33

1 Answer 1

3
$\begingroup$

For a somewhat biased but nevertheless informative review of biological transmutation, see Jean-Paul Biberian's 2012 review: "Biological Transmutations: Historical Perspective". (Biberian is a "cold fusion" advocate.) No attempts to independently and directly reproduce Kervran's egg laying results are reported. It is, however, claimed that such transmutations by chickens were previously observed in 1799 and 1822.

Kervran and others made claims beyond egg laying, e.g. for transmutation in microorganisms and plants, and Biberian's review did report a number of replications attempts for those. Unsurprisingly, some results supported biological transmutation and some did not. Few of the reported results - either negative or positive - are in the published research literature or otherwise easily accessible.

The obvious place to look for recent biological transmutation research is the Journal of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, which was founded to provide a place for (usually otherwise unpublishable) "cold fusion" research, and of which Biberian is Editor-in-Chief. Volume 28 from 2019 reports on biological transformation of nuclear waste, and searching their index for "biological" turns up related articles as recent as 2022.

That calcium for Kervran's eggs could have come from the bones of the chicken themselves is plausible, but no signs of bone demineralization were reported in "A comparison of the effects of two low‐calcium diets on egg production in the domestic fowl", Instead it was found that hens fed on a diet containing 0.05% calcium simply almost completely stopped laying eggs. (Because of the commercial importance of eggs, there are many published papers like this on chicken diets.)

Another plausible explanation is that Kervran underestimated the availability of calcium to his chickens. The original Kervran observation was that hens kept in chicken coops on calcium deficient clay soil stopped laying eggs, but started up again when given mica. Similar results were observed with guinea-fowl. Kervran assumed that the mica contained potassium but no calcium, so hypothesized that the chickens were transmuting potassium into calcium for the eggs. The problem is that some types of mica (e.g. Margarite) do in fact contain significant amounts of calcium. Without a chemical analysis of his mica, Kervran was making a big assumption that the mica did not contain enough calcium to sustain egg laying. Biology can be very good at scavenging what it needs from even trace sources, as famously shown by the mistaken report of "arsenic eating bacteria".

A general problem with fringe research is that there are many more ways to get science wrong than to get it right, so it is a thankless task to try to replicate or otherwise refute the endless stream of dubious and often mutually inconsistent positive results.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not bad! Sounds like flawed basic methodology -- absolutely necessary that the birds were not ingesting calcium, you don't need to be a scientist to know that. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 11:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.